The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Director: Frank Darabont
For some reason “The Shawshank Redemption” has held the number one spot on IMDB.com’s top 500 movie list for over a decade now. This alone should show the subjectivity and general pointlessness of such lists. I do not say this as a slight to Shawshank, it is a fine movie and one that I have seen and will probably see again several times. It tells a heartwarming story of hope prevailing in a seemingly hopeless situation. While watching it recently though, the thought kept interrupting me in midstream that this movie is basically a safe, homogenized version of Cool Hand Luke. Both movies have main characters who inspire their fellow inmates in a Christ like manner, right down to the obvious symbolism of each character doing a crucifix pose, with Andy Dufresne after crawling out of a sewer of filth so awful Morgan Freeman doesn’t want to think about it, and Luke after winning a bet that he could not break the previous record for consuming boiled eggs. Cool Hand Luke ends with its “Christ figure” shot dead, and only his memory is left to bring comfort to his former friends. Shawshank ends with a postcard like ending with Andy and his best friend Red on a scenic tropical beach embracing like the long lost friends they are.
There’s no question which ending is more uplifting, but in my mind, there’s also no question as to which one was the braver, and overall better either. Shawshank is basically to me a Hallmark movie on steroids. It has a great humanist message but aside from one seemingly out of place homosexual rape scene, there’s not the seedy, gritty undertone that ought to be there in such a movie. Shawshank has become a pet peeve of mine I suppose. As a movie it has much to admire, such as career defining performances from Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. Still though, I thought its running time was a bit much. It was originally a short story by Stephen King, which was expanded greatly to form the very lengthy and sometimes dragging movie it became. Cool Hand Luke aside, I found I even prefer “The Green Mile” another King adaptation by the same director no less, which featured equally memorable performances from Tom Hanks and Michael Clark Duncan, and in my opinion had much better cinematography and overall mise en’ scene (to sneak in a vocab term) with the 1930s location and the other worldly aura of the film. Again, I’m not trying to run down this movie. I love it, but I’m just not in love with it.