Shawshank Redemption: Comparing the Novel with the Movie Version

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Shawshank Redemption: Comparing The Novel With The Movie Version

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In Frank Darabont’s 1994 adaptation of the novel Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption titled The Shawshank Redemption, a banker serving two consecutive life sentences and a prison contraband smuggler display true friendship and how to overcome any obstacle. Darabont orchestrates a masterpiece in this film by staying true to the novel as his source material, playing to the conventional traits of a drama, and casting the right actors to pull of roles of complex characters.

This film is regarded widely as one of the greatest movies of all time, and it is not hard to see why. The story starts with Andy Dufresne, portrayed by Tim Robbins, walking in on his wife and her lover dead in his home. Dufresne is blamed for this, and sentenced to life in prison. As an innocent man among criminals life becomes increasingly miserable for Andy. He meets his soon to be life-long friend Red, played by Morgan Freeman, who gets him into the swing of things at Shawshank.Red introduces Andy to several other prisoners who play an important role in Andy’s life, each teaching him something that inspires his escape. This film is a classic drama, and plays to the archetypal traits. In a drama the main character is a realistic one, who usually goes through an internal struggle with himself or his surroundings. This plays true in Shawshank with Andy Dufresne, he knows the entire time his spends in prison that he is innocent of the crimes he has been convicted of, but struggles with the thought that any man can truly be innocent. After spending 18 years in prison, and several years filing fraud taxes for the corrupt warden, Andy escapes. Shortly after Red is granted parole and escapes to Mexico to spend the rest of his days with his dear friend, Andy. This story plays strongly to pathos, making the viewer feel the relationships of Andy and other prisoners, and even bringing viewers to tears when you see how prison has changed men who once had good in them.

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This film is an adaptation of Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. Unlike some adaptations this one stays true to the text it was based off of with very little difference. The plot in the movie is ultimately the same as the novel except with one small directors choice that changes an audience member's view on the entire story. Andy meets a young burglar named Tommy Williams who has been in and out of trouble since his youth, but plans on changing to make a better life for his newborn son. In both the novel and the film Dufresne helps Tommy acquire his high school diploma, putting him on track for life after prison. One day Tommy reveals he knows the true story behind the murder of Andy’s wife and can testify in court, Andy brings this information to the warden and is quickly shot down. The warden needed Andy to continue filing his fraud taxes for him, and if Dufresne was ever released he would surely tell someone. In the novel the warden handles this by having Tommy transferred to a different prison, where his presumably serves his time and eventually starts a new life with his wife and son. In the movie, Darabont had other plans. After being told of the information Tommy had about Dufresne’s case, the warden calls for a special meeting with Tommy. Pretending to be on Andy’s side the warden makes sure Tommy really does have information that could prove Dufresne innocent. Then in cold blood he has a guard shoot Tommy, and says he was trying to escape.

The soundtrack to the film, composed by Thomas Newman, was nominated for two Oscars in the same year, not because it had huge hits that people would sing for decades, but because of the instrumentals that were written specifically for scenes in this film. In one of the more memorable scenes of the film, Brooks, the 72 year old prison librarian, is released from Shawshank. He soon discovers that after his 50 years in prison that a lot has changed in the world, he is put into a halfway house and given a low end job as a bag boy for a local supermarket. Brooks soon comes to realize that he is not fit for the real world any more, and sends one final goodbye letter to his friends at Shawshank. The letter is narrated by brooks while a soft piano plays in the background. In this letter he exclaims “I don't like it here. I'm tired of being afraid all the time. I've decided not to stay. I doubt they'll kick up any fuss. Not for an old crook like me.”(Darabont). While the last words are spoken, with the musica dying down, Brooks carves “Brooks was here” into the wall of his room, and then kicks a table out from underneath him, hanging himself. This is one of the saddest scenes in the history of film, and a large part of it is due to the repeating melody of the piano. It's slow and depressing tune sets the mood for Brooks final goodbye, and it could not have been more beautiful and tragic.

One of the most important aspects to this film is the performance of the actors. The two main characters Andy Dufresne and Red are complex individuals who bring life to this story, so the casting was drastically important. Darabont chose Oscar awarded Tim Robbins to take on the role of Andy Dufresne. Robbins perfectly captures every moment of this film, almost as if he created Dufresne himself. He shows the internal struggles of a blue collar American adjusting to the prisons life, he makes you feel Andy’s pain of being wrongfully accused, but also makes an audience member believe that Andy genuinely cares about the men he has met at Shawshank. In a drama, it is important for an audience member to be able to feel the pain of the main character, and no one could have done that better than Robbins did. Red is portrayed by Oscar awarded Morgan Freeman, who is known to play his part well. This remained true for this film as he perfectly sets up the world of Shawshank, and establishes himself as a respected man among his fellow prisoners. In the movie there is a running joke where all of the prisoner's claim to be innocent, but unlike everyone else Red claims to be the, “Only guilty man in Shawshank”. This is a powerful point in the movie, Red establishes himself as a man who knows what he has done is wrong, and believes he belongs in prison. One of the more powerful scenes in the movie is Red’s parole hearing. When asked if he feels he has been rehabilitated, Red responds, “ There's not a day goes by I don't feel regret. Not because I'm in here, because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can't. That kid's long gone, and this old man is all that's left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? It's just a bullshit word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don't give a shit.”(Darabont). This quote shows the mature poise of the Red, and Freeman captures this in exact detail. Freeman was nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars for this performance, and is completely deserving.

Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption based off of Stephen King’s novel Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is easily one of the most powerful films of all time. Darabont’s choice to remain almost entirely true to the novel, but knowing when to put his own spin on things shows his talents in movie direction. The conventional drama archetype stays true here, and only enhances the film, and the performance of Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman truly make this a masterful film from beginning to end.

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