Category Archives: Prison

If You Liked… Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Who doesn’t like Shawshank Redemption? This is always my go to answer when someone asks me for my favorite movie. I love it because it blends a gritty realism with an ethereal storytelling and a epic twist ending. If you have not seen it, shame on you. It used to be on TBS at least twice a week, but you need to buy it because once you watch it, you will have a new favorite as well. Just in case you haven’t seen it, I will try not to spoil the ending, but here is a quick summary. Click here if you’ve already seen the film and just want to see my recommendations.

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The Shawshank Redemption (directed by Frank Darabont of The Walking Dead fame) is one of those movies whose estimation has only grown with time. It wasn’t a box office hit in 1994, but it was a critical success and received 7 Academy Award nominations but LOST in every category, being beat out for best picture by Forrest Gump. However, in 2008 (14 years after its original release) it took over the #1 slot as greatest film on the IMDb’s Top 250 from The Godfather and it still holds that place to this day.

Ellis ‘Red’ Redding (Morgan Freeman) is our co-pilot and narrator for our long stay in Shawshank State Penitentiary. He admits that he belongs there for murder, calling himself the only guilty man in Shawshank. The year is 1947 and our central character is banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) who has been convicted of murdering his wife and her lover. We see him entering Shawshank to begin serving his two consecutive life sentences. The movie is based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. Through the story, we experience a 20 year friendship between these two men.

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You’d be hard pressed to find a more genuine ode to male bonding than this drama spanning two decades from 1946 to 1967. When Andy arrives, he is subject to beatings, humiliation and all manner of horrors within the prison system. He endures the harassment seemingly unfazed. Slowly he learns to adapt, utilizing his talents as an auditor to garner favor from the powers that be. In time he inspires his fellow inmates, making friends with them, in particular Red who originally bet that Andy would be the first new inmate to crack.

The film is highlighted by several amazing performances. Morgan Freeman embodies his character with reverence, heart, and warmth. Tim Robbins is every bit his equal in a role that is more difficult to warm up to. If the actor appears a bit of an enigma, that is only because the character is meant to be that way. There is a quiet way about him that makes the other inmates uneasy and tells us and them that he does not belong there. Actor Bob Gunton is a villain for the ages as Warden Samuel Norton. A stern man that exploits the prison for his own gain as low-cost labor. He presents himself as a god-fearing man, although his true nature is gradually disclosed. The depth of his evil seems to know no bounds.

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Like a flower growing up through a crack in the sidewalk, the narrative is uplifting even though we are presented with the most oppressive of surroundings. My personal favorite scene features Andy locking himself in the warden’s office and using the central microphone to blast an opera record through the grounds. As Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro echoes through the penitentiary, Roger Deakins cinematography captures the emotion as the inmates look upwards, embracing the audible gift. It is hard to describe the feeling, but the scene always brings me to tears. Shawshank is brimming with moments like this where the hope of the human soul triumphs over adversity in the most inspiring way.

So, assuming you love Shawshank like I do then you may be struggling to find movies that give you a similar sense of awe and inspiration. I hope to help with that by giving you a handful of recommendations based upon different aspects of Shawshank Redemption.

The Green Mile

Maybe you are looking for another film based on a Stephen King story, set in a prison, featuring a wrongly convicted protagonist, and directed by Frank Darabont. That is a lot of similarities. Add in the great acting of Tom Hanks and Michael Clark Duncan and you have The Green Mile.
Maybe you are looking for another film based on a Stephen King story, set in a prison, featuring a wrongly convicted protagonist, and directed by Frank Darabont. That is a lot of similarities. Add in the great acting of Tom Hanks and Michael Clark Duncan and you have The Green Mile.

Good Will Hunting

Perhaps you don't care about similar actors or settings. Maybe you just want to recreate some of those feelings of confliction and see a character make some amazing changes and eventually embrace hope. I think you will find few movies as uplifting and powerful as Good Will Hunting, the debut effort of now Hollywood superstars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Throw in the humor and heart of Robin Williams and this is a movie you shouldn't miss.
Perhaps you don’t care about similar actors or settings. Maybe you just want to recreate some of those feelings of confliction and see a character make some amazing changes and eventually embrace hope. I think you will find few movies as uplifting and powerful as Good Will Hunting, the debut effort of now Hollywood superstars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Throw in the humor and heart of Robin Williams and this is a movie you shouldn’t miss.

