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Raanan vs the CLASSICS (pt. 5 of 6) – THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is #2 among popular movies with positive messages that my irascible cousin can’t stand.

Boy oh boy do people love this 1994 prison melodrama, painted in wide, broad strokes for the thinking impaired. “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.” What a tagline! But they left out the rest… “Being free can lead to happiness. Happiness will make you vulnerable. Vulnerability will make you frightened. Fear then will hold you prisoner again. So you can do more coke. So you can work harder.” And who could criticize that iconic image, of Sir Tim Robbins (is he a sir yet?) opening himself up to a torrential downpour, embracing life for all its – wetness? Raanan can. He’s really gonna get it this time – he’s tussling with hope.


The Shawshank Redemption fits firmly into that tradition of movies that use a corrupt institution as the setting for an overt Christian allegory; others include Cool Hand Luke, One Flew Over A Cuckoo’s Nest, and whatever movie’s playing over and over in Mel Gibson’s head about his life in Hollywood. One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest is the best of the bunch, mainly because director Milos Forman wisely evades the heavy-handedness of Ken Kesey‘s novel and focuses instead on amping up the fun and mischief. McMurphy might die a carpenter’s death, but it’s for Earthly pleasures; the liberation of the libido from religious and societal guilt. Frank Darabont‘s Shawshank Redemption, on the other hand, is about as self-important and austere as the original story in the Bible. This is not to say Darabont is a Christian writer, just that he sticks so close to the ascetic tone of the New Testament that it makes you wonder why he’s even updating it in the first place. Where McMurphy slowly grew into the Savior’s shoes, Tim Robbin’s Andy Dufresne walks into Shawshank a saint from the word go. He’s a symbol and nothing else, so how are we expected to identify with him? And the narrative, based on Stephen King short story, isn’t exactly subtle either – for instance, to safeguard against the possibility of the film’s message slipping past the audience, Darabont makes sure to have the word “Hope” repeated around five hundred billion times. And if people are still confused as to what Darabont is trying to say, near the end he has Andy write in a letter to Red, “Remember…hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.” And if, at this point, people are still having difficulty wrapping their heads around the movie’s intricate theme, the very last lines are: “I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams…I hope.” But the reason people love Shawshank is not due to its radical new philosophy about always looking on the bright side of life (Andy might as well have preached the vital necessity of breathing, since hope comes just as naturally to people). The reason people are so quick to get behind Shawshank is because it has the easiest-to-love of all premises: the wrongly accused man. It’s a comforting fantasy, allowing us to forget that so many hardships in life are actually brought on by our own personal shortcomings. It’s nice to see a movie about an innocent man- it helps us confirm our own convenient illusion that the problems in our lives are not the result of our character flaws, but the Universe being out to get us. Shawshank goes down easy because there is no moral shading; Andy is a Saint personified, and Morgan Freeman‘s Red is right up there with him (the eternity he’s spent in prison has scrubbed away any trace of the murderous kid he once was). If the challenge of movies is to empathize with deeply flawed people, then this movie is the bumper-bowling of art- it’s no challenge being moved at the end, because it’s all been carefully designed to do just that.

And for the most overrated movie of all time…”

You’ll have to wait ’til tomorrow to find out! Any guesses? I bet it’s something heartwarming! And by the way – did anyone else notice Carter Burwell’s Miller’s Crossing theme appropriated by The Shawshank Redemption trailer? Isn’t that ironic? One of the most morally complicated movies of all time, ripped off by one of the least! And speaking of movie scores – be looking out for our upcoming 15 part analysis of THE 150 GREATEST ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKS OF ALL TIME!!! whoops – my caps lock got stuck again.

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