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Why You Love This Movie

Unpacking the reasons The Shawshank Redemption is ranked #1 movie of all time on IMDb.



1. "First of all, I love the script." Deeply drawn characters. Sparklingly crafted dialogue. Eloquent narrations. Brilliant subtext. A riveting plot. All generating a palpable range of human emotions, starting with fear and ending with joy. Frank Darabont spent 8 weeks in total seclusion writing this masterpiece. And it shows.


2. "Second, I love the music." Thomas Newnan's score punctuates our feelings effortlessly and to perfection. You can hear snippets of the soundtrack by clicking on the underlined song titles below:


Stoic Theme: We brace ourselves for what lies ahead, through the somber, sincere strings of Andy's entrance.


Rock Hammer: We feel the danger in the syncopated, caper-like music behind the laundry-smuggling scene.


May/Workfield: The sardonic violin and slow-picking guitar wink at us through the roof-tarring lottery and the discovery of Heywood's horse apple.


Brooks Was Here: The tender, compassionate piano over an old timer's failure to return to society helps put a lump in our throats.


His Judgment Cometh: The insistent, relentless orchestration that helps us prepare for Warden Norton's fateful exit.


Shawshank Redemption: In an inside-out twist on the four-note entrance tune, our hearts soar as the brass, drums, and cymbals combine in a thrilling crescendo over Andy's triumphant, rain-scrubbed escape.


End Title: Finally, the majesty of the music that starts with the hug on the beach and runs through the credits helps us shed whatever hard-earned tears might still be left, as we joyfully read -- and thank -- every name that scrolls up our screen, the creative cast and crew responsible for the making of this masterpiece.


3. "Third, I love the cinematography." The film's consistent color palate, its glorious lighting, spectacular compositions, and choiceful camera work are all attributable to the brilliance of the cinematographer, Roger Deakins. The movie earned him an Academy Award nomination for a film that feels as though it's happening in the present, while we're watching it (even for the 37th time). In order to achieve that level of consistency, beauty, and proficiency, shot after shot, there's only one way to say it: Mr Deakins is a genius.


4. "Fourth, I love the locations." It's based on a work of fiction. But the locations help make you believe that the story is real. The authenticity is dead on. People on tours of the building still ask, "Did they ever catch Andy Dufresne?"


Close your eyes and picture Shawshank State Prison. Now Warden Norton's office. Now the parole board room. The Brewer Hotel. Glenn Quentin's cabin. You can easily picture all of them in your mind's eye: nearly every detail of the movie's locations are burned into your memory.


That's a credit to the people whose job it was to scout and secure those locations. The Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield was the perfect choice to play the prison in this movie. A combination of architectural styles, including Romanesque, Chatteau-esque and Gothic overtones, it simply embodies Stephen King's and Frank Darabont's fictional prison.


Plus, the other exterior scenes that were shot in and around Mansfield, Ashland, and Upper Sandusky, Ohio, as well as the footage from different areas of Malabar Farm were similarly excellent choices. And who could forget the oak tree itself?


During the 25th Anniverary weekend in August, 2019, a guest and his wife from New Jersey said, "I feel that I've come home to a place I haven't been yet." That's a testament to the folks responsible for choosing this building in Mansfield. Thanks to them, the movie was not only made here, but their work helped save the building from near certain demolition.


Finding and securing those locations took creativity, determination, and really visionary pairs of eyes. Led by Location and Production Director Kokayi Ampah, and assisted by Lee Tasseff, Eve Lapolla, and Chris Cozzi, the right people worked their tails off to help tell this story in the most believable of locations.


When you make your Shawshank journey, be sure to set aside some time to visit all the filming locations that have been marked out along on The Shawshank Trail. This film fan experience is unique in all the world -- basically, you get to stand in the exact locations that were used in the making of the world's favorite movie. Each one is only a short drive away from Shawshank State Prison itself, and each one is marked by a sign (you can't miss them). Following a detailed map, you can drive and visit 15 of the 16 locations that appeared in the movie (the only one you can't drive to is Zihuatenejo beach: that was filmed in the U.S. Virgin Islands). You can take pictures and videos while reliving classic movie moments, including Red's pawn shop window, The Brewer Hotel, Brooks' park bench, Glenn Quentin's cabin, here at The Shawshank Woodshop, the road to Buxton, the Maine National Bank, the Portland Court House, and more.


