Before I begin I must note that this fan theory may change your entire perception about Shawshank Redemption as a movie.
I note this because it theorizes that prison escapee and our hero of the movie, Andy Dufresne, was not a hero at all. If you forever wish Andy to remain as such, it's probably unwise to read on.
However, if you're comfortable with the idea that Andy may have actually been a psychopathic, hyper-intelligent, scheming murderer and con-artist - then here we go!
At the beginning of the movie, Red says of Andy,
"He had a quiet way about him, a walk and a talk that just wasn't normal around here. He strolled, like a man in a park without a care or a worry in the world, like he had on an invisible coat that would shield him from this place."
Posting to Reddit, iscarletpimpernel says yes,
"because he was a sociopath, and he was guilty."
You can read iscarletpimpernel's full case file here, but I'm going to break it down into chunks below.
The Importance of Chess
"Andy's a chess player, and he has no one to play with. While chess is pervasive in the movie, we never quite see Andy’s mind in this mode. It’s all about chess, but we as the audience never seem to see the game."
Iscarletpimpernel says that we, the audience, forget that all of our assumptions about Andy come via Red, the film's narrator. By Red's own admission chess is a total mystery to him and thus we should immediately start to doubt Red's ability to understand and read a man of Andy's intelligence.
Andy is surrounded by pawns (the lowest ranking pieces on a chess board) - people below his intelligence. He will let them in on whatever he wants them to see as he plots his escape, clears his name, and makes his fortune. Andy controls everything, just like he controls a chess board.
Andy, according to the theory, only befriended Red when he needed something that only Red could provide. Not for companionship or friendship, though this did follow.
An Elaborate Con
"The Warden didn’t have the smarts to think “that many moves ahead” regarding the money laundering. Andy did. Andy wanted a golden parachute for when he escaped. So he set things in motion so he would be in a position to walk out of bank after bank with the money. If Andy was an honest man, why not just leave the trails pointing to the Warden? Why go the extra mile?"
The theory goes that it was Andy who started the tax and corruption trap which eventually leads captain Hadley to be arrested and Warden Norton to commit suicide. He specifically targeted Norton. Red speculates maybe it was to curry favor with the guards or make friends among the cons, which seems quite likely.
What is stranger is that, again, our only knowledge of the interactions between Andy and Norton come from Andy himself. The only time Red observes the pair the warden looks completely perplexed, listening to Andy like a school child would listen to a teacher. Was the Warden really witty enough to concoct all these schemes? Or was it a conniving Andy, slowly but surely, sowing the seeds for his lucrative fortune?
Did Andy purposely get Tommy killed?
"Tommy may have been Andy’s ultimate work of art. I think here of Hannibal Lecter getting Miggs to swallow his own tongue in The Silence of the Lambs."
The young and naive Tommy becomes Andy’s pet project for a big chunk of the film. The theory supposes that Andy planted in the ill-educated Tommy’s head the idea of "confessing" to have known the "real killer" in another prison. Or that he knew Tommy would make up a story like that to appease his new best friend.
Iscarletpimpernel reckons that Andy told Tommy that if anything happened to him then he should break out of Shawshank and get the truth out to the public.
Watch the scene in which Tommy is shot down by the guards.
He thinks that Tommy genuinely was trying to escape, rather than that he was shot down for refusing to keep his mouth shut about the "real killer".
"So break it down like this… The Warden is starting to get wise to the fact that Andy is seriously a bad guy and that he (the Warden) is being manipulated. His only recourse is to lock him away while he tries to figure out what to do and get his arms around the situation. During this time, Tommy decides to make a break for it, and Hadley actually does have to fire on him and kill him." Iscarletpimpernel says.
Remember again that what we see of Tommy's escape in the film is only what Red supposed happened.
By this point Andy is all set and ready to go - he had amassed enough money, created a reasonable doubt story to his guilt, and painted the Warden as the brutal orchestrator.
What do you think? Was Andy truly innocent and deserved his freedom? Or was he a manipulative and murderous psychopath who played the prison like a chess game?