‘The Shawshank Redemption’ by Frank Darabont Essay Sample
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‘The Shawshank Redemption’ by Frank Darabont Essay Sample
In ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, directed by Frank Darabont, Darabont uses the characters of Andy and Red to develop the message of the importance of hope. Through Andy we learn that if we have hope we can maintain dignity and strength of mind through even the toughest of circumstances. The character of Red shows us that if we lose our hope, we become imprisoned by fear, but his relationship with Andy is also developed to show that hope can be gifted to others. This message is truly relevant in our society today, no matter what circumstances we face in our daily lives. Darabont uses techniques of camera work, lighting, colour, symbolism, voice-overs and dialogue to help us greater understand this idea.
Firstly Darabont uses the character of Andy to show that if we have hope, we can maintain dignity as well as giving this to others. As human beings, we all have an innate right to be valued and treated with respect. In the prison the inmates do not receive this, but many are content to just accept this, and in doing this they lose their humanity and individuality. When we are introduced to Shawshank, a soaring aerial shot dwarves the prisoners and shows how insignificant they are. The lighting is dull and lifeless, with all inmates wearing identical grey clothes, showing us that the prisoners have lost all individuality. On Andy’s first night the new inmates are stripped of their clothes and marched to their cells, where they are taunted and heckled by the other inmates as ‘fresh fish’.
Darabont has done this to show how the new inmates have been stripped of their dignity, but also that all other prisoners are behaving like animals and have lost their humanity. However, Andy immediately stands out from the other prisoners. His shirt, although grey like the other inmates, is buttoned fully up, and he stands tall. In a voice-over, Red describes Andy as having, ‘A walk and a talk that just wasn’t normal around here; like he had on an invisible cloak that would shield him from this place.’ Andy has maintained a sense of self-worth and dignity despite the harsh conditions of the prison, and this is because he has not let the prison take his hope away. Andy’s hope can be seen when he speaks up against the authority of the guards, and is almost pushed off a four-storey building because of it. However, a close-up on Andy’s face shows his calm determination.
Andy knows a loop-hole around one of the guard’s money problems, and barters a deal with him that the workers each get a beer. Red remarks in a voice-over, ‘We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders and felt like free men.’ Andy’s actions have given the men dignity and a sense of freedom, which is so rare in such a harsh environment. Red believes Andy has done this, ‘Just to feel normal again, if only for a short while.’ In the prison they are so degraded by their conditions and the authorities. The other prisoners are content to carry on as they are, but Andy saw even the smallest of opportunities, and the hope he had propelled him to act, which in turn gave him and the other prisoners dignity.
Darabont’s purpose in this is to show us that in our lives, even where situations are oppressive or constricting, if we are able to find hope within ourselves, then we can maintain dignity and share it with others. We are urged to take action if we see a need or even the smallest of possibilities for bringing self-worth to others, and are encouraged to have the hope to fight against the oppression that we face daily in our lives.
Darabont also helps us to understand that hope can get us through the toughest of circumstances and will allow us to keep our strength of mind through it all. When Andy plays music through the loudspeaker to the inmates against the orders of the warden, he is put in solitary confinement for two weeks. However, when Andy comes out afterwards, he tells the others that it was the, ‘Easiest time I ever did’. A panning shot shows the shocked faces of the other prisoners. To them, ‘easy time’ in the hole is incomprehensible. However, Andy tells them that he focused on the music and the hope that this gave him, rather than dwelling on his circumstances. ‘That’s the one thing they can’t confiscate, not ever. We need it so we don’t forget that there are things in this world not carved out of grey stone. That there’s a small place inside of us they can never lock away, and that place is called hope.’