5. "Fifth, I love the characters." A story lives and dies by its characters. And The Shawshank Redemption thrives because it has them all. A truly evil Warden. A cruel, sadistic head guard. A brutal, vicious prison gang. Authentic villains pitted against a fragile friendship between two inmates: a laconic newbie and an affable veteran. Authentically conceived fictional human beings with genuine character arcs and most of all, truly believable portrayals.

6. "Sixth, I love the performances." Every cast member hits the perfect note. There's not a false moment in the entire movie. Led by Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, the cast of this film brought their A-games.


Tim Robbins says he played Andy as a "guy with some secrets." Wearing a furrowed brow, his character only cracks a few smiles during the entire story.


The first real grin we see from Andy is in the movie theatre, when Rita Hayworth "does that thing with her hair." The next smiles appear after Andy gets his library donations and when he defies the Warden. After that, he briefly grins in solitary, after learning Tommy passed the exam. The final time we see Andy smile is a on the beach in Zihuatenejo.


Most of the time, his character appears apprehensive, anxious. Which adds to the mystery of Andy's innocence. Did Andy really kill his wife and her lover? What exactly will he do with that 6 feet length of rope he borrowed? You can never really tell what's going on in his mind. But you know he's thinking about something.


Today, Mr Robbins says he's proud of the subtle and nuanced touches he added to make Andy the complicated and crafty hero who eventually made it out of Shawshank State Prison.


Morgan Freeman, for his part, simply nailed the role of Ellis Boyd Redding. The way he portrays how "the only guilty man in Shawshank" changes across a lifetime "in stir" was captured beautifully in all three parole-board scenes.


In the 20-year meeting, he paints Red to be a frightened rabbit: a wide-eyed salesman who says what he thinks the board wants to hear. But it's a mask Red's wears, just another prison routine. "Same ol' shit, different day."


In the 30-year meeting, we see Mr Freeman's Red is now resigned: we watch Red coming to terms with his fate. He repeats what he always says, but this time, we see the last bit of enthusiasm draining out of his heart. He knows he'll never be paroled. And as the light fades out of Mr Freeman's eyes, we see they are indeed dimmer at the end of the scene than they were at the start.


In the final, 40-year meeting, he shows us that without his friend Andy, Red has become an "old man, filled with regret." He slumps into the chair. The mask is gone. Reflective and transparent, he speaks from his soul now. Grimly admitting that he's indeed sorry for what he did, he regrets that the kid he was is long gone. But that sincerity earns Red his parole, and for that he is almost redeemed. But not quite. That will come later.


The final touches of Morgan Freeman's performance were truly Oscar worthy: watch as he finishes reading Andy's letter, leaning against the broken rock wall in the shade of the tree. He leads us with teary eyes and trembling lips to the conclusion that his friend set all this up for him, and that he's waiting down in Mexico. We thrill to learn how excited Red is. We hear his character utter the words he once thought was a dangerous thing: "I hope." Then we watch as he finally makes eye contact again with Andy on the shore. We share the joy Red has earned. If those cinematic moments don't make your eyeballs wet, I don't know what will.


7. "Seventh, I love the pacing." This is about "rewatchability." On every tour of the building, and on every day we're open, at least one guest will say, "No matter what point I catch it on TV, I'm compelled to watch it from there all the way until the end."


There's even a term for that: it's called "being Shawshanked." Used in a sentence, you might say, "Last night I got Shawshanked, right around the time when Brooks holds the knife to Heywood's throat." Or perhaps. "I was changing the channel and I got Shawshanked: this time was the beer-on-the-roof scene."


That's a credit to the combination of Mr Darabont's gifted storytelling skills and diplomatic directing ability, along with Mr Deakins' cinematography and Mr Newman's score, to say nothing of the actors themselves, and Mr King's originality. Their combined talents make for a movie that inspires -- and rewards you -- with repeated viewings.


8. "Eighth, I love the work of the writer/director." In Hollywoodland, the two people most responsible for what ends up on a movie screen are the screenwriter and the director. And in our case, those two people are the same man, Frank Darabont.

He had never directed a movie before. So it's fair to say he had something to prove. But talk to anyone associated with the film, and they'll tell you: Mr Darabont led the charge with grace, passion, and kindness. Using warmth, candor, compassion, and a deep understanding of human behavior, Frank Darabont swept up every member of the cast and crew, and inspired them to do their best to realize his creative vision. His passion to tell this story motivated every one on set to stay focused, to keep the end game in mind, and it shows up there on the screen.


The great Stanley Kubrick once said, "The hardest thing about making a movie is keeping in the forefront of your consciousness your original reaction to the material."


In this case, Mr Darabont saw something magical in Mr King's novella. He kept that reaction in the forefront of his mind while writing the script, and held on to that magic while directing the film.


