For a movie set in a prison, Shawshank Redemption is the opposite of a cold, gray, and harsh tale of one’s prison sentence; instead, depicts a heartwarming narrative of a man who relentlessly seeks the truth. This adaptation by director Frank Darabont of a Stephen King story illuminates a typical King theme that ordinary people, when they come together in common purpose, can achieve extraordinary things against overwhelming odds.
Director Frank Darabont presents a successful adaptation of King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. The film centers on an archetypal Stephen King character, one who is at overwhelming odds with prejudice and is persecuted by the justice system. Surprisingly, this film differs from the typical King themes of horror and supernatural aids and instead showcases a prisoner’s tale. The film spans an engaging 142 minutes, connecting viewers to the main character whose amiability makes the movie worth watching to the end.
The film begins with a New England banker, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), who is wrongly convicted of murdering his unfaithful wife and her lover in 1946 and sentenced two consecutive life terms in a maximum security facility in Maine, Shawshank State Prison. Very quickly, a lifelong friendship emerges with another inmate named Red (Morgan Freeman), who is known as the “go-to” man in the prison if inmates need something. Robbins enters into a circle of friends with other inmates whom all eventually do their best to protect each other from vicious guards, predatory inmates, and a crooked warden.
Over two decades, Andy befriends rational guards and other workers in the prison complex. More importantly, he befriends the warden, whom he is secretly swindling. Andy is very calculated throughout the two decades we get to know him and this is completely understood and appreciated when we see how Andy is redeemed later in the story. Darabont aimed to show redemption among many characters in the film, not only in Andy’s situation. The effective narration throughout the film by Freeman shapes how we feel about Andy; our insights are otherwise limited because he is a quiet character, but through Freeman’s perception of him, viewers start to root for him.
Darabont combines the well-developed and dynamic characters’ separate narratives situated in one prison and showcases the intelligence and grit of friendships that grow in the darkest of times. The story is enhanced by the cinematography of Roger Deakins. Darabont and Deakins allow the shots to follow the dialogue and monologue rather than antedate them, and he successfully establishes the fortress-like prison from the outset by using a shot from a helicopter.
Darabont structures the film to be a slow evolution of Andy’s character and his motives. The movie is set across two decades. It takes us two decades, with limited information from Andy himself, to figure out what actually happens and forces viewers to question and invest in Andy’s journey to justice. Despite being labeled a “prison drama,” Shawshank Redemption uses a calm and composed narration to guide us into a story about justice, friendship, and true grit.