Because Andy didn’t succumb to the walls that surrounded him, he was able to get through the tough circumstance he faced. Darabont also helps us to understand this idea by showing that though it is incredibly hard to maintain our strength of mind in oppressive conditions; if we have hope then we can get through our lowest moments and make it through the other side. We discover that Andy has been wrongly convicted, but when he finally has a way to prove this, the Warden dismisses him. Andy, whose hope has real possibilities for the first time, fights back, and is put in the hole for two months. In contrast to the first time Andy is put in the hole, we see him from a high angle, cowering from the light when the door opens. When he is finally let out, Andy sits in shadows, and the lighting is very grey. Darabont’s purpose in this is to make us believe that Andy has finally been defeated. His strength and hope that he carries within himself appear to have finally cracked.
However, this is actually used to demonstrate that true hope never dies, and will save us even in the most hopeless situations. Throughout his time at Shawshank, Andy has been carving a hole through his cell wall through which he escapes the prison. His hope has given him the strength to break down the walls that oppress him, and push through even his darkest moment to reach the freedom and joy on the other side. When Andy has escaped he tells Red, ‘Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.’ Darabont through this helps us to understand that if we have hope, and fight to maintain this in all situations, then we will be able to make it through any battle that we face or force that opposes us. Our hope can never truly be locked away, and therefore if we are able to find hope or think positively about our futures, we need to keep ahold of this tightly.
In the prison, the men have no hope of a future. They come to rely on the walls that cage them in, and this drains their hope or belief in ever getting out of the prison. Just as Andy is an embodiment and symbol of hope, the character of Red shows us the contrast of a life without hope. We see this through the parole meetings that Red attends throughout the film. Red is asked why he should be let back into society, but each time he repeats the same emotionless statements. Red can only see his current life, and has no hope for his future. He tells Andy, ‘I don’t think I could make it on the outside, it’d scare me to death.’ He, rather than Andy has a better cause for hope; he has the possibility to get out of Shawshank and create a new life on the outside, but his lack of hope is preventing him from seeing this. Red’s character is paralleled with another inmate at Shawshank, Brooks Hadley, who became institutionalized and could not cope in the outside world; committing suicide.
After Andy has come out of the hole for the first time, Red says to him; ‘Hope is a dangerous thing. Drive a man insane. It’s got no place here. Better get used to the idea.’ However, when Andy replies, ‘Like Brooks did?’, Red storms away; he can’t face the consequences of not having hope. Red lives his life expecting nothing so as not to risk disappointment, and believes that hope will cause more harm than good. He can only see the trappings of his past, not the possibilities of his future. Red’s turning point is when Andy makes him promise to find something for him when he gets out of prison; knowing that Red will find it hard to survive on the outside without any hope or purpose. Red is finally paroled, and he also finds it hard to adjust to life on the outside. In a voice-over, Red says, ‘All I do any more is think of ways to break my parole.’
At one stage, there is a close up of a gun that Red is looking at in a pawn shop window; an almost identical shot to when Brooks leaves the prison. However, the shot pans to a compass, and the voice-over continues, ‘Only one thing stops me; a promise I made to Andy.’ Red uses this compass to discover a box that Andy has hid, that encourages him to join Andy in Mexico, where he is living after escaping from Shawshank. The hope that Andy has given Red sets him free. Red tells us, ‘I find I am so excited I can barely sit still or keep a thought in my head. I think it is the excitement only a true man can feel.’ The movie ends with a voice-over from Red; ‘I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand.
I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.’ Andy has shared his hope with Red, which gives him life and the ability to survive through changes that proved too much for Brooks, who had no hope. Darabont uses Andy’s character to show how we can make an impact on the lives of others in hopeless situations. Although this movie is set in a prison, the ideas it presents are no less relevant. Though we may not be physically caged in, there are many places in our lives that can trap us mentally, spiritually and emotionally, which require us to be hopeful in order to break through them.
Through the characters of Andy and Red, Darabont has helped us, the audience, to understand the timeless idea of the power of hope in people’s lives. Although at times this film is dark and the characters seem to have lost all hope, the direction of Darabont is truly uplifting in encouraging us to take action in our own lives today. There are many places in the world where hope seems futile, but as Darabont shows us “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”