Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Shawshank Redemption

Shawshank Redemption must be at the top of almost everyones list of favorite films. I for one found it an extremely inspirational and heart felt story. I was therefore shocked to hear that when it was first released, it was a complete flop at the box office and barley made enough money to cover it's budget. 
Created by first time director, Frank Darabont, the film is almost entirely set in Shawshank state prison. For the few who haven't seen the film, city banker Andy Dufresne is sent to Shawshank after being wrongly convicted for murdering his wife and her lover. Whilst there his quiet strength and integrity gradually earns respect and friendship of prison inmate Red, played by Morgan Freeman. Andy also becomes popular with the warden and prison guards by providing them tax and financial services. Despite Andy's apparent acceptance of his unjust punishment, he is determined for freedom. Freedom and hope are central themes to the film - "Fear can keep you a prisoner. Hope can set you free". A particularly moving scene for me is when Brooks Halten is released from Shawshank and finds the outside world so fearful he would rather take his own life than live a free man. The characters in Shawshank have become institutionalised and do not know how to live outside of prison, this is also evident when Red is released on parol after serving forty years there. He does not know how to live outside Shawshank's strict regime and fears that like Brook Halten, he may too end up committing suicide. The main message the film leaves the audience with, is hope. Red finds this in Andy's letter to him at the end of the film, "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies". Showing that hope and optimism can be found even out of the most bleak circumstances. It is this feel good ending and strong, from the heart message of the film that makes it so inspirational and uplifting classic.
When released in 1994, Shawshank Redemption was nominated for seven academy awards; Best picture, Best Actor - Morgan Freeman, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Score and Best Sound Mixing. However in the shadow of Forrest Gump, also released at the same time, it was unable to win a single award. The film received negative reviews from critics, notably Kenneth Turan from the Los Angeles Times, who called the film "dwonright hateful", and that it "makes us feel like were doing harder time than the folks inside". I find these reviews difficult to understand considering the consistent warm reception of the film today. I can only think that it's failure at the box office was a that on it's description, the public did not deem it worth seeing at the cinema. If I had not seen the film and it did not have the reputation it does today, I don't think I would want to watch it from the description of the story. Set mainly in a prison, with little presence of any women characters, by an unknown director, the story doesn't sound very cinematic, more like a dull prison break out film. The thought provoking message and empathy in  the film is unexpected, but is what makes it such a crowd pleaser. It was only when Shawshank Redemption was released on dvd that it it began to receive some attention, from then on, word of mouth has given this film a resounant afterlife.

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