Frame by frame, scene by scene, actor by actor, Frank wrote and directed a classic movie that still resonates around the world. And you love him for it.


9. "Ninth, I love the message." Sure, the message is so solid, you can say it without even thinking about it: it's a movie about hope. Friendship. The triumph of the will. Against incredible odds. Over unspeakable adversity.


Mainly, it's a movie about hope, we say.


But it's time to go just a little bit further.


It's time we start saying we love this movie because it's about hope fulfilled.


Which is to say, it's more than just a movie about hope. It's a movie that reminds us that if we take action to change our lives, that we really can fulfill our hopes and dreams.


By believably demonstrating what Andy -- and therefore, all of us -- are capable of, The Shawshank Redemption confirms why hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.


Because hope inspires us to take action against adversity. Hope fuels good-decision making. Hope drives the making of plans. Hope pushes us to make the necessary changes, improvements, and upgrades to our lives. And it tells us that hope without action truly is a pipe dream. Hope without a plan is time wasted. Hope without resourcefulness, hope without determination, hope without grit, and hope without perseverance can drive a person insane. Brooks Hatlen knew it. And Red almost gave in to it.


But Andy's letter gave him hope: he realized he was being given a chance to make a change. To travel to a new life, to a warm place, with no memory. To learn how to play a game of kings, one taught to him by an old friend.


So Andy's hope inspired Red to make a plan.


"Fort Hancock, Texas, please."


"Get busy living. That's god-damned right."


He found he was so excited, he could hardly sit still or hold a thought in his head. Red did more than just hope. He took action. And we saw him change his life...


by focusing on the "get busy" part of "get busy living."


That's a big reason why we love this movie. But it may not be the biggest.


10. "Tenth, I love how how the movie made me feel, the first time I saw it. " Think back, if you can, to your "original reaction to the material."


I had the unique -- and totally joyful experience -- of sitting near someone who had never seen the movie before, when Warner Brothers re-released the film in theaters last September. So in a sense, I got to "see" the movie again, almost as it were the first time. And as I heard her laugh, gasp, weep, and cheer at all the revelations, I remembered my own "first time."


After Tommy Williams is killed, Andy gets out of solitary, and sits with Red against the limestone rocks of he prison wall (ask me to take you to that hallowed spot, when you visit). He dreams out loud about living in Mexico. But that's way the hell down there, and you're in here, and that's the way it is, Red says.


Then, Andy says, it all comes down to a simple choice, really: get busy living, or get busy dying.


Now from here, everything points to the latter half of that choice.


"I'm really worried about him."


"Oh, Lord: Andy came to the loading dock today to borrow six feet of rope."


"Remember Brooks Hatlen?"


"Every man has his breaking point..."


"Oh, my holy God..."


Face it: when we first saw it, we were concerned that Andy had gotten busy dying.


Right then, when Guard Haig looks into Andy's cell, we half expected the camera to turn and reveal the lifeless body of Andy Dufresne, hanging from the ceiling, just like Brooks Hatlen.


Instead, the camera cuts to Norton's office. A box of old shoes? A wailing siren? Norton is as confused as we are.


The adrenaline starts to rush in, as we begin to wonder... where... what the... is this true?


Where is Andy Dufresne?


Oh, it's true alright. The poster comes down. The rock hammer is found. Andy is not. He goes to a few banks. He drives a convertible. And he gets the last laugh when Norton and Hadley get justice.


Andy Dufresne faced inhuman conditions, punished unjustly for a crime he didn't commit. And yet he had hope -- but he did more than wallow in that hope.


He leveraged his knowledge, and he made plans. He used his banking know how, to capitalize on where the cracks are. He used his love of geology, and put pressure and time to work for him. He spent 19 years planning and executing his escape, channeling $365,000 to bank accounts all over New England.


He not only hoped, he planned.


Hope inspired him to take action, to make a plan.


That's why we love, and why we need, movies like The Shawshank Redemption in our lives. We need Andy Dufresnes as big as we can get them. We need to be reminded that no matter what adversities life throws at us, we can hope for a better tomorrow. And that those hopes can inspire in us the will to take action, to make plans, to execute the changes we need to make in our lives to better ourselves. And that such changes and plans are possible.


If you're ready to make changes in your life, there's nothing like the inspiration that comes from a visit to The Shawshank Trail. And like every last man at Shawshank -- feel free -- to call ahead and set up your visit here at The Shawshank Woodshop. We're happy to show you around, and complete your journey.

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