The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Director: Frank Darabont
Honorable Mention(s): Pulp Fiction, The Dark Knight, Seven, Fight Club, City of God, Primer
You can tell a lot about a person when they talk about their favorite anything. Anything from books, music, to even favorite moments can give you priceless insight into what makes them individuals. Movies are really no different. Now, I know this. So I could go the cinephile credibility route and tell you that my favorite movie is City of God or The Third Man or Network. (Note: I f–king hate Citizen Kane. I really do.) I could go the nerd route and say the original Star Wars trilogy or X-Men 2.
But if I’m being honest, my favorite is both nerdy and strong on its own literary and cinematic merit (as evident of the 7 Academy Award nominations). The Shawshank Redemption came out in 1994 with critical success, but box office mediocrity. It’s essentially a story about 2 unlikely friends finding hope in the face of the most dire of circumstances. And getting habitually ass-raped by a guy who looks like NFL career back-up Jeff Garcia is my definition of pretty damn dire.
But through all of the raping and general melancholia of prison life, Andy still manages to find little moments that make him feel human again, feel content if only for a second. The look of complete and utter contentment on Andy’s face during the rooftop beer scene and the opera-over-the-PA scene has always stuck with me. He seemed to so completely relish the moment, regardless of outside or unseen circumstances. That’s a powerful lesson to learn, especially as an impressionable youngster.
But with most of my honorable mentions listed below, I can find little problems with the overall film. It may be simply artistic differences or glaring continuity errors (yes, I can even be that guy). But Shawhank is different. I wouldn’t change a single frame. I’ve poured over that movie more times that you can imagine, looking for something that I would change or do differently. But I just can’t. I think ever note is perfect, every frame composed the way I would. And if you can find me a better “fuck yeah” ending, I’ll give you a dollar. Or a high five, your call. That ending is a guaranteed smile from even the most cynical of people, yours truly included.
But I also have to admit that I am also an enormous Stephen King fan, having read and enjoyed the majority of his catalog. I happened upon Different Seasons years before I saw Shawshank (or Stand by Me, based on another King story The Body). And many people have try to adapt King’s work, usually with lukewarm to outright horrible results. I don’t want to hear about The Shining. The book and the movie are completely different stories that just happen to have similar characters and location. To be fair, I have a soft spot for Stephen King’s only directorial effort, Maximum Overdrive, which is a terrible movie.
But Frank Darabont just gets Stephen King. He seems to be so in tune with what King tried to convey on the page that I can no longer re-read The Green Mile without seeing Tom Hanks, or read Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and not hear Morgan Freeman’s narration. (By the way, Red was a white, Irish dude in the story.) Darabont is responsible for the soul-crushing (and in my opinion, f–king awesome) ending of The Mist as well, even spurning King to admit that Darabont’s ending was better. I’ll get into my love for Darabont in a later post. But watch The Walking Dead for f–k’s sake. That show is truly brilliant.
My other favorite movies, on the other hand, paint a pretty different psychological profile: Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, The Dark Knight, Fight Club, Seven, or even Grosse Pointe Blank. There are plenty more to add to that list, those are just the first few that popped into my head regarding movies I end up watching all the way through any time they’re on. Most of them are pretty grim films, with a tendency towards hyper violence and the ability to empathize with the bad guy. If I ever admit on record that I kind of agree with Jonathan Doe or Tyler Durden or the Joker, that could implicate me in crimes I haven’t committed yet.
Other honorable mentions: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels, South Park: The Movie, Primer, Supertroopers