Author Stephen King, the master of the macabre, to demonstrate his ease with variety wrote “Different Seasons” – a collection of four novellas, probably in an effort to avoid being pigeonholed into his forte of horror genre.
Yet, when a young film-director Frank Darabont approached him for rights to adapt one of its novellas “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” into a movie, he didn’t think much of it. The rest, as they say, is history; with some alterations the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” turned out to be the best-ranked movies in IMDb, surpassing even the cult-film “The Godfather”.
A banker Andy Dufresne is sentenced to life at Shawshank State prison for murder of his wife and her lover, despite his claims of innocence. At prison, he befriends Ellis Boyd “Red”, the prison entrepreneur, and turns out to be the most unconventional prisoner. Meanwhile, the ruthless prison warden is eager to exploit Andy’s financial skills for his selfish ends.
Dense layers of metaphors
How does the friendship transform these men? It’s a slow movie, and becomes slower in the middle – but that’s on purpose. The horror here is not in the supernatural (that King was famous for), but in the very domain of everyday life where one can find his life turn upside down without being at fault, and of unjust imprisonment. But the word “redemption” is there in the title for a purpose too. The Bollywoodsque ending is a reminder that life never ceases to surprise you.
But the story is merely an allegory. It’s about how a man can cling to the notion of personal worth even in debasing circumstances. How one can keep the flame of hope alive in the tempest of life! And how true friendship can, at once, remove a thousand mental thorns that torment us and show us the way out!
A frequent theme is “institutionalization of men” - how men become so attached to the “walls” around them, that they cannot fathom a life beyond. An aged inmate becomes so ”institutionalized”, that after release in parole, he wants to get back to prison, unable to survive as a free man outside.
Through Red, Andy becomes aware of the power of accepting one’s mistakes and let go the past. Red begrudgingly accepts Andy’s gift of hope. Indeed, the most powerful moment in the movie is when Red reads a letter to him by Andy: “Remember, Red. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies”.
Oddly enough, Andy seems to be the one tranquil man unaffected by the vicissitudes of prison life, and appears like a monk who is somehow able to connect the dots and find meaning in the mundane. “Get busy living or get busy dying,” he says on another occasion? Busy doing what? That’s something you’ll know only when you watch the movie.
And what if you’ve already seen it? Re-watch it – thinking of the movie as a philosophical work with fictional trappings. You’ll be surprised by the pearls of wisdom hidden deep in the narration.
Further suggestion? Read the book.