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The Shawshank Redemption – Better Than The Book?

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How many times have you told yourself “The book was great, but the movie was awful.” after seeing a film? There aren’t that many great stories out there that have been surpassed in excellence by their film versions.

“Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” was a novella by Stephen King, written under the name Richard Bachman. It was one of his best works, stemming from the fact that he had absolutely no supernatural cop-outs as his horror novels are chock full of, and the characterizations were all powerful and rich in this compelling tale.

When painted across a canvas of celluloid, the story as played out in the movie was even more powerful.

Masters of their craft…

There’s a murder at a country club bungalow. A woman and her lover are shot to death, and the police take in her husband and with overwhelming evidence against him he’s quickly convicted of the murders. Tim Robbins performs brilliantly as Andy Dufresne, a man who claims he’s wrongly imprisoned for those murders, but instead of showing weakness, he enters prison in a state of boldness, but shock.

Morgan Freeman is Red, the guy that can get you anything. The story’s told from his perspective, and in a way the movie’s just as much about him as it is Andy. He’s in for a long sentence, and as his life behind the walls passes by him, he watches how the world closes in around him despite all that Andy does to show that there’s still life and hope.

Can’t have any of that hope going around. Bob Gunton is the corrupt Warden Norton, dripping virtue from Biblical verse as a cover for his cruel and thieving ways. He’s turned the prison into his own private moneymaking scheme, and Andy’s the key to keeping that money laundering machine going. When Andy comes across a miraculous opportunity to set things right and possibly have his sentence re-examined and commuted, Warden Norton shows his true colors in wicked fashion.

No, that’s not the immortal Kuragin in a guard’s uniform, slashing his way with a baton through the prison’s wards, but it may as well be. Clancy Brown is the captain of the guards, Byron Hadley, a brutal man who is the right fist of the warden. He gives out beatings and whallopings as another man would breathe – cruelty defines him. He is introduced with the thrashing of a new prisoner, and beats a man to death on his first night. Andy plays upon Hadley’s greed during a work detail, and in turn Hadley hands Andy to the warden as a prized posession to be exploited. In the end though, you realize who’s doing the real manipulations and exploiting of weaknesses.

In all, there are no wasted characters in this film. Everybody has some connection with everyone else here, even in the slightest involvement in a crowd of jailed inmates egging on the nocturnal whimperings of newly-jailed convicts to the lunch table dialogues and field hand work. The exchanged looks, downcast eyes, or brutal and grim determination of the guards all make this film seem real.

For instance, in Brooks the Librarian, each convict sees their potential fate. A man has been put under lock and key for so long that he’s lost all touch with the world outside… or the world outside has lost all need for him. He only has meaning within the prison, and as a final punishment he’s stripped of that respect and meaning and tossed out as a used-up old husk into the world.

Why this movie is so powerful

Besides the wonderful acting, rich characters, and powerful dialogue, this movie’s got some of the most impressive sets and scenery I’ve seen for a prison movie. The lighting has just the right shadows and shafts of light, the cell blocks are grungy and grimy and oppressive to the right degree, and the people have taken on a cast like the walls and rocky fields that contain them.

This movie may be centered around prison conditions in the forties, fifties, and sixties, but the lesson still holds true for today’s cells and wards – how is it that a prison is supposed to reform what is considered a dangerous criminal? What does it mean to be reformed? Is it enough just to put certain kinds of people away and just wait for them to grind each other up to the point where they lose all hope and all spirit… is it the hope and spirit in these people that is the part that is considered dangerous?

Here’s the big question the movie asks: Is there such a thing as a human spirit? From Hadley’s perspective, the human spirit is defined by that thing he sets out to break in each and every prisoner under his charge. By Andy Dufresne’s definition, it’s that thing that keeps him going to matter how long it takes him to get himself free and give every one of his tormentors their comeuppance. It is that thing which cannot be broken.

How old should they be to see this?

