The Shawshank Redemption
"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things"
Every so often one comes along. A film that you know will be good in 5 five years times, a film that still will be good in 100 years time. A film that was ignored by the American general public and the Academy Awards. To them, I say tough. They have missed a true classic of our generation. A film about friendships, about injustice, about hope.
Andy Dufresne has been accused of murdering his wife and her lover. His sentence is life imprisonment in Shawshank prison. Here, he is a "fresh fish", new, ignorant and vulnerable. There is no prisoners handbook to tell him the rules, the only way to learn is the hard way. And that he does for the first few years. Keeping mainly to himself, only speaking to deal with Red (Freeman), or to try to fight off the homosexual "sisters" that plague his life. Though a series of subtle but significant events, this all changes. This is the first two years of Andys life in Shawshank prison, there are many more to go.
It is around this time that Andy and Red form one of the most careful frienships I have ever seen. A friendship that is formed through time and respect. Red narrates the film, with a voice that is suggestive and relaxed, like an old man pondering on a far distant memory. His character Red was described in Stephen Kings book as a flame haired Irishman. Now, Freeman is far from Irish looking, but acts like he was born in Dublin. He carries it out with the suggestiveness expressed in the narration, showing ultimate joy and sadness with a simple alteration of his facial expression and long living lines like.
"They send you here for life, that's exactly what they take. The part that counts anyway"
He learned to keep his emotions to himself and to choose his words very carefully. This is one of Freemans greatest performances and ever since seeing this film, when I think of Freeman, I think of a careful, wise character who is "known to get hands on things".
This film rides the edge between darkness and optimism, hitting just the right cords and at just the right time. Revelling in the bond of friendships and constantly at odds with the overpowering force of injustice. As soon as Andy finds some joy or hope, it is dashed from his grasp, sooner or later. Taken by "the sisters" or the greedy warden. Making the ultimate outcome glorious.
"Prison life consists of routine, and then more routine."
The film never lets you forget this. Prison life is the same, day in day out, forever. At the beginning, you don't like, then you get used to it, then you can't live without it. Institutionalisation. It tries to institutionalise the audience, by telling the story in very visible ten year segments. When that door opens we just know that is Reds' parole hearing again. When you know this, you know this you know the film has done its job on this level.
The gothic cinematography gives the film a pre-1900's suggestive feel about it. Making you know that the rules of society have absolutely no weight here what so ever, you begin to think that anything could happen to Andy. He could be killed or tortured in an instant in the place. All this just from the look of the film.
The Shawshank Redemption is a fantastic orchestration of great cinema. Beautiful cinematography, acting, script, music and direction. This film has some of the richest and beautiful dialogue that you are likely to see, a hundred memorable quotes stand out in my mind like, "It was as if some beautiful bird had flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls disappear".
If you have yet to see The Shawshank Redemption, I envy you. I wish I could watch it for the first time again. This wonderfully timeless piece of cinema that shows you hope, despair and joy. Treat yourself, treat the eyes, ears and then soul. See this film.