Shawshank Redemption

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Analysis of The Shawshank Redemption

While there often appears to be just a story line in a movie, many different techniques are used to give a deeper meaning to the scenario. This is evident in the movie, The Shawshank Redemption. The story begins when Andy Dufresne, a young vice president of a prestigious Portland, Maine bank, is wrongfully convicted of killing his wife and her lover. He is then sent to jail where he learns lessons about life through his friends and becomes part of a corrupt scheme to launder money. After nineteen years Andy tunnels out of the prison into freedom. While it appears simple on the surface, through the use of many techniques such as title, colors, symmetry, names, numbers, symbols, irony, bible references, and others, The Shawshank Redemption gains a deeper meaning.

The title, The Shawshank Redemption, initially has a saving appeal to it. Webster's Dictionary defines "redeem" as "…to free from what distresses or harm (Webster 968)." There is the initial sense of salvation for whatever Shawshank might be. However, this sense changes when it is discovered that Shawshank is a state prison in Maine. With this knowledge the title is an oxymoron. How is it that a prison can provide redemption? The title gains its full meaning at the end of the movie. Andy Dufresne is redeemed through his experience at the prison. He learns about life there, while teaching others. He is redeemed through his second chance at life after his escape from the prison. In this sense he takes the Webster's meaning of "redeem," "to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental (Webster 968)."

A movie is controlled by ideas and techniques that are engulfed in almost every aspect of the film. In The Shawshank Redemption, there are three main ideas and techniques that carry the film, being walls, lighting, and water. Both literal and figurative walls trap Andy. In the beginning, he is trapped by the figurative wall of losing his cheating wife. When he goes to prison, the prison walls trap him. Within Andy's cell, the names of the previous inmates are carved into the walls. This acts as a reminder to Andy of his incarceration. It also gives him the idea of tunneling out, when he tries to carve his own name into the wall. The walls of the old library are cracked and worn. This is similar to the mental state of many of the prisoners, especially Brooks. Originally the prisoners hate the walls. Then they get used to them. Eventually they come to depend on the walls. Their lives in the prison become cracked and worn. At times these walls do provide strength. For example, Andy leans against the wall as he is talking about his dreams for Mexico. These walls give him the strength to go through with his plan to escape. Lighting plays an integral part to the deeper meaning of the movie by setting the atmosphere. There is extensive use of shadows, fadeouts, and partial sunlight to represent the cloudy mental and moral state of many of the characters. Shadows cover the majority of characters throughout the film. This is created by the fact that when the sun shines, it does so only on one side of a character, usually their back. This alludes to the thought that these people have the truth about them, yet are unable to truly see it. A good portion of the movie occurs in the dark. Lights out at the prison is an extremely dark time when the characters are left with only their own thoughts. The nighttime death of Tommy Williams alludes to the desire to stay away from the truth. Hadley walks into the light after he commits the murder to show that he partially realizes the wrongdoing he has just committed. However, at the end of the movie there are no shadows. As Red walks along the beach to Andy everything is seen as it really is. This is so figuratively and literally. Water provides the sense of purification. Andy escapes from Shawshank by crawling through a 500-yard sewage pipe. At the end of the pipe he falls into a river...
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