Shawshank Redemption

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“Everyone needs freedom.”

Discuss this idea in light of your study of The Shawshank Redemption.

The walls of Shawshank are both confining and comforting for the men they imprison. The Shawshank Redemption takes a dual approach to ideas of freedom, exploring both the need for a sense of freedom and the desire to remain in the security of the institution. Andy’s twenty-year struggle to escape represents the profound human need to be free. The enjoyment of the prisoners as they share beers while tarring a factory roof and the mental release they feel as Andy plays forbidden music across the hijacked public address system demonstrate the idea that a sense of freedom is essential when physical escape is impossible. However, for prisoners who come to depend on the structure of their confinement, freedom is an intimidating challenge. Both Red and Brooks become institutionalised and struggle to survive in the world outside the prison’s walls. While Red chooses to make the most of his freedom, the experience is too much for Brooks and his release causes him to kill himself. While the film asserts the basic need for a sense of freedom, it also explores the idea that absolute freedom can be dangerous for those who have lived too long without it.

Andy’s attitude during his time at Shawshank is represented as being very different to that of the other inmates. Andy’s need to be free gives him the determination to escape. After crawling five hundred yards through the sewer pipe Andy is shown stripping off his uniform and washing himself clean. An overhead shot is used to show Andy in the creek and spreading his arms to embrace his freedom. The symbolism of Andy removing the prison uniform represents him leaving Shawshank prison behind. This image is reinforced through the traditional literary symbol of the storm representing change through a washing away of the old. While this moment creates a sense of celebration and relief for both Andy and the audience, his escape has a profound impact on the prisoners he left behind. His determination inspires hope in those around him. This is seen through the effect it has on Red. Due to Andy’s influence, Red starts to have hope of one day becoming free from Shawshank. Just after Andy’s escape from Shawshank, Red says, I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged, their feathers are just to bright, and when they fly away, the part of you that knows that it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice; but still the place you live in is that much more drab and empty now that they’ve been gone. I guess I just miss my friend. Reds description of Andy as a bird with bright feathers reflects the impact Andy had had on Shawshank. The symbolic use of the metaphor of the bird, and the use of emotive language in “bright” and “rejoice”, reveals the sense of hope Red feels following Andy’s escape. Andy’s twenty year determination to escape, and the obvious impact his hope has on those around him, reveals a deep-seated need in the characters to be free.

The scene in which Andy and his fellow inmates share beers on the roof explores important ideas of a sense of freedom in captivity. Constant exposure to the brutality of the guards leads the prisoners to be scared of their superiors. Being outside the prison on a work party, Andy and his fellow inmates are confronted with a sudden sense of freedom. The prisoners are able to relax with beer Andy’s audacity wins from the guards in a rare moment of human connection, and try to imagine themselves being free men. Red recounts this idea in his narration, “We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders and we felt like free men. Hell, we could have been tarring the roof of one of our own houses. We were the lords of all creation.” While Red speaks, the camera transitions from mid-shot to long-shot to show the visual use of physical space which represents the emotional sense of freedom. The camera is also used to show a shift in...
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