That’s what The Shawshank Redemption is all about. There is a reason this movie resonates with audiences in the way that it does. It puts its central character in one of the worst possible scenarios imaginable. Wrongfully convicted of a murder he did not commit. Sentenced to life in prison. For many, all hope would be lost.
The circumstances at Shawshank prison often don’t give much reason to be hopeful. A corrupt and horrible warden who uses Andy Dufresne to assist with his money laundering schemes. The brutal rape and beatings from other inmates. The weeks spent in “the hole”. The warden’s destruction of evidence exonerating Andy… the evidence is another inmate.
Whenever possible, however, Andy orchestrates ways to make an intolerable situation tolerable. His friendship with Red and others. His deal making that results in the boys getting to drink some beers on the top of that roof. The library that he builds through endless and patient persistence.
There is a point reached in The Shawshank Redemption, after the warden orders Hadley to take out Tommy, where all hope seems lost. We believe Andy is likely to commit suicide, especially based on a conversation he has with Red. As an audience, we’re diffused.
And then the morning roll call happens. Andy is nowhere to be found. The warden is incredulous. And we, the audience, are dumbfounded. Completely dumbfounded. What the hell is going on??
At this point: answers. The warden throws one of Andy’s custom made rocks through his poster of starlet Raquel Welch. This reveals a tunnel behind the cell wall that Andy has been digging away at for a long time. And then comes Morgan Freeman’s narration… the best kind of narration in the history of narration. He describes the unbelievable circumstances Andy had to go through to make his escape. It culminates in that stunning shot of the rain beating down on Andy, cleansing his body and washing away 40 years of captivity.
I’ve often said The Shawshank Redemption may have the happiest ending of any movie ever. Every time I watch it, I beam from ear to ear. We smile at the deserved ending that befalls the warden. We smile when Hadley gets carted off to jail. We smile when Red’s ambivalent parole hearing speech actually gets him released. And we smile when Red takes the long walk down the beach where Andy is working on his boat. And happy tears come along when they share an embrace as the credits roll. I’ll be damned if Shawshank isn’t just about the greatest film ever about friendship.
That amazing series of events that keeps us smiling begins with an unexpected question – what’s behind Raquel Welch? The answer, it turns out, is hope. And it’s Movie Perfection.