This movie’s a little too intense for the little kids, but it could be an important lesson in the power of the human spirit and the brutality of one view of prison life for the older teenagers. I’d say 15 or 16 could handle the intensity.

It was one of my first picks for DVD

I was looking forward to the day when my wife and I finally save up enough to get our dream house and fill it with all those things we’ve put off until we get our house. Well, we didn’t get a house yet, but we did get that a DVD player, and this movie was in that initial purchase of films.

Sure, this movie plays on TNT all the time, being a Drama and all, but I still had to get it on DVD to own. Why?

– I hate commercials
– I hate popup ads and promo things
– If I need to go to the bathroom, I can pause it
– I don’t have to wait for Ted Turner to play it for the fifth time that week to see it

Of course, my wife still manages to catch it on TNT while she’s doing laundry or something or other, and I keep telling her “But we have it on DVD.” She always responds “I know, but it was on.”

I don’t think I’m ever going to understand her.

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About Laurence Simon

  • Eric Olsen

    Excellent review – hardly twisted at all, and I love the line, “but it was on.”

  • http://www.funmurphys.com Kevin Murphy

    Great review, great movie.

    I thought the movie was really about the relationship of Red and Andy, and the titular redemption was Red’s — Red didn’t suffer Brook’s fate because of Andy.

    I put the DVD on my Christmas list last year and didn’t get it (I did get Groundhog Day), so I’m happy TNT still shows it.

  • Stephen S. Power

    I would argue that another movie which was better than its source text was JURASSIC PARK.

    True, the book was a huge bestseller and I, for one, couldn’t put it down. But the movie improved it in two crucial ways.

    One, the character of the park owner. In the book he was portrayed as your standard evil corporate head who must, according to the morality of popular entertainment, die in the end. And he does in a way so contrived it’s ridiculous. But in the movie the character is more complex. He has corporate ambitions, but a good heart, the latter embodied in his grandchildren. Thus he’s brought into conflict by the events of the movie, which is shown beautifully by him eating ice cream alone at night while the dinos rage around JP HQ. He doesn’t die in the end because he comes to a good decision in the movie. He’s portrayed as redeemable and he redeems himself, whereas the character in the book is beyond redemption.

    Two, the narrative. In the book there’s a long, pointless digression (nearly 100 pages as I remember) through a pterodactyl “cage.” This served only to show off Crichton’s research and to stuff more dinos into the book. In the movie, the whole section is removed, tightening up the action in JP. Nicely the section is reworked for the second sequel, where it makes some narrative sense. It can’t save that movie, though from being lame in comparison.

  • Stephen S. Power

    I would argue that another movie which was better than its source text was JURASSIC PARK.

    True, the book was a huge bestseller and I, for one, couldn’t put it down. But the movie improved it in two crucial ways.

    One, the character of the park owner. In the book he was portrayed as your standard evil corporate head who must, according to the morality of popular entertainment, die in the end. And he does in a way so contrived it’s ridiculous. But in the movie the character is more complex. He has corporate ambitions, but a good heart, the latter embodied in his grandchildren. Thus he’s brought into conflict by the events of the movie, which is shown beautifully by him eating ice cream alone at night while the dinos rage around JP HQ. He doesn’t die in the end because he comes to a good decision in the movie. He’s portrayed as redeemable and he redeems himself, whereas the character in the book is beyond redemption.

    Two, the narrative. In the book there’s a long, pointless digression (nearly 100 pages as I remember) through a pterodactyl “cage.” This served only to show off Crichton’s research and to stuff more dinos into the book. In the movie, the whole section is removed, tightening up the action in JP. Nicely the section is reworked for the second sequel, where it makes some narrative sense. It can’t save that movie, though from being lame in comparison.

  • your mom

    whos your daddy and what does he do?

  • your sister

    whos your mummy and what does she do?

  • your dad

    whos your sister and what does she do?

  • your brother

    whos your brother and what does he do?

  • cornell wallace

    i played laundry leonard in the film and it was the most amazing experience.frank nicki and morgan were terrific.please write in support of a sequel