October is Black History Month in which we celebrate high achieving, historical figures of the Black community for a whole month. So it seemed only appropriate to celebrate one of America’s finest actors, Morgan Freeman, and review his one of his greatest films; The Shawshank Redemption.
In 1947, Banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is incarcerated in the Shawshank State Prison for two life sentences for murdering his wife. Soon after his arrival he befriends Ellis Boyd Redding, also known as ‘Red’ (Morgan Freeman), also imprisoned for murder. Red landed in Shawshank over 20 years previous to Andy, and in that time has received a reputation for smuggling goods in and out of the prison and often supplies Andy with posters of desirable women of the time, he can also offer him a certain amount of protection as a new prisoner, so Andy sticks close to him and his friends.
Andy acquires a position working in the laundry room and it’s here that he is repeatedly, brutally attacked by a gang known as ‘The Sisters’ and one such attack is so horrific, he is almost killed. Thankfully he is then relocated to the library where he meets Brooks Hatlen, an elderly inmate who’s been in Shawshank for over 50 years. Soon enough, his banking skills come into good use and he manages to create a name for himself as a dab hand with the books. Cue an onslaught of money laundering and plenty of gruelling hours in solitary confinement. After his final spell in solitary confinement for trying to prove the innocence of a fellow inmate, Andy tells Red of his dreams to live in a small beach town in Mexico, and instructs him, if he ever gets out, to go to a specific hayfield in the town of Buxton to receive a package…
The Shawshank Redemption is an uplifting film with some interesting messages and it deals with so many issues that currently circulate modern day penitentiaries, for example; gang culture, drug smuggling, inmates killing inmates, inmates killing themselves and the difficulties faced when released back into the big wide world. Arguably, it raises the question of how much has American state penitentiaries changed in the last 80 years? The answer would be barely at all, the justice system seems to remain traditional, while the crimes being committed are becoming increasingly variable. Shawshank also conveys a very strong message about freedom and the idea that just because you are imprisoned in a cell, in a building, with a whole load of criminals, it doesn’t mean you can’t be free and Andy and Red demonstrate how to make your own freedom.
Even though the main narrative follows the story of Andy Dufresne, it was Morgan Freeman as Red who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor that year. His character may not be as prominent in the narrative as that of Andy, but what he says and does is so much more important, right up until his last moments on screen where you will honestly find yourself reaching for the tissues, an ending I personally favour as the best I’ve seen so far.
Frank Darabont, the films writer and director, seems to have a penchant for emotional prison films as shortly after making The Shawshank Redemption, he made The Green Mile, another exceptional insight to the mysterious and brutal world of prison. Shawshank is beautifully written, impeccably acted and is still holding its place as #1 on IMDB’s top 250 films of all time, it is a film for everyone, and definitely worth borrowing.
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