Every cinephile knows what’s the best rated movie on IMDb. But have you ever wondered what makes ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ so popular? And more pertinently, what is The Shawshank Redemption about? When you ask the same question to other cinephiles, the most common answer you get is “oh, it is so cool” or “that ending, man”. But does that explain its ratings on IMDb? Probably not!
Before we get into the actual reasons, I think it is important to understand its plot.
‘The Shawshank Redemption’ tells the story of goodness and virtues of an undeservedly wronged man. It tells a story of patience and perseverance. Originally a novella, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King, and adapted on screen in 1994, this movie continues to inspire people across the globe. It was directed by Frank Darabont and starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman as the primary characters.
Andy Dufresne, the lead character played by Tim Robbins, is convicted of murdering his wife and lover and is sentenced to serve two life sentences back to back at Shawshank State Penitentiary. And he forms an exclusive friendship with Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, a fellow convict and in-jail smuggler. Andy, being a banker before being convicted, helps Hadley, the captain of the guards in legally exempting a monetary inheritance from taxation. This scene is incredibly fantastic; you will find yourself coming back to this remarkable scene.
When Andy is brutally harassed by Bogs’ and his gang, Hadley almost beats Bogs to death. And Andy is asked to assist elderly inmate Brooks with the prison library. This assignment is a ruse, so that other prison employees can avail his expertise in financial matters. As time passes, the warden also starts using Andy for various financial matters including money laundering.
Meanwhile Andy upgrades the prison library drastically for better opportunities for the inmates. A new convict, Tommy Williams joins them as time passes. He reveals that an inmate at the previous prison had admitted to the crime for which Andy was being punished for. On disclosing the same to the warden to prove his innocence, the warden has Tommy killed and threatens him. Having no other option, Andy relents and continues with the previous jail routine.
What follows is actually the scintillating crux of the movie, followed by an euphoric climax that leaves audiences stunned and teary eyed with joy. Though there are some specific scenes that need to be mentioned explicitly:
1. When the warden hands over the Bible to Andy after tossing his cell for any smuggled contrabands, and utters, “Salvation lies within”. It’s only in the end that he knows that the joke’s on him.
2. Andy asking Hadley for three beers apiece for each of the co-workers’ in the convict crew that tarred the factory roof.
3. “This is the part I like – when she does that shit with her hair.” – Red watching Rita Hayworth on screen in the movie Gilda.
4. Andy playing Duettino from the Marriage of Figaro on the public address system, for which he is reproved with solitary confinement.
5. Under the oak tree when Red finds the package left by Andy and reads – “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies”.
Now there’s one man who completes the movie, the one who gives a perfect blend to the almost perfect movie – Morgan Freeman. Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding’s narration is so authentic and natural, lucid and yet deep. He complements Andy Dufresne’s sophisticated nature with his easy-going character.
Now, having gone through the high-points of the film and why it clicks with most of the viewers, let’s explore further. It is undoubtedly an exceptionally well-made film. But could that be the only reason of its popularity? Surely, there are equally well-made films, if not more so, but none of them are as popular as ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. Some of you may argue that it has a superb climax that completely blows your socks off. But then, there are other movies with equally great endings; and those are not even remotely as popular.
If you think about it, the answer lies in how much and how well ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ conveys about life in the most simple but effective way. It is a film that you can learn so much from that if not a movie it could easily have been a “guide to life” book. And the most important lesson that you learn from the film is that in your darkest and most difficult moments, it is important that you stay true to yourselves; because in the end, even if everything is taken away from you, you still will have your “will” and “courage” that you can hang on to and fight back. Therefore, never forget “you” are your biggest strength.
Also, I’ve always wondered what the “redemption” in the title means. Andy, the lead protagonist, isn’t guilty at all, so why does he need to be redeemed?
When you think about it, you will realize he needed to be redeemed NOT from a crime but from himself and his own thoughts. He felt responsible for his wife’s death even if he didn’t pull the trigger. To redeem himself, he had to first learn to accept that fact. Before he actually escaped from the prison, he needed to free himself from the mental prison he had created for himself. Ultimately, when he escapes, he not only physically gains the freedom but also he redeems himself from his own guilt.
To sum it up, here are the three reasons why ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ sits at the top of IMDb top 250 list: 1. Extremely well-made with an unforgettable climax; 2. It is full of life lessons; 3. Because of its themes of redemption and life-affirmation, it deeply resonates with audiences.