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King's Shawshank delivers message of renewal


Directed by Frank Darabont.

Written by Frank Darabont, based on a short story by Stephen King.

Starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman,

and William Sadler.

Loews Copley Place.

By John Jacobs
Staff Reporter

The Shawshank Redemption is an extraordinary movie about hope, friendship, and suffering in life. Tim Robbins plays the classic hero in Andy Dufresne, a successful banker who is imprisoned for two murders (of his wife and her lover) he did not commit. Without a fight, like a biblical sheep led to the slaughterhouse, he allows his sentence to be commuted.

In prison he is withdrawn, carrying himself in the same dignified manner that he had become accustomed to as a banker. This strange demeanor in the midst of the prison's physically and psychologically abrasive reality immediately attracts the curious attention of Ellis "Red" Redding, played by Morgan Freeman. Two months pass before Andy approaches him.

Andy approaches Red out of necessity, in a somewhat bored condition: He wants to resume his rock sculpting hobby and Red, being something of a kingpin within the prison ranks, is the only inmate with enough connections to smuggle small rocks and tools into the prison.

Slowly, the audience is introduced to their complicated friendship. While Red is naturally social, Andy has difficulty relating to others. This realization seems to cause him major discomfort. He is partly haunted by the memory his wife, whom he loved but "drove away." But he is also unnerved by his own tendency to deny himself relationships with others. Actually, exactly how and to what extent Andy is socially imprisoned seems to be anybody's guess, including his own. This is the only flaw apparent in the movie. Introverted Andy Dufresne communicates without words, but Tim Robbins, although he deftly conveys Andy's free, irrepressible spirit, doesn't clarify exactly what Andy's social problem is, or how he feels about it.

As his friendship with Red develops, Andy, a shrewd financial planner, quickly makes friends among the guards and even cultivates the favor of the warden himself, who lets him open a prison library. When the warden begins to sell prison labor to private and public ventures, Andy is there to hide the shortcuts and kickbacks. While his favors for the guards get him protected from some of the rougher inmates, his favors for the warden get nothing but more, as the warden double-crosses him. Here, as in other parts of the movie, the content hints at a Christ allegory: The warden tells Andy, "You will do the hardest time there is."

Throughout the movie, Red is inspired by the hope which carries Andy through tough times, hope which Red himself had not been able to hold on to. When Andy escapes from prison through the sewage pipes, Red marvels, "Andy crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side." This theme persists throughout the movie, sometimes very artfully disguised.

Andy says only once in the movie, "You keep busy living or you get busy dying." No sentiment has ever been so brought to life in a movie: The Shawshank Redemption transcends its short-story basis to yield a lasting message of inspiration and renewal. This movie has "Oscar" written all over it.