The Shining

Lets take that Stephen King influence and go even darker than the Shawshank penitentiary. The Shining catalogs the disturbing mental collapse of Jack Torrance as he works as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel which holds onto some of the tragedies from its past. Directed by legendary Stanley Kubrick this is the kind of suspense/horror film that nightmares are made of.
Lets take that Stephen King influence and go even darker than the Shawshank penitentiary. The Shining catalogs the disturbing mental collapse of Jack Torrance as he works as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel which holds onto some of the tragedies from its past. Directed by legendary Stanley Kubrick this is the kind of suspense/horror film that nightmares are made of.

Se7en

Shawshank is the best of Morgan Freeman's filmography. Which is saying a lot for a guy that has been nominated 8 times and won Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby. But I would go to the gripping crime drama Se7en if I wanted to see a great Morgan Freeman performance along with a young Brad Pitt, a disturbing Kevin Spacey, and the deft directoral touch of David Fincher.
Shawshank is the best of Morgan Freeman’s filmography. Which is saying a lot for a guy that has been nominated 8 times and won Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby. But I would go to the gripping crime drama Se7en if I wanted to see a great Morgan Freeman performance along with a young Brad Pitt, a disturbing Kevin Spacey, and the deft directorial touch of David Fincher.

I.Q.

Perhaps you are craving something of a lighter fare. A film that was also released in 1994 and stars our everyman Tim Robbins. I.Q. is an entertaining romantic comedy in which Walter Matthau plays legendary physicist Albert Einstein and helps a mechanic woo his niece played by Meg Ryan.
Perhaps you are craving something of a lighter fare. A film that was also released in 1994 and stars our everyman Tim Robbins. I.Q. is an entertaining romantic comedy in which Walter Matthau plays legendary physicist Albert Einstein and helps a mechanic woo his niece played by Meg Ryan.

I hope this gave you some ideas for your next movie night. Please let me know your thoughts below on Shawshank Redemption as well as any of my recommendations. This is a place for sharing.

Day 30 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

Your Favorite Movie of All Time – 30 Day Movie Challenge

Whether intentional or not, The Shawshank Redemption is a film about hope, and the redemption that can occur even in the most dark and degrading corners of our world. This engrossing film stands as one of the most entertaining, thought-provoking dramas of this century. It takes us to a disturbing setting, uses raw language, doesn’t present us with ideal role models, and there are numerous brutal, occasionally fatal, beatings. But we are not cast into this dark place to incite our own lust or rage. The film clearly shows us that these things are harmful or wrong. Because to tell a story of redemption; you have to sink to the depths before you can rise to the pinnacle. When the darkness is hellish, the light shines ever more brightly. Simply put, this film couldn’t have been made without these elements.

Our hero, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), is wrongly accused of killing his wife and receives two life sentences. Steadily and quietly in prison, he wards off the bitterness against that injustice and the further hardships he suffers by doing good for others, even those that despise him. When the film’s narrator Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) first sees Andy arrive, he wagers that the tall-but-quiet ex-banker is a guy who won’t last long. Red loses the bet, but as he gets to know Andy, he begins to respect him and the two become friends and help each other survive the long and dark days of incarceration.

The prison warden (Bob Gunton) is a hypocritical “Christian” who uses the Lord, the Bible, and the people for his own scheming, murdering purposes. We are meant early on to see through this painted on veneer as shown by his “welcoming” the prisoners to Shawshank, “I believe in two things: discipline and the Bible. Here you’ll receive both. Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me.” This is not the cheap-shot characterization that many believers have come to expect from Hollywood. If you are turned off by the warden, it is because you are meant to be. Just remember who it was that had our sinless savior crucified; it was the conservative religious coalition of the day carrying out a sinister plot in order to maintain its own political power.

In fact, there are many similarities between the heroes of The Shawshank Redemption and the Gospel. The central characters are both wrongly accused. One receives two life sentences and the other is crucified. Neither are respected by their contemporaries, Andy is s a banker and Jesus is a Nazarene? While Andy is certainly flawed, the good work he does while in prison actually serves a ruthless political end that ends up holding him captive. Jesus was ridiculed and executed by the same people He came to free.

