Movie Review: The Shawshank Redemption

Kern’s Warning: This movie is rated R in America for mature content; such a violence, foul language, references to non-consensual sex, and a man that ends his own life. The Shawshank Redemption is not for children and therefore this review isn’t intended to be read by them either.

While the movie is critically acclaimed, there’s no question that some of the content will not be suitable for all viewers. The same goes for this review, it will not be suitable for anyone particularly sensitive to the topics mentioned above.

While I don’t dive deep into the topics, the fact that they are present in the movie can’t be entirely ignored. Please be aware of your own personal limitations and comfort level. If any of the above is triggering for you, please avoid this review. Thank you for your time…

– Kernook.

Hey everyone, it’s Kern here. Today I’ll be talking about a movie that might as well be a classic, cult or otherwise. The Shawshank Redemption has been a touchstone for years when it comes to film and media, and it deserves to be reviewed despite its age… If you skipped the warning above, please actually read it.

I don’t put warnings on reviews without a good reason to actually do so.

Before I begin, I want to say that the movie is timeless, but it’s also a tough movie to watch for some people. Themes are hard hitting and they demand a certain level of emotional maturity from the viewer.

As mentioned in the warning, there’s a decent bit of violence, both verbally and physically. The setting is a prison, after all. From this point on, you’re reading the review at your own discretion. Also from this point on, there are spoilers.

Just bear in mind, for as wonderful as the movie is, there are a few moments that could leave a somewhat foul taste in your mouth. With that out of the way, let’s dive into the movie properly.

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On the surface, The Shawshank Redemption might come off as your typical spurned-lover prison drama. I really wouldn’t blame you for believing that it is. Upon first glance, it seems to have all of the trappings of a stereotypical prison movie, complete with your cookie cutter inmates and corrupt legal system.

Swearing and verbal threats permeate the dialogue. Murder and corruption stands at the forefront vile intention. Content that both directly references or implies sexual violence and assault are not easy scenes to watch, even if they don’t show the act itself. Atop this, one man fails to escape his institutionalized ways after receiving his freedom from prison, hanging himself when he feels he has no other option.

This is a story where redemption is actually very few and far between for these characters. Yet, the above paragraph alone would have you believe the movie is sinister, and it is far from the sort.

Much like the cursive in the image below that bookend the core themes, there’s an elegance ensconced within the deeper narrative. For all of the mud and muck, there’s a shackled sort of humanity to be discovered here. It isn’t just because of the prison system.

Some of that gruesome mentality is self-imposed. The characters are a looking glass into these mindsets.

The Shawshank Redemption a drama wrapped in tragic outcomes, and a search for the silver lining. New beginnings are possible, for those willing to believe in them. Amidst the nastiness surrounding their lives, hope alone is a prevailing theme.

The movie does at least provide a happy ending that doesn’t feel forced. While there is an uplifting story here, there’s also a story of humanity, greed and emotional strife.

This isn’t a story where happiness is handed to these characters on a silver platter. An innocent man is convicted, and the system is as corrupt as they come. Redemption only comes for him when he reclaims by force.

Even then, there’s so little about crawling your way through a sewer and living under a fake identity that’s redeeming at all. To reach redemption, the main character has to do some pretty underhanded things to reach it.

The Shawshank Redemption is as much about prisons as it is the human condition. For as beautiful and thought provoking as the movie is, there’s some real grime caked on top of it. It’ll give you a taste of what goes on in the minds of these characters, but it won’t hold your hand or coddle you. You’ll have to deal with the facts as they hand them to you, for better and for much worse.

The movie came out in 1994 and some would say that it was a box-office flop at the time. That makes perfect sense to me, because this movie is best enjoyed like a fine wine that ages correctly.

It should be watched and savored slowly, pondered about with careful consideration. While it is certainly a classic, and it has many accolades afforded to it, the movie is something of an acquired taste. Will it be for you? That depends on how much you want to dip your toes into thoughtful commentary and emotional maturity.

As the credits roll and you’re left to stew in what you’ve just witnessed, that’s when you’re going to get the most out of it.

The Shawshank Redemption follows imprisoned banker Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins), a man sentenced with two entire lifetimes in prison. He’ll spend almost 20 years hatching an escape plan from the Shawshank State Penitentiary. During this time, be beaten down, abused, and left to wonder if he’ll even survive the system long enough to escape.

