MOTW: Why The Shawshank Redemption is Still a Stellar Movie

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures
February 18th, 2013

MOTW: Why The Shawshank Redemption is Still a Stellar Movie

While its reception at the box office was somewhat lukewarm, "The Shawhank Redemption" went on to become one of the most iconic movies of the 1990s and is still remembered as one of the best films in cinematic history. Written and directed by Frank Darabont, the drama is based on a novella by Stephen King and was loosely inspired by the Thomaston prison in Maine - a facility that was later closed due to its dilapidated conditions and small size.

Starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, "The Shawshank Redemption" weaves the tale of a well-educated banker, Andy Dufresne, who finds himself imprisoned for almost twenty years for the murder of his wife and her lover - an act that he claims he is innocent of committing. During his incarceration at Shawshank State Prison, Dufresne develops a friendship with another inmate, Red Redding. After the warden of the facility begins to use Dufresne in his money-laundering operation, he eventually comes under the protection of the prison guards.

Released during the same year as "Forrest Gump," the film's reception at the box office was barely enough to cover its production budget. Despite the low take at the box office, "The Shawshank Redemption" went on to receive favorable critical reviews while also garnering several award nominations, including an Academy Award. In spite of the movie's many award nominations, it ultimately did not bring home an Academy Award and has since been hailed as one of the best films to miss out on the coveted award.

Perhaps one of the most notable aspects of this film that allows it to continually stand out amidst a sea of other movies that have since been released is the portrayal of the friendship that develops between Andy and Red. While there is certainly no lack of buddy movies that portray a couple of mismatched individuals who ultimately learn how to look past their differences, what sets "The Shawshank Redemption" apart is the way it explores true friendship. On the surface, the pair certainly have plenty of differences-class, education, and even race. After serving years in prison together, it becomes clear that the two men actually share more in common than one might initially think. Ultimately, it is the friendship displayed by Andy and Red that transforms the prison's culture into one where the guards actually respect the inmates and even begin to provide them with improved facilities. It is the depth and character of that friendship that becomes so crystal clear when the two are finally reunited.

While actors with less experience and skill might have found it a challenge to portray the leading roles of Andy and Red, Robbins and Freeman both give stellar performances that are convincing enough to provide viewers with a sense of what it actually feels like to be inside the Shawshank prison facility. Beyond the friendship exhibited by the two lead characters, it is the movie's ability to so precisely detail what it is like to actually be in prison, down to the minute routine details of the everyday life of a prisoner, that makes this film so remarkable.

Spanning a period of time of about ten years, the movie also does a brilliant job of depicting the attempts of the government to rehabilitate prisoners prior to their release. Accurately following the real-life tendency for such rehabilitation techniques to change over time, "The Shawshank Redemption" does a credible job of also demonstrating those changes throughout the movie's storyline. As those continually evolving changes are revealed, the film explores both the pros and cons of an institutionalized setting in which every detail of a prisoner's life is micromanaged.

The film also manages to delve into a number of other questionable political areas, including the validity of the court system's ability to convict an individual without the presence of strong supporting evidence. With an overarching theme of good versus evil, "The Shawshank Redemption" clearly defines the desperation that can arise from the human spirit when faced with the prospect of defeat. By delving into both the lack of hope that one can face in a desperate situation and the ability to place one's faith on a continued hope for improved circumstances, the film managed to set itself apart from other releases in a way that still rings true today.

Compared to many of the movies of today that are often awash in special effects, "The Shawshank Redemption" does not bother with anything flashy but, instead, devotes all of its time to making audiences really, truly care about Red and Andy in a way that only high-quality drama can accomplish.