**Yes, there are SPOILERS here**
This film has had such an emotional impact on me, I find it hard to write comments on it. I’ve read a lot of the previous comments; all those that gush and eulogise as well as those who think it’s over-rated or cliched. Most have got good points to make, however the thing that I think everyone is struggling to both explain and come to terms with is just why this film is *so* loved. Loved to the extent that for many it is an almost spiritual experience or for those of a more secular nature like myself, loved as one of the most devastatingly uplifting things that can happen to you while watching a film.
So I’m not going to review it, I’m just going to struggle in my own way to explain this film. It took me a few viewings to get why I connect with it so deeply, but here goes.
Many people in this world are unhappy. Most people in this world don’t want to be unhappy. Lots of people wish, pray and above all hope for that magic wand to wave and wash them of their fears, losses, angers and pains once and for all. They see lots of other people seemingly in this magical state, while they suffer. To borrow the words of another film, they’re watching the bluebirds flying over the rainbow.
Many unhappy people have learned that the magic wand doesn’t exist. They’re not destined to join the bluebirds and fairytales don’t come true. It’s not that no one lives happily ever after, it’s just that they’re not going to. They’re busy dying.
In this film, or as some people have quite correctly said, this fairytale, magic wands exist. And that magic wand is Andy Dufrense imitating Houdini. However this film is not about him. Neither is it about the prison, the governor, the guard, the plot, the acting, the cinematography, the script, the direction or the score.
It’s about Red. He is the one who has become institutionally unhappy, he’s not only trapped in a prison, not only has he given up on the idea of ever leaving, not only does he have no hope, he knows that if the miracle would ever happen to him, he couldn’t cope. He’s safe in his unhappiness and that security is what keeps him going. Hope is, as Red say, dangerous. The metaphor for a certain illness here is very clear to me and I know that a rather large number of people suffer from it. A large proportion of those don’t understand what’s wrong, but they certainly can recognise a fellow sufferer. Those who are mercifully untouched by this illness definitely don’t understand what’s going on in those who do. They’re too busy living.
The miracle in this film is not only that Red is redeemed but that the world outside the prison isn’t all warm and sandy and sunny and with excellent fishing. Some of it is rocky and uncertain. Fairytales don’t get this far. They’d end as Red left the gates of the prison and the credits would say ‘and he lived happily ever after’. This is the only film I can currently think of where they show how to get to the living happily ever after bit from your redemption via the rocky and uncertain ground of bagging groceries at the local store. In other words, they’re not going to cheat you and tell you everything’s going to be alright.
This is crucial. For two and half hours, those of us who are quite content to mooch around our own personal prisons can see an escape route quite different to Andy’s mapped out on the screen. And it’s a real way out. It’s hard and upsetting, but ultimately rewarding. The high you get from finding out and knowing that is only comparable diamorphine.
The trouble is, if you’re already busy living, this film won’t mean that much and you’ll see it a little more clearly than those busy dying. To those fortunate individuals, watch this film and understand what the rest of us are going through.
So, yes, this film is a cliched fairytale and maybe as a story it isn’t realistic and at second on the IMDb all time list, it is a bit over-rated. However if you could have a chart of films listing the number of lives saved, altered and improved, the Shawshank Redemption would be way out in front at number one.