“Why are these men in jail?” – comment, rottentomatoes.com
Nominated with seven academy awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Morgan Freeman), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Sound, The Shawshank Redemption is a riveting, engrossing, film directed by Frank Darabont who adapted horror master Stephen King’s 1982 novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption for his feature film. Note though that this film was only nominated, it failed to win a single Oscar given that the film was created in the same year as Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, and Speed, who received all the attention. Only through cable TV and video releases did the film do well- although its original reception at the box office was considered lukewarm. Darabont’s film is a very endearing and moving, slowly-detailed, allegorical tale of friendship, patience, hope, survival, emancipation, and ultimate redemption by the end of the film.
Andy Dufresne, protagonist in the film, is sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison for the murders of his wife and her lover. However, only Andy knows that he didn’t commit the crimes. Sent to Shawshank Prison to do hard time, Andy, a banker in the outside world, has to learn to get by in the brutal, cutthroat confines of prison life. His quiet strength slowly earns the respect of his fellow inmate, and even much of the prison staff.. His seemingly stoic acceptance of his unjust imprisonment hides a fierce determination for freedom.
Written, from the point of view of one of the prisoners- Red (Morgan Freeman)- the film was able to convey the brutality of the life in prison by showcasing even subtly the sodomy and the physical abuse, the psychological torture and the emotional crushing that a prisoner undergoes behind the walls that first served as a bar to freedom to them and a home pillar in the end. Also, the first-person point of view of the movie, made the movie more realistic to the wider audience, making the prisoners who are, outside the film, seen as a danger to society, relatable such that their experiences inside the prison made them appear human again- one with a heart and a soul who strives for redemption. In fact, the comment on top “Why are these men in jail?” showcases this beautifically crafted movie’s touching and sincere performances and forwards the uplifting message about humanity’s spirit and redemptive value of hope.
One of the central themes of the movie is “social justice”. Innocent as he was, Andy was struggling to prove his impeccability despite the many forces around him which hinders him to do so. It was very evident in the film that justice is a very complex concept. He was very hopeful even though the many forces inside seems to prohibit him to feel that way. His friend Red even warned him from being very optimistic and that he should face the reality that he is to spend the remaining years of his life in prison. This stems from Red’s experience of being rejected parole for quite a number of times. Furthermore, Red also referred to the fate of Brooks who committed suicide after his independence from the penitentiary. Still, Andy’s exuberance prevailed and that his experience in prison did not get the best of him. He was focused on his plans and he pursued them with perseverance and optimism.
Such debilitating forces are present in the society at large. They are not confined in the walls of the penitentiary rather they exist even in the most unexpected sectors of the community. This is very evident in the experience of the Philippines. Corruption is one of the manifestations of these forces that may tempt people especially those in power to engage in illegal activities just to further their self-interests even at the expense of others who may be adversely affected by all these abominations. Public officials cling on to their positions knowing that they could maximize the perks and privileges while in office. This poses a serious threat to the revered sovereignty of the people.
A masterpiece in itself, the Shawshank Redemption hides many allegories and is an allegory as a whole unfolding like a long-played, sometimes painstaking, persistent chess game- a game that Red and Andy promised to play together someday. Even some of the characters are symbolic in themselves: For instance, Tommy, after admitting that he will hold witness for Andy, was betrayed by the warden as Judas betrayed Jesus which is an irony in itself given the warden’s self-righteous, biblically-obsessed character. This has led some critics to interpret the film as some kind of a Christian parable. All of Andy’s effort to assert his morality amidst all the animosity that have been going on have paid off which resembles a Christian struggle towards salvation. The warden served as a serpent much like in the Garden of Eden, which tries to bring out the potentially corruptible side of Andy. Man’s actions have their corresponding consequences and that was apparent as the film concludes. While the performances of the characters in the film are undoubtedly believable coupled with an excellent script, the cinematography provided an important ‘feel’ in the film. The seemingly claustrophobic walls, imposing fences and constraining barricades somehow add to the feeling of oppression. The film has succeeded in using symbols to make the audience understand certain fundamental things that remain prevalent even in the present context.
Indeed, the film serves as an effective medium of political content forwarding many relevant political perspectives as the power relations in prison and the private political lives of each and every individual prisoner- inside and outside the prison- thus, the differences in the way of freedom of Brooks and Red. Also, it holds into question even subtly, how the life in prison socializes an individual to become an altogether different person than whoever one is the moment one enters and the moment one exits. The film talked about the prisoners being ‘institutionalized’. Just the thought of spending a part of one’s life inside a penitentiary may bring chills to a person but there would come a time when the prisoners become very accustomed to the life they were living inside prison that they were dreading the day when they had to leave and go back to the society as a reformed person. Brooks even tried to hurt a fellow prisoner just so he could stay because according to him at least inside he was considered important being the prison librarian. Indeed, this challenges prisons and penitentiaries if they actually serve the purpose they were intended to serve. The society can be very capricious and judgmental especially towards prisoners who go back to the community.
Power relations have been fortuitously tackled in the film. Superior-subordinate relations have been effectively depicted. The film techniques used in the film portray power very well by using low-angled shots as if the prisoners are nothing and extremely over-powered. Many times in the movie, the guards and other domineering inmates have asserted their power through beating other prisoners as if they were merely objects devoid of feelings and emotions. Also, the sight of the warden and guards looking down at the inmates symbolizes the existing relationship among them.
The way the film was made makes one reconsider the usual political socialization of individuals against prisoners to make them see the indomitable spirit of each and every prisoner striving to live with the thinnest strand of survival inside the prison. As such, the film served as an effective avenue of political socialization, in terms of socializing the audience, in seeing the prison institution as a redemptive arena for those sent in there. Notwithstanding, the film as much as it served as a film of hope and life and the redemptive story of humanity, also served as a means of political socialization in its form and allegorical subtlety.
K. Borja & A. M. Cardenas