The Shawshank Redemption is a film based upon Stephen King’s novel Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. The film mainly follows Andy, a banker who is serving time in prison for (allegedly) killing unfaithful his wife and her lover. The story also follows Andy’s friend, “Red,” an inmate whose parole application is constantly being denied and who serves as the narrator of the story.
What fascinated me the most about the film was the perception of evil, and what the story says about what evil really is. There are many characters throughout the film that appear to be evil upon first glance, as they are prisoners who have been convicted of vicious crimes. Then, there are those who are first presented to the audience as good, righteous people at the top of society, but who commit acts that are worthy of jail time and more. In this way, the film presents the viewer with a question: What really makes a person evil?
The character Red uses crude language, sneaks in things that would otherwise be forbidden for the prisoners, and admits to committing the murder that he was imprisoned for. However, he is shown to care about others in his own way, and he also shows some emotion whenever a prisoner, one who does not cause extra trouble in the prison, goes through rough times. When a new inmate dies due to a guard’s beating, Red is silent and wears an expression of sympathy. He never once laughs, smirks, or even claims that the man deserved it. He mourns for the poor man, silently, and shows that he still possesses human emotions.
Red also shows through his dialogue that he is much more aware and educated about the world and life in general than he first lets on. When an inmate gets paroled after fifty years in prison, Red is the only one to fully understand why he is upset and eventually commits suicide. Red explains to his friends the idea of being “institutionalized” and how a man can forget how to function outside of prison walls when confined for so long. His understanding of this idea shows how aware he is of the true nature of prison and the way a human being functions—specifically the inability to function once that humanity is stripped away. This makes his character wise, despite not being the smartest of inmates.
The main character that represents true evil is the warden of the prison. He claims from the very beginning that he is a religious man. He places much emphasis on the Bible, and how it can lead to salvation. Yet, he is shown to be extremely egotistical and cruel, allowing his guards to beat inmates within an inch of their lives and encouraging Andy to help the guards with their taxes. The warden later claims to be helping the community by allowing the inmates to work for outside businesses, but is revealed to actually be making dirty deals and receiving kickbacks in return. The warden then has Andy launder the money under a false identity.
At a pivotal moment in the film, the warden orders an inmate to be killed. He does this to ensure that Andy stays in prison, to continue helping him with his illegal activities and to keep those activities a secret from law enforcement outside of the prison. He then threatens Andy in order to keep him involved, saying that he will make the rest of his sentence as miserable as possible otherwise. To add insult to injury, he then kills himself at the very end, an act that is believed to be a sin in certain religions. These acts go against almost everything that the warden claims to believe in, and it makes him one of the main antagonists of the film. This, in a sense, is what the writer thinks evil is supposed to really look like.
Critic Roger Ebert said the following about the film: “The Shawshank Redemption is not a depressing story, although I may have made it sound that way. There is a lot of life and humor in it, and warmth in the friendship that builds up between Andy and Red. There is even excitement and suspense, although not when we expect it. But mostly the film is an allegory about holding onto a sense of personal worth, despite everything. If the film is perhaps a little slow in its middle passages, maybe that is part of the idea, too, to give us a sense of the leaden passage if time, before the glory of the final redemption.”
I enjoyed this film for many different reasons. The story of freedom, friendship, and hope is a satisfying one, and the film easily stands out from its competitors. While the plot moves slowly, as Roger Ebert said, the payoff is well worth it. I was left with the feeling of completeness, that those who were really good inside were granted their freedom and those who caused suffering were given terrible fates—but in a way that was not forced or clichéd. I can see now why a lot of people say that this is a good movie.