Study Guide

The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption Introduction


Release Year: 1994

Genre: Crime, Drama

Director: Frank Darabont

Writer: Frank Darabont, Stephen King (short story)

Stars: Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins


Everyone loves a good redemption story: 

Whether it's the triumph of the good guys over the bad, or of an individual triumphing over agonizing personal circumstances, you can't go wrong. 

So add to that list The Shawshank Redemption...which has a little bit of both.

A period drama set in 1940s New England, The Shawshank Redemption puts us in the (sometimes shiny) shoes of one of our two protagonists, convicted of a murder he didn't commit and sentenced to life in prison at Shawshank. We suffer as he suffers; we struggle as he struggles; until at long last his efforts to right the wrongs committed against him bear some seriously satisfying fruit.

Spoiler alert: it's a happy ending.

Based on a 1982 novella by the insanely prolific novelist Stephen King (Carrie, Cujo, The Stand, Misery, Pet Sematary, The Shining, Christine, and about a zillion other novels and short stories), the film was released in 1994.

And it bombed.

At the box office, at least. It was a critical success, scooping up seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. (Forrest Gump won that year.) Shawshank lived on in VHS, DVD, and endless showings on cable (Thanks, Ted Turner!), so much so that, five years after its release, it was a phenomenon, eventually ending up as #1—yep, that's first place—on the IMDb charts of best-loved films of all time. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a "certified fresh" rating of 91%, calling it "an uplifting, deeply satisfying prison drama with sensitive direction and fine performances. 

By "deeply satisfying," we're guessing they mean that the bad guys get it in the end, big time. 

Big. Time.

The late legendary film critic Roger Ebert thought that part of the film's appeal was that it made the viewer feel like part of a family, that desperate community of the men in Shawshank Prison. Any film that can make you feel sympathy for a bunch of murderers is at least doing something interesting, right?

What is The Shawshank Redemption About and Why Should I Care?

There may not be another movie that is, at the same time, as universally beloved and highly critically regarded as The Shawshank Redemption. Many consider The Godfather or Citizen Kane a better film; most would admit that something like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars takes the cake in the entertainment department. However, there's something pure, poetic, and beautiful about TSR that touches us deeply, and on a level that, for a great many viewers, is unmatched by any other flick. For a prison movie, it manages to be subtle, restrained, even spiritual. You hear the word "poetic" a lot when people talk about this movie.

Film critics may have their reservations or stubborn opinions, but ask someone off the street (preferably someone over the age of 30) for their Top 10 films and Shawshank will make the grade more often than not. It speaks to that part of us that wonders how a person maintains hope in a hopeless situation? The part that longs to break free from whatever is holding us back, as well as the part that wants to wreak vengeance on all the jerks who've gotten in our way over the years. Schmaltzy sentiments, maybe, but handled in the movie in a definitely non-schmaltzy way.

Like most films that have widespread appeal and stand the test of time, it's got a little sumpin' sumpin' for everybody. Drama? Oh, yeah. Comedy? Sure, plenty of lol moments. Friendship? Betrayal? Sentimentality? Brutality/violence? Unexpected plot twists? Baddies getting their just deserts? A happy ending? You can go ahead and check all those boxes. Not that the movie necessarily set out to please everyone…it just somehow did.

Many people have seen this film dozens, even scores of times. Sure, it's on TNT or AMC almost constantly, but a person can change the channel. Somehow, each time we watch it, we're still a little anxious to make sure Andy manages to (spoiler alert!) make his escape and get his revenge on the warden. Until the very end, we're still a little on edge.

That's the genius of the story, and it's worth figuring out how the screenwriter/director and cinematographer make this happen. Sure, they benefitted from a great story from Stephen King, but they created a film structure that translated the novella perfectly to the silver screen. 

Hope you're taking notes, Forrest Gump.

Trivia

The ASPCA objected to the scene where Brooks fed Jake a live maggot, so they had to go find maggots that had already died of natural causes. Seriously. Really.
(Source.)

You know that mugshot we see of Red when his appeal for parole is being rejected? They did a good job of finding someone who could pass for a young Morgan Freeman, didn't they? There's a reason for that. The guy in the mug shot is Alfonso Freeman, his son. (Source.)

Were you as grossed out as we were by that sewer full of…well, sewer stuff? It might make you happy to learn that it was all just a mixture of chocolate syrup, sawdust and water. Hey, if someone told us we could crawl through a pipe full of chocolate, we may not even need another reason to escape.
(Source.)

Stephen King sold the rights to his little prison story for a piddling $5,000 and he never even cashed the check. In fact, years later he even had it framed and then sent it back to Darabont, the director, with the note: "In case you never need bail money. Love, Steve." Hint for aspiring writers: DON'T DO THAT.
(Source.)

Tom Hanks was offered the part of Andy but was busy at the time making some film called Forrest Gump. Kevin Costner turned it down to star in Waterworld. Some of us make better career decisions than others.
(Source.)

The Shawshank Redemption Resources

Websites

ShawshankRedemption.org
This seems to be the most official site for the film. Although considering the quality of the web design, we're going to go out on a limb and guess that this is the work of a fan not in any way affiliated with the actual production.

IMDB
Your one-stop shop for all things Shawshank.

Rotten Tomatoes
Check out what all the critics think of the film. Just take a look at that 98% audience score. Yowza.

Book or TV Adaptations

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption
No television adaptations and it wasn't ever adapted into a book. It was adapted from a novella. If you ever find yourself with a lot of free time, like if you're serving back-to-back life sentences for murder, pass the time by reading Stephen King's dandy of a tale. You'll have enough time for all his 54 novels and 200 short stories.

The Shawshank Legacy
California rapper Bishop Lamont named his 2010 debut album after the film. Apparently, the redemption theme struck a chord, so to speak.

Articles and Interviews

No-Drama Darabont
The Gray Lady's critic liked the restrained and gentle mood of the film.

The Little-Known Story of How The Shawshank Redemption Became One of the Most Beloved Films of All Time
If you're wondering how the movie went from theater dud to home video stud, this "Vanity Fair" article explains it all.

Thumb Up
Shmoop would be remiss if we didn't include the original review by the late uber-critic Roger Ebert. He liked it. A lot.

Money Shot
The Wall Street Journal weighs in on Shawshank's financial success.

20 Things You Didn't Know About The Shawshank Redemption
Unless, of course, you're already a Shawshank expert and know everything there is to know about it. In which case, we're not sure what you expected to get out of this learning guide. Shmoop's gotta know something you don't know.

Happy Birthday, Shawshank
A 20th- anniversary screening of the film sold out the Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

Video

Trailer
Most of the clips we could post here contain too much vulgarity for us to share, so check out the trailer instead.

Deleted Scenes and Insider Info
Hear the cast and director try to pronounce "Shawshank."

The Shawshank Redemption 20th Reunion
Here's a fun little interview with some truly awkward moments.

Two Thumbs Up
We'd be doubly remiss if we didn't include that dynamic duo Siskel and Ebert's review of Shawshank. They were both wowed by it. The film reminded Siskel of the equally outstanding One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in its depiction of people dealing with physical and mental imprisonment, trying to break free of literal and metaphorical restraints.

Tim Robbins on Shawshank
Robbins talks about why he decided to take the role, and lots of other stuff. Ain't he adorable?

Images

The Original Poster for the Film's 1994 Release.
We can tell how good it is just by looking at it.

Spot-On Cast Caricatures from Down Under
Will they do ours next?

Is a Comic Book Adaptation on the Horizon?
This famous line was turned into a cartoon strip.