The Shawshank Redemption: Themes and analysis
The Shawshank Redemption was directed by Frank Darabont and was, interestingly, a Stephen King adaptation. Now, you would not expect the ‘King of horror’ to write about positive things like hope, friendship, freedom and perseverance. And yet, this was exactly what he did. The film was based on a novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, a part of King’s collection of four novellas Different Seasons.
The story is set in a prison called Shawshank State Penitentiary in Portland, Maine. Morgan Freeman’s Red (Ellis Boyd Redding), the narrator of the film, is an inmate serving a life sentence. He is good at smuggling contraband. A new inmate Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) arrives.
Andy is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover and is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. And yet, he does not look like somebody who would kill people in a fit of rage, whatever the reason.
Andy and Red become friends. After years of serving in prison, Andy escapes. But before fleeing the prison, he confides in Red that he dreams of living in a Mexican coastal town called Zihuatanejo. He also informs him that in a particular hayfield near Buxton, a package will wait for Red — when he is free too.
The Shawshank Redemption in a way illustrated the power of hope, which serves as the primary theme of the film. One of the best lines in the movie is spoken by Andy to Red: “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Andy is one inmate who remains perpetually hopeful about his eventual escape and a life beyond, even after he is repeatedly raped by a group of bullies called the Sisters, and harassed and exploited by the prison authorities. His sense of hope is what keeps him sane as he chisels away for decades to freedom. The hope as he understands is not a vague thing that is bound to vanish after the inhuman treatment he receives, but something corporeal.
It can be argued if hope is really a force for good all the time. Too much hope, some believe, can destroy a person. But this theme is what makes this film so relatable to millions around the world and also, quite timeless.
Friendship is another major theme that underpins the narrative of The Shawshank Redemption. Indeed, it is regularly featured in the list of best friendship-based films. In the harsh lives that the inmates lead, friendship can be a huge solace. Andy and Red could not be more different. And yet, they become fast friends almost immediately. Andy hides the secret of the tunnel from Red, but Red does not think of it as a betrayal. He knows Andy has left for him a path to redemption.
Here is the concluding inner dialogue in a beautiful scene of The Shawshank Redemption as Red finally gets freedom and journeys towards his friend: “I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. 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.”