Quick Thoughts: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Andy Dufresne is wrongly sentenced to two life sentences in prison.
An indisputable classic, The Shawshank Redemption is widely considered to be one of the greatest films ever made. Whilst I don’t agree with such an idea – in fact, I don’t think Shawshank Redemption even comes close – what makes this film so iconic and widely revered is very clear.
In short, it’s all about the strong thematic projection of catharsis and freedom. Shawshank Redemption is then all about imprisonment and its impact on the human mind. We see this through the journey of Andy and the constant looming presence of a very dismal fate that hangs about him. Through all kinds of abuse, violence and coincidence, Andy is seemingly dealt bad hand after bad hand, descending from a seemingly normal and perfect life into the depths of hell. And its here, in hell, where he learns what freedom and happiness truly is – the cold beer scene being a perfect symbolic representation of this. However, this is something that many people around Andy learn; most people in the prison system, by virtue of their predicament, understand better than most the joys and ecstasies of, say for instance, a cold beer on a hot summer’s day. However, this knowledge gained in hell is apart of its biggest trap; this understanding of the highest forms of pleasure makes you comfortable in your cage, it leaves you institutionalised. In such, the cage gives you incite into life’s blisses that can be gained nowhere else, but it keeps you from actually experiencing them – from enjoying that cold beer every hot summer weekend.
This idea is encapsulated by the character arc of Brooks. Because he is so deeply institutionalised by this cage, he doesn’t know what to do with freedom when he is given it. The greatest challenge presented by the walls of Shawshank is then stepping into this hell, consuming its lessons and then escaping with them; an age-old and archetypal story. And so it’s Andy who becomes our co-hero, the one who confronts his fate, steps into hell and emerges with a better life than any of us could ever possibly imagine thanks to his hard-earned perception of the world. The same opportunity is afforded to Red, and so it is us, who go on this journey into the depths of hell with these figures, that are granted a taste of their catharsis as they step out onto that beach to meet one another having been granted fatal redemption by a harsh and unforgiving world.
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