The most distinguishing quality of Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption is its patience, both in its storytelling and in the time the filmmakers waited to earn its well-deserved acclaim. Rarely has a film necessitated such deep reflection beneath the surface and rarely has a film made the depths so rewarding. It was only a matter of time before people found it and would embrace its gargantuan impact.
Pages have been written about why the story based on the novel by Stephen King has made such a lasting impression on audiences. Many people have duly praised the film as a moving story of hope or a deeply spiritual experience and that it is. But it strikes a stronger chord than other films of its kind because it not just about hope restored but also the progress of truly believing in it. It is also about an even more meaningful subject seldom portrayed so vividly in the movies – salvation.
The key to understanding both of these themes is in the movie’s structure. Despite that the hero is Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and the film opens with his conviction for the murder of his wife and her lover, he is not the center of the film. That is Red Redding (Morgan Freeman), who is the narrator of the story, and it is through his eyes that we see the core positive values the hero represents. It is thus a journey of discovery and redemption and not merely a simplistic success story.
When Red first sees Andy, who firmly maintains that he is innocent of the crimes he has been convicted of, he sees that he “looked like a stiff breeze would blow him over.” He even bets with the other prisoners that he won’t be able to last through his first night in prison. But when he really meets him, his observations have already changed to admiration: “It’s like he had some invisible coat on to shield him from the rest.”