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film & music: the shawshank redemption

November 5, 2010

There are times when people get together — parties, special events, late-night hang outs — that are most likely to generate ‘lists’. You know, like “What are the top 3 ways you would NOT want to die?” or “If you could take one book (sometimes at ‘Christian’ events this is interrupted by the injunction against using the Bible as your answer) with you to a desert island, what would it be?” Inevitably, for me and my friends, one question comes up:

“What’s your favorite movie?”
“Of all time?”
“Yeah.”
Ever?”
“Yeah.”

Is there a harder question to answer?

I honestly can’t say what my favorite movie is — there are too many — but I can say what my most re-watched movie is The Shawshank Redemption. Without question. It’s one of those movies on TNT from time to time, and if I see it, it’s almost inevitable that I get sucked in and watch the remainder. You can jump into it like that. It’s like striking up a conversation with an old friend: effortless.

The movie centers on a successful accountant, Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robinson), in a failed marriage who goes to federal prison on murder charges after his wife and her lover are found murdered in his house. He struggles in prison but befriends a group of veteran prisoners led by Red (Morgan Freeman), who “knows how to get things”, while trying to avoid the dangers of prison life. He eventually builds a library and relationships with the guards and the warden through his skill with money and his courageous demeanor. The movie climaxes with…well, you’ll have to see for yourself, I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t seen it.

There are at least 63 reasons that make Shawshank the most re-watchable movie of all time, but here’s my top five:

1) Morgan Freeman
Morgan Freeman not only plays a major role in the film; his character is the narrator. How many people saw March of the Penguins because Freeman was telling the story? I would listen to this guy read the phone book; his voice is that captivating. He’s in the Pantheon of great voices that includes James Earl Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Donald Sutherland, and Ian McKellen.

2) Stephen King
This is one of the few stories that Stephen King wrote that was actually good to the last drop. Usually King seems to fall asleep at the type writer about 90% of the way through and mails in head-scratchingly bad conclusions to his otherwise brilliant and engaging stories. Steve gave us a gem in the short story on which Shawshank is based and I’m forever grateful he stayed lucid ’till the end on this one.

3) Memorable lines
This is one of the most quotable/reference-able films of all time. From “Brooks was here” to Red’s (Freeman’s) description of Andy’s eccentric and at times baffling behaviors, there are countless moments in this movie that stick in your mind and charm you into submission. It’s fun just to talk about with people who love the movie like you do. It makes you want to see it again.

4) Human Consciousness
This movie reflects deep truths about what it means to be human. The longing for justice and freedom that Andy and his friends experience, the moments of life even in the midst of the greyness of prison life, and the true community that is formed among the men all evoke similar feelings and a sense of deep reflection in us. There is hope in this story. The abuses of power, realities of violence and struggle for survival, and the portrayal of insitutionalization that Shawshank gives us are valuable to us as symbols and memories which can challenge us to treat others in a way which acknowledges that they are human persons with God-given rights and attributes.

5) Integration
This is one movie that successfully integrates great lead acting, narration, character acting, story telling, dialogue, film score, photography, and overall production. This film didn’t win Best Picture only because it landed in one of the toughest Academy Awards classes of all time. The other nominees included Pulp Fiction, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Quiz Show, and the winning movie, Forrest Gump. Shawshank is an all-around solid film; there are very few weak spots.

So, there it is. The Shawshank Redemption is the most re-watchable movie ever made, in my humble opinion, and if you didn’t know, now you know. Catch it some time on TNT or rent it (it is set in a prison, so the non-edited version is not for the faint of heart), and you may be tempted to buy it. If you have trouble finding it, I know someone who knows how to get things.

Ryan Huber is a graduate student in Theology and Education at Boston College. He blogs about theology/spirituality, culture, education, and the intersections between them at www.culturemaker.blogspot.com. He can be reached at ryan.huber@bc.edu.

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