The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The first of two high profile Stephen King adaptations by writer-director Frank Darabont, The Shawshank Redemption tells a tale of enduring friendship and perseverance in the face of adversity, against a backdrop of the U.S prison system in 1947. It’s based on the novella, Rita Hayworth And Shawshank Redemption.
Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is a banker imprisoned for the murder of his wife and her lover. He never wavers from his claim of innocence, however, and bonds with smuggler Ellis ‘Red’ Redding (Morgan Freeman) while incarcerated in Shawshank State Penitentiary. Andy’s earliest days working in the prison laundry are made unbearable by a brutal gang, but Andy continues to work – even offering financial advice to one of the prison guards.
Having unwittingly revealed his usefulness to the guards and warden, Andy is then protected by the prison staff and moved to work in the library, assisting an older inmate. Over the next two decades, the warden and prison staff begin to establish a money laundering operation, using Andy to get the job done. Meanwhile, Andy works to improve the prison library.
When a new inmate arrives from another prison and is befriended by Andy and Red, he reveals that an inmate from another prison has confessed to the crimes for which Andy was convicted. When Andy approaches the warden with this information, he’s dismissed and the new inmate that revealed it is killed. The prison staff ensure that Andy remains in their prison to continue their profitable money laundering scheme. Andy assures Red that he perseveres because he has hope, but Red is too cynical to agree to the merits of hope.
After many years, Andy disappears from his locked cell, and prison staff discover that he has systematically been digging through the wall throughout his time in Shawshank, using a hammer that Red procured from him shortly after his arrival. Some time later, Red is paroled and fulfills his promise to Andy to visit a field and retrieve a package he buried. Finding money, and a letter inviting him to Mexico, Red violates his parole to meet Andy on a beach for a happy reunion.
This, perhaps more than any other, is Stephen King’s exploration of the power of hope in an unfair, unkind world. The story of Andy Dufresne is one of determination, with his immovable personal conviction reflected by the seemingly immovable technical conviction that landed him in jail in the first place. While Andy seeks the redemption afforded him in acts of kindness toward his fellow inmates, Red finds redemption in both his own kindness, and Andy’s unrelenting hopefulness. Each of these themes is supported by excellent performances from the cast, and an elegant script that brilliantly adapts the source material.