Sunday, January 11, 2009

Don't Make a Scene: The Shawshank Redemption

The Set-Up: It's funny how humans can forget pain. If we didn't, every family would have but one child. The same can be applied to movies. Some movies are too painful to watch; they build such a nightmare scenario piling on indignity upon humiliation upon mental anguish and physical abuse, that when they achieve their epiphanic closure--when their inspiration works its magic-- it makes the gauntlet the audience has run through disappear. We are left with the rosey glow of the satisfying ending, and not the trials it took to get there. There are a lot of movies like that: It's a Wonderful Life, The Nights of Cabiria, Schindler's List.

The Shawshank Redemption.

Steven King's original story "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" is a grinding test of a man's will, intelligence and tenacity after being railroaded into prison. It was nestled in King's novella collection "Different Seasons," under the sub-category "Hope Springs Eternal," and Darabont's expansion of the story piles on the heart-ache, but also magnifies the hope and makes its ending (unlike King's original) unambiguous. And for that, this relentlessly down-beat prison movie that tanked at the box office, achieved impressive numbers in the rental market, and is now considered "a classic."

As it should be. But make no mistake that it's any sort of "feel-good" movie. The location that stands in for King's prison looks like a combination concentration camp and evil castle. Dufresne's time there is hellish, more so as he's always maintained his innocence ("There aren't any guilty men in prison" is the mocking reply) as he alternates between prison life and solitary confinement for his McMurphy-in-a-lower-key-defiances.

So, here's this scene, and I'm not letting any cats out of bags saying this is the last conversation between Andy and "Red" (the essential Morgan Freeman, who turns the line from the story into a laugh-line--"Why do they call you "Red?" "Maybe 'cuz I'm Irish."), and the conversation starts with a broken Dufresne admitting complicity in his wife's death—finally coming to accept some part in it all—and talking about his dream of life after prison in a place that "has no memory." "Red" tries to dissuade such wishful thinking. "Shitty pipe dreams," he calls it--which is more accurate than "Red," or anybody, can possibly know.

"A place with no memory." People forget the pain of this movie, and how tough it is to watch because of its exquisite ending. But I can't. I don't own "The Shawshank Redemption" (and for the same reason it took me a long time to watch "The Green Mile"—also a Darabont adaptation of a Steven King prison movie—and discovered that, yes, it had exactly the same pattern hoping maybe that lightning...might strike twice). As wonderful as the story is, I have a hard time watching it for its permeating despair.

But I like the sentiment of the end of the scene. It's the beginning of the year and we've all got a choice. Time to choose.

The Story: Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a bank accountant, has spent the last twenty years in Shawshank Prison for the murder of his wife and her lover--murders he did not commit. Every indignity known to man has come down like a shit-storm around his head, but he's always managed to rise above and find the dignity again, and even instill it in his fellow prisoners. He has always held out the hope that one day he would be found innocent and released. Now, his last best hope--a prisoner who heard a jailhouse confession from the man who committed the crimes--has been killed by the warden and guards who are using Andy for a corruption scheme, and want his accountant skills at their disposal. He has just come out of a stint in solitary a broken man. He has lost his last best hope. But not his only hope. And as he says, he's a hard man to get to know. He keeps things hidden.


Andy: My wife used to say I'm a hard man to know.

Andy: Like a closed book. She used to complain about it all the time.

Andy: She was beautiful. God, I loved her. I just didn't know how to show it, that's all.

Andy: I killed her, Red.

Andy: I didn't pull the trigger. But I drove her away and that's why she died, because of me...

Andy: ...the way I am.

Red: That don't make you a murderer. Bad husband, maybe. Feel bad about it if you want to, but you didn't pull the trigger.
Andy: No, I didn't.

Andy: Somebody else did. And I wound up in here. (scoffs) Bad luck, I guess.
Red: Yeah.

Andy: Floats around. Gotta land on somebody.

Andy: Was my turn, was all.

Andy: I was in the path of the tornado.

Andy: Just didn't expect the storm to last as long as it has.

Andy: You think you'll ever get out of here?

Red: Me? Yeah, one day when I got a long white beard and two or three marbles rollin' around upstairs, they'll let me out.

Andy: Tell you where I'd go--

Andy: Zihuatenejo.

Red: Zihua...

Andy: Zihuatenejo.

Andy: It's in Mexico. A little place on the Pacific Ocean.

Andy: You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?
Red: No.

Andy: They say it has no memory. That's where I want to live the rest of my life.

Andy: A warm place with no memory.

Andy: Open up a little hotel, right on the beach. Buy some worthless old boat and fix it up new.

Andy: Take my guests out charter fishing.

Red: Zihuatenejo.

Andy: A place like that, I could use a man that knows how to get things.

Red: I don't think I can make it on the outside, Andy. I mean, I been in here most of my life. I'm an institutional man now...

Red: ...just like Brooks was.
Andy: Well, then, you underestimate yourself.

Red: I don't think so. I mean, in here I'm the guy who can get things for you, sure, but outside all you need is the Yellow Pages. Hell, I wouldn't even know where to begin. The Pacific Ocean?

Red: Shit, about scare me to death, something that big.
Andy: Not me. I didn't shoot my wife and I didn't shoot her lover. Whatever mistakes I've made, I've paid for them and then some. That hotel, that boat...

Andy: ...I don't think that's too much to ask.

Red: I don't think you ought to be doin' this to yourself, Andy. It's just shitty pipe dreams. I mean, Mexico is way the hell down there, and you're in here, and that's the way it is.

Andy: Yeah, right, that's the way it is. It's down there and I'm in here.

Andy: I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really: Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'.

(Andy gets up, and starts to move away from Red, but Red, concerned by his words and attitude, calls to him)

Red: Andy...

"The Shawshank Redemption"

Words by Stephen King and Frank Darabont

Pictures by Roger Deakins and Frank Darabont

"The Shawshank Redemption" is available on DVD from Sony Home Video.

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