He’ll also befriend a fellow inmate Ellis ‘Red’ Redding (played by Morgan Freeman). Ellis acts as the film’s narrator, who provides Andy with tools needed to escape the prison… he’s also the only character that receives a true and honestly earned redemption story. After countless attempts at parole, he finally receives his… but that comes at the price of 40 years he’ll never get to have back.

To me, he’s also the most compelling character in the movie. Although he’s the narrator, the movie never explains the details about why Ellis is imprisoned. For that, you’re going to need the original source material, which is actually based upon a book.

Even this movie suffers from the bog-standard “go-read-the-book” fate, but I digress. Yep, that’s right! The movie was adapted from the 1982 Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.

Actually, that’s a really good read, and I’d suggest that you pick it up. If you like the movie, the book is your next stop… back to the movie though. A few questions come to mind as I write this review.

Why does the film stand the test of time? Why is it more popular now, than when it was released back in 1994? Well, I’d say that’s because the movie is a slow-burn. At almost two and a half hours in length, it’s not a short romp. Plenty of movies grip onto superficial emotions during intense moments, and we viewers like to buy into that.

The Shawshank Redemption refuses to give us mindless pretense… rather, the movie takes its time, slows down and allows itself to breathe.

The narrator is as calm and he is insightful. As we tour the community housed behind bars, we viewers don’t have to suspend much in the way of disbelief. The movie is raw at times; cunningly diving deeper than most films dare to go.

The passage of time is a cruel mistress, and that theme holds true as well.

Even when friendship and hope are held so closely in hand, time does not heal all wounds here. In this move, time helps to make them. This film touches upon that. Character introspection stands at the forefront of every minor detail.

The film is gritty, but it’s also poetic. A mix of hard hitting cinematography and acting leave behind a good bone to chew on. The references to the harsh realities of prison life won’t pull back on the punches to the gut, either.

I would wholeheartedly suspect the film resonates so keenly among viewers these days, because it demands a level of forbearance so few films manage to pull off. The cold and often cruel reality of a man finding redemption is in a way, a hero’s journey… although, these characters are lacking in the redeeming qualities we’d like to see within them.

This juxtaposition is what makes the movie so powerful.

It all comes down to the name, I’d say. The Shawshank Redemption is exactly that. Films about “redemption”, particularly those regarding a convict, should be met with a skeptical lens. Subverting that is going to be a struggle.

Frank Darabont wrote and directed the film, and I’m sure he understood the massive undertaking it would be to even do so. The cinematography offered to us by Roger Deakins had to be done masterfully, and honestly I’ve got to say it’s effective. The music composed by Thomas Newman adds to the experience in a way that doesn’t overshadow the film itself.

These three well-rounded elements provide an immersive atmosphere you won’t soon forget. For all of the violence and volatile themes that try to tarnish the string of hope among the characters, there are some truly heartfelt moments mixed among them.

There is an underlying core ethos and beauty in this movie that can’t be understated. For as much as you might grimace in the face of a few select moments, you’ll also be left with gentle satisfaction of a journey brought to its reasonable conclusion.

It’s a bitter journey, with a happy ending that isn’t too sickly sweet. Rather, one might call it a new beginning rather than an ending at all, and really that’s what it should be.

If you can stomach the worst of it, you’ll get a gem of a story for your trouble. Although, much like the characters, we’re not all going to come out of the movie the same way went into it. If we allow it to mean something, it’s going to leave you with a full mind.

This movie has something to say. Good or bad is left to your interpretation. What you get out of the movie boils down to one thing; what you ultimately take from it.

Mark my words, anything less, and the film would have been too far up its own ass to be considered any good at all. The Shawshank Redemption is a near perfect synergy of creative minds and amazing source material melding together… no more, no less.

That doesn’t mean that I’m going to tell you to watch it, though…

If you haven’t seen it, I can’t exactly suggest it. It’s not because I don’t want to… but because I can’t in good conscience tell you to watch this movie. There’s a few scenes that make me very decidedly uncomfortable every time I watch it. When a movie does that to me, it makes it difficult to gauge how other viewers might internalize something.

Instead I’ll say this. The Shawshank Redemption is not a redeeming movie… but it is a movie that will ask you to think about what you’re seeing. If you like a good philosophical and moral bone to chew on, you’ll have one, if you decide to watch it.

If you don’t want to stomach the discomfort of what you’ll ultimately see… well, the movie just isn’t for you and that’s fine too.

This has been Kernook of The Demented Ferrets, where stupidity is at its finest and level grinds are par for the course. I’ll see you next time.

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