The movie of the Shawshank Redemption is based on a short story by Steven King. The movie shows how prison life affects prisoners during their sentence in jail and after when they are released. The director concentrates mostly on the personal cost of adapting to prison life and how some convicts, once they conform, lose the ability to survive beyond the barbed wire and iron bars. As a character puts it, ‘These [prison] walls are funny. First you hate them, then you get used to them, then you start to depend on them. ‘ The director shows us to what extent prisoners can be made to ‘depend on them’.
The two episodes that I will analyse are examples of two different ‘paths’ prisoners can take once released from prison. One is to survive and live their life, another is to give up and end it. In the movie Red, a prisoner at Shawshank says, ‘get busy living or get busy dying. This quote plays an important role in the movie because Red and Brooks, two important characters who get out of jail have to make the choice to either ‘get busy living or get busy dying’. Red and Brooks are characters with many similar traits and have gone through many of the same circumstances.
Both entered the confines of Shawshank Prison youths but left its walls as old men. They have seen many prisoners come in and out. They spent decades behind the dull enclosure and got used to it. They have adapted themselves to the concepts of routine, forced conformity, power abuse and have lost all elements of individuality within themselves. Red says “you come here for your life and that’s exactly what they take from you”. The episodes of the release of both men contribute very much to the understanding of the theme of this movie.
Both episodes start off very similarly but throughout the scenes the characters make different decisions. The first episode is the release of Brooks and his life on the outside. When he leaves the prison he is dressed very smartly in a dark suit. We next see him on the bus. The camera is set in front of him and we see him sitting with his feet and hands on the rail before him. The director has given him a crow like image. From this we interpret that something bad will happen. When he steps out the camera follows him down the road.
While the episode is going on, Brooks is narrating his feelings. When he wants to cross the road he is abruptly taken back as he sees an automobile pass by. He says that there are many more automobiles now than there were before and doesn’t like the way the world has turned out to be. After, we see him feeding the birds. He says that he hopes that Jake might “come by and say ‘hello'”. I believe that this is the scene in which we see Brooks in a most open space, it gives us hope that he will do alright. Brooks is placed in a half-way house and is given a job at a supermarket.
When he sleeps we see he is very agitated. The camera films him from above (crane) and in a voice-over he tells us he is often scared at night. We can compare this to some of the men’s, including Andy’s, first nights at Shawshank Prison. Working as a grocery-bagger at the supermarket everything goes wrong, he is criticised. Lonely, afraid, melancholy, and disoriented, the outside world is like a new prison to Brooks. In a bit of humour he tells us he might shoot the manager of the supermarket to go back to Shawshank but he’s too old even for that.
As he goes back to his room he packs his belongings into his case. While doing this he narrates that he’s planning on leaving, that he doesn’t like where he is and he’s tired of being scared all the time. He is in his suit and stands by a table. He looks up and then climbs onto it. The camera focuses on Brooks’ feet. As we see sawdust falling onto the table. This reminds us of Andy in prison when carving his name into his cell wall. As the camera is still focused on his feet, the sawdust stops falling and we expect to see him coming down.
The way the director has chosen to film is very effective as it creates a tense atmosphere and suspense as we do not know what is happening. The table then starts to shake and Brooks kicks out the table from under his weight, his feet are dangling. He ‘got busy dieing’. As the camera tilts upwards we see Brooks face behind the wooden bars of the ceiling, an image of prison bars. We then see the message he had carved, “Brooks was here”. This is the end of the episode. Brooks had been to the limit, become institutionalised, he could no longer take life on the outside.
His only way out of it was death. The director has chosen to make many aspects of Red’s release very similar to Brooks’. He is given the same crow-like position in the bus, is placed in the same room at the half-way house, is given the same job at the supermarket. He also narrates this episode and tells us there is “no way I’ll make it on the outside”. We fear that he might take the same path as Brooks. As he’s walking down the street he stops by a shop window. The camera focuses on two different things, a series of hand guns and a compass.
The director has allowed us to see the two choices a man can take. The compass shows freedom to live and travel. The gun shows death. Red gives us a similar speech as Brooks’. He tells us that all he thinks of is ways of going back to prison. That he hates living in fear. He wants to be back at prison where things make sense to him. But one thing stops him, “a promise I made to Andy”. Red gets a ride on a pick-up truck to the countryside and takes out his compass. It is now that the second episode begins.
The camera is behind Red and we see him by a stone wall looking towards a big oak tree, the oak tree Andy has spoken to him about. As Red walks towards the hayfield we see the big contrast between the closed areas of prison and the open space of the outside world. The camera pans so we can see the fields stretched out until the horizon. Brooks had only never discovered these open spaces because he hadn’t had something Red had, hope. As Red walks toward the oak tree classical music builds up, music played by a harmonica, the instrument Andy had given him in prison.
The camera focuses on Red’s feet, they walk slowly but freely towards the oak tree. As he gets to the oak tree he searches for what Andy had left for him. He finds a box with the design of a boat on it. The director intention on using a boat will have been to show yet another image of freedom. In the box Red finds money and a letter. The music stops but the birdsong continues. Red reads the letter. It is directed to him. It is from Andy and tells him to “come a little further” and join him in Mexico, the place he had told Red about in Prison.
Red stands up again and walks back through the hayfields, the birdsong continues and the music builds up again. Red goes back to his room he also packs his bag and dresses smartly. He stops by the table, takes out a pocket knife and climbs the table. This again resembles very much Brooks’ episode, once again the camera focuses on Red’s feet. We are made to fear that he will end his life the same way as Brooks, but Red soon comes back down again and as he exits his room says with a hidden smile “get busy living or get busy dying, that’s god-damn right”. Red has chosen life, hope.
As the camera tilts up we read on the ceiling “Brooks was here So was Red”. The next shot is of a bus, the camera zooms in to Red, his head out the window and smiling. He says he feels the emotion only a free man can feel, that he hopes he can get across the border, that he hopes he can find his friend and that he hopes the Pacific is like in his dreams. The shot then dissolves into the image of the open Pacific, an image of freedom, space, accomplishment, redemption. Then the camera turns to a warm sunlit beach. The camera then pans and turns so we have a frontal view of Red.
He is walking alongside the sea with his trousers rolled up and his shoes in his hands. The camera stops moving and we see Red coming closer and closer. The shot is then cut and a new shot views Andy further down the beach on a boat, scrubbing its surface. As he looks up he sees Red, he stands up and smiles, his eyes gleaming. He jumps down to greet Red. As the friends hug, the camera pulls back, revealing the wide, distant horizon of the blue Pacific with no end in sight. No longer are the Red and Andy confined by walls and iron bars nor watched on by guards. Both are free.
Brooks had attained the limits at prison, he had become institutionalised and once released had found the only way out was death. Red, on the other hand, had hoped, and hope had led him to freedom, to happiness, to redemption. Through the themes and the cinematic decisions applied in these two episodes the director has made these vital to the understanding of the movie. He has given two examples of the extreme situations to which prisoners go depending on their emotions. One of the emotions is yet one of the main themes of the movie, hope, and in my opinion it has been brought up extremely effectively.