Filling the Gaps: The Shawshank Redemption

There is no one reason why I have avoided Shawshank until now. Maybe it's because I worried it would be like Patch Adams, not heartfelt and inspiring, but "heartfelt and inspiring." Or perhaps it's because every male I have ever known has seemed to go totally gay for it and tear up if you even mention the word Shawshank.

But, given the opportunity to see it for free on the big screen at the Everyman Cinemas, I decided it was time to bite the bullet (and hopefully watch grown men cry, always a favorite pastime).

The Shawshank Redemption is a movie about family, about brotherhood, but mostly, about time and the passing thereof. We are given vignettes across the twenty year period when Andy Dufresne comes to Shawshank, and brightens the prison world wherever he can (this is exactly the sort of description that totally put me off seeing the film, to be honest.) 

But there are a couple of things that prevent the movie from gliding too far down the slippery slope of mawkishness. After the initial scenes of Andy's trial, the entire story is told from the perspective of Morgan Freeman's character, Red. Red calmly narrates the goings on in the prison almost as a neutral observer of oddities, the biggest oddity being Andy himself. 

Andy is a riddle. From beginning to end, the audience barely gets a sense of what's under the surface, with hints cropping up in the beer scene and the music scene. But everytime he starts to open up, his shell snaps shut again. Or he gets tossed in the hole. (Ah the hole, that magical plot contrivance of prison movies and hockey movies).

The second saving grace is the music. Thomas Newman's melancholy score emphasizes the mystery and menace of the prison, rather than the cheesy 'we are family' themes that are bubbling under the surface, threatening to break through.

However, given how subtle much of the movie actually is, the famous (infamous?) line, "Get busy living, or get busy dying" hits you like a 900 pound anvil on the head. Forgetting the fact that based on everything we know, Andy would NEVER say something so pithy, it's just a terrible line. It personifies Emma Thompson's recent definition of the word twee: 'whimsy without wit.' It makes no sense, and it's not terribly inspired.

Nonetheless, what keeps the movie chugging ahead is that there are a few genuine surprises in the plotting. Surprise deaths, surprise rebirths, surprise ways of dealing.

But, I confess, I was anxiously awaiting the legendary scene that's renowned for making men cry. It never came. Please write angry letters to this BBC writer: 20 Movies that Make Grown Men Cry

  • I actually couldn't think of any other movies I've seen with Tim Robbins in it, but of course there's High Fidelity (but who remembers anything other than Jack Black in that movie anyway). 
    • Oh and he's in Top Gun, but when I think of that movie I am blinded by the homoeroticism. 
    • And Twister! (giant cows mooing while being sucked up by tornadoes. As you can see, strange things stick in my mind from movies I saw when I was young). 
    • And Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me (no comment).

Yes. But keep your expectations in check.

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