ByDave Yaeger, writer at
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Dave Yaeger

When The Shawshank Redemption was released in 1994, it was hailed by critics but flopped at the box office. The film made only $58 million, and though it was nominated for seven Oscars, it didn't win a single one, overshadowed by the cultural phenomenon that was Forrest Gump. Twenty-three years later, The Shawshank Redemption is the film that sits atop IMDb's Top 250 Films Ever Made, and in 2015, The Library of Congress included it in the United State's National Film Registry.

Based on Stephen King's novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, the film is a brutal look at prison life. However, even as it shows the worst humanity has to offer, the film's enduring message is one of hope. Hope for friendship, hope for justice, hope for salvation and hope for freedom so outshine the drab horror of the lives of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman) that has become one of the most inspirational films ever made.

You cannot cage the human spirit; not with walls or bars or guards. That's why people re-watch Shawshank over and over: to be reminded that there's beauty in the bleakest setting, and always hope for tomorrow. Here are just five of the movie's most powerful moments.

1. “Rehabilitated?”

Viewers see roughly 20 years of Red's time in Shawshank over the course of the film, and his parole hearings are a recurring device director Frank Darabont uses to show both the passage of time and the change in Red's character. Initially very contrite and enthusiastic about his reformation, this is Red's final parole hearing after 40 years of imprisonment. He has no expectations anymore. His best friend has escaped. He's feeling his age.

So, when a weary is asked by a member of the parole board if he feels "rehabilitated," Freeman gives him nothing but scorn and contempt over a word that can't bring back the foolish young man he once was. The monologue is nothing but truth, and after 40 years, the truth sets Red free.

2. “Get Busy Living Or Get Busy Dying”

Probably the most memorable line from the film come in a conversation about dreams, anger, imprisonment, freedom and choosing how much we let anger master us over our dreams — something that imprisons countless people in the free world, let alone inmates in a prison like Shawshank. It comes when is at his lowest, and there's something about the way he growls those words that reignite his own determination. It's doubtful that without those seven words — "Get busy living or get busy dying" — Andy would ever escape, and it's equally doubtful that without this conversation that Red would find courage on the outside.

3. “Andy’s Rebirth”

There are plenty of films with prison escapes. It would be odd to have a prison film that didn't have at least an escape attempt of some sort. What makes Andy's crawl to freedom so astounding is his patience. Andy worked on his plan from the moment he was wrongly convicted. He learned the prison's official and unofficial power structure and how to manipulate it. He befriended Red to obtain the seemingly innocuous tools for his escape, and as their friendship grew, never put Red in a position where Andy's ambition would compromise him.

Once Andy knew prison layout and procedures, the plan itself was simple. All it took was patience — nearly 20 years of patience and determination — to finally crawl through filth and emerge reborn and washed clean in a thunderstorm. The shot of Andy joyfully reaching to the heavens has to be one of the single most inspiring images in cinematic history

4. “On The Roof”

What's a moment of peace worth? Everything. Peace is hard enough to come by in everyday life, but in Andy and Red’s world, peace and normalcy are nonexistent. Andy never forgets what a simple moment of peace is worth. In fact, he risks his life on a work duty assignment tarring the prison's roof to find one for himself and his friends. Poking the most ruthless guard in Shawshank, Andy leverages a cold beer and a moment of peace against doing the guards' tax returns. He could have easily been tossed off the roof, but in this scene — and later when he locks himself in the warden's office and plays Mozart over the public address system — he shows what he's holding onto to give himself hope. He tries to share that hope with his fellow inmates and remind them of the value of normalcy in an abnormal awful hell.

5. “I Hope To See My Friend...”

“Institutionalized” is a term that we often hear in the film. It means that when you live so long inside a prison the outside world becomes alien, holding no relevance to you anymore. Red found himself institutionalized after he was paroled, but Andy had anticipated this. He never forgot the conversation where Red expressed his doubts that he'd ever be able to survive on the outside, and Red never forgot the simple beauty of Andy's dream of a life outside of Shawshank.

After finding funds his friend left for him, Red violates his parole and heads out to find Andy. It's so difficult to perfectly end a film, but what better way to end a film about the hope of a better tomorrow than with these words from Freeman's voiceover that narrate his journey back to his friend?

"I find I'm so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel; a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is unsure. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as beautiful as it has been in my dreams. I hope..."

(Sources: Box Office Mojo, IMDb, Wikipedia)

What's your favorite scene from The Shawshank Redemption?


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