Hope springs eternal.
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things… and no good thing ever dies.” Sixteen words. Eighteen syllables. Endless emotions.
The work began as short story fiction which first appeared in a collection of four novellas by author Steven King. DIFFERENT SEASONS - which contains the original RITA HAYWORTH AND THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and gave rise to three film adaptations from the pages within, (the stellar STAND BY ME, the limp APT PUPIL and this film) - marked the starting line for this race, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION - starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman in each actor’s finest roles - marks the finish line. But the race against time and tide that occurs across both formats has absolutely nothing to do with what the casual observer might suspect. Contrary to what you might think, this tale has much less to do with a wrongly imprisoned man who manages a stunning and bold escape than it does with one simple ideal: Hope. The story compels both the reader and the filmgoer to never give up on hope.
Bettering the original text by miles, Frank Darabont’s 1994 masterpiece captures and conveys the struggle, despair and - ultimately – the hope that exist at odds with each other in the life of wrongly convicted and (at first appearance) defeated Andy Dufresne. The cuckolded Dufresne (pronounced Doo Frane – I mention this simply because when I first read the novella in high school, I could not for the life of me figure out how the pronounce the guy’s name! - and played with a weariness and determination second to none by Robbins in all of his post BULL DURHAM glory) is arrested, charged, tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the cold blooded, heat-of-the-moment murder of his Wife and her illicit secret lover. All of this occurs within the first few minutes of the film, and following Dufresne’s arrival at the upstate Maine, maximum security prison, we are off to the races. What follows is a series of tests for the battle worn Dufresne; each subsequent hardship more brutal and vicious than the previous. Yet all the while Dufresne holds onto the notion that hope will endure. You see, Andy is an innocent man. Don’t believe him? Neither does anyone else within the prison. Not even his newest “friend”, Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (Freeman). But Andy holds on. And in time… prevails.
Borrowing heavily from King’s actual text, Darabont – who also penned the screenplay – moves the story into a tighter space. Excising some of the characters (the numerous Prison Wardens of the novella have been spliced into one raging beast of a man, expertly played by Bob Gunton) and streamlining the narrative provide Darabont the means to bury the idea of fading but eternal hope straight into the heart of the viewer. The basic premise is still present… in fact much of King’s actual dialogue is used throughout the film. But Darabont makes just enough changes to push the story in a more open and raw direction. (The character of Red, for example, is a hard living, red haired Irishmen in the original story; Darabont cast Freeman and turned the friendship between the two main characters on its head.)
I could go into greater explanation about how this film has affected me in a very deep and graphic way. I could explain how the scene in which Andy, drenched in the new rain of freedom, arms outstretched to the heavens and standing alone as a free man for the very first time, sends chills down my spine every time I even envision it in my mind. I could explain how the scene in which Red feels the need to beg for a bathroom break from his new “Boss” at the grocery store causes me to feel so sad for the lost soul that Red has become. I could explain how the sad post script messages left by not only Brooks but by Red himself dug into the boarding house rafters bring on an insurmountable grief the likes of which I cannot define. I could explain how the final pilgrimage undertaken by Red as he skips town and streaks southward on a Greyhound bus, reciting King’s exact words along the way – “I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope to see my friend… I hope to shake his hand… I hope.” – bring a flood of tears and goose bumps forward in my psyche. I could explain how witnessing Andy and Red’s final reunion on a sandy Mexico beach reminds me of the hope I hold onto that I too will have a similar reunion with my long deceased Mother in heaven. I could but I won’t. And I won’t detail more elements of the film as many here have already done so. Besides, has anyone reading this not seen this film? I doubt it. What I would like to do, however, is to have the reader consider a different take on why this film is so moving and so important in the lexicon of Hollywood.
This film is by far one of the greatest films to come out of the 1990’s… a time when America was at war in Iraq – the first time around – and the stability of our hopes and dreams were in doubt. Sure that conflict ended quickly. But at the time, for many members of Generation X, (myself included) an all out Holy war seemed imminent. Having survived the Cold War and the notion of immediate nuclear annihilation, (anyone remember the made for television movie THE DAY AFTER?) we were once again thrown back on our heels at the thought of further destruction. Our hope was fading. Perhaps Darabont sensed this when he optioned the rights to King’s novella, originally published in 1982. Or perhaps there were other more divine sources at work. Who knows. Maybe it just took that long to get the script up on its feet. But whether it was Darabont, the Gods or just the ever present weight of time… this film came along right when we needed it to. King’s tale of hope is felt so deeply throughout the film. This eternal idea that hope never dies. Trapped by time and circumstances beyond his control, Andy chips away at a future free from the confines of cinder and steel. So too did the rest of us. We just didn’t know it at the time. Andy’s struggle mirrored our own. The film provided a glimpse toward hope.
Fast forward to 2001. Steel came crashing down and fires surged under the ground in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Can you imagine a better time for the renewal of hope than September of 2001. And again, along came THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. In 2004, the Tenth Anniversary Edition DVD dropped into our laps as a subtle reminder that hope springs eternal. Sure, it came three years after 9/11. But it also came along at a time when our hearts were beginning to heal and our minds were beginning to open. And there it was once again, reminding us that good things never die.
It is for this reason that I believe that THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is one of the greatest films of all time. Showing us the path in 1994, and providing us a gentle reminder in 2004. I am curious to see what 2014 will bring. Curious and cautious at the same time. But I know one thing that will be there regardless: Hope. Because, as Andy himself writes in his last letter to his dear friend Red: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things… and no good thing ever dies. I hope this letter finds you… and finds you well.”
It is a credo that I live by and live for. Hope. And in a very real sense, every time I watch this film, hope springs eternal.