The characters are believable, the actors sink into their respective roles perfectly, and light up a brilliantly executed script. But it is the cinematography (crafted by the Coen Brothers’ go to guy, Roger Deakins) that provides the all important look of the film. Thick walls, imposing fences, and confined spaces remind us of the oppression. The guards relentless marching and the heavy bars slamming open and slamming shut reinforce it. Dull, chipped walls in every room surround the dulled, chipped lives of utterly hopeless men. But director Frank Darabont isn’t content to linger in the darkness. Hope is scattered throughout, from an Italian opera broadcast over loudspeakers to a senate appropriation for library books. From a cold beer after a days work to the thought of a “place of no memory.” From High school equivalency exams to a harmonica. From Alexander Dumas to Rita Hayworth.

*—–SPOILER ALERT—–*

Hope triumphs gloriously in the end. It only takes 19 years. But when Andy escapes the hard way, he makes it possible for his friend to go an easier way. Andy escapes the bonds of prison like Jesus escaped the bonds of death. Andy disappeared with an invitation for Red to join him much like Jesus told us that he was going to prepare a place for us. There are so many pictures of Christian hope in this movie that they couldn’t help but put the central message of the gospel in the title.

What is your favorite movie of all time? What do you think of Shawshank? Am I going overboard with the Christian allegory? Leave me a comment below. Also, with the 30 Day Challenge coming to an end, I am here at work for an overnight twelve hour shift. That gave me plenty of time to stamp out my last challenge and hopefully to fill in some of the gaps that were left when life or technology got in the way. I’ll let you know on Twitter or Facebook if I update any of my older posts. Follow me there to keep up with me as I continue my journey through the ever-changing IMDB Top 250.

Day 19 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

Favorite Movie Based Upon a Book

This category is very close to what could be another category. It would be a similar category but I think the results would be very different. That category would be looking for the best book that has been adapted to a film. Since this is a movie challenge, it is only right for the questions to focus on a film instead of a book. My favorite book that has been turned into a film is the Lord of the Rings, but my favorite film (that happens to be adapted from a novel which I have never read) is One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). It was the first film to sweep the 5 major awards at the Oscars: Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay since Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night did it 41 years earlier.

The film is based directly upon Ken Kesey’s novel of the same name. The film asks a profound yet difficult sociological question. What is the proper balance between freedom and order? Randall P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is being transferred to a mental facility for evaluation from the state prison where he is serving his time for statutory rape. This transfer is coming after complaints of aggressive behavior. Once on the ward, McMurphy makes it his goal to upset the status-quo. He butts heads with his head caretaker Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) and provokes rebellion among the other patients. This rebellion is at times uplifting and we cheer as we see these patients grow, but at other times it’s destructive especially during the ending of the film. Nurse Ratched is often portrayed as an unflinching power hungry authority figure. But in her own way, she does seem concerned for the well being of her patients.

I don’t want to spoil the ending which will leave you weeping while you grin from ear to ear, because I know that this is a treasure that far too few people have seen. But I can say that both sides of the original question of freedom and order are balanced out. The film inquires about how much individual freedom is necessary, and how much social control is necessary. But it doesn’t give any answers to these questions. On the other hand, George Orwell’s 1984 raises this same issue, but the answer is clear in that classic, whereas here Director Milos Foreman lets us decide for ourselves. It also differs from 1984 in its modern-day setting, as opposed to the future of 1984. This makes the question more timely and realistic as opposed to the more speculation of Orwell’s work. Foreman expects us to exercise our freedom and bring our own assumptions, feelings and thoughts to the film, so that we may interpret it according to our values instead of having another view thrust upon us

As I said before, I have not read Ken Kesey’s acclaimed novel, so I cannot judge the film as based upon the book. In my opinion, it is a fruitless endeavor to compare a film and a book, they are distinct forms of art and have their own advantages and drawbacks. That being said, one way to judge the quality of an older film is to look at some of the supporting cast that Found their fame by using the film as a diving board. This one produced a few, namely Danny Devito and Christopher Lloyd. Do you have a favorite film that is based upon a book or some other form of literature? I’d love to hear your picks or you can comment on One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest if you have seen it. You can leave your comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.