(SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, OTHERWISE THIS ARTICLE WILL RUIN YOUR ENTIRE EXPERIENCE OF WATCHING IT FOR THE FIRST TIME.)
Like most self-proclaimed movie buffs, I have a deep appreciation for The Shawshank Redemption, originally written as a short story by Stephen King. I remember watching it for the first time on a boring Saturday afternoon when I was 15, and was blown away by the movie's twist at the end. (Y'know, the part where Andy Dufresne escapes the unethical clutches of the Warden and the somber setting of the prison, and also topples the prison's hierarchy in one fell swoop?.)
I recall I had to spend the following Sunday mopping up the remnants of my exploded brain that was soaked into the couch cushions. Recently, I found a copy of Shawshank and popped it in for old times' sake. It was at this time that I realized something about Andy that (once again) forced me to spend a weekend cleaning up after my shellshocked cranium.
It is shown in the movie that Andy Dufresne starts planning his escape when he discovers the walls in his cell are easy to chip away at, thus leading to his nearly 20 year journey to break out of Shawshank Prison. He uses a picture of Rita Hayworth to cover up the hole in the cell wall.
Ahem. So by the movie's telling, that is when Andy begins his escape. But I offer a different spin: Andy Dufresne started planning his escape from Shawshank Prison long before he carved his name in the wall, judging by the context clues of the film.
That's right, the plan was hatched Day 1 of his incarceration. And that's not really surprising, is it? We see Andy's intelligence numerous times throughout Shawshank, which I'll go over in detail.
"But wait, Day 1? There's no way he started planning this elaborate escape that quickly!", I hear you cry out. Never fear, dear film aficionado. Here is the (slightly circumstantial) evidence:
- Andy meets the Warden and Captain Hadley, and learns that the Warden is all about the Bible and discipline (even though he's a fairly evil dude). What better way to win over the big boss other than what he is obsessed with? Keeping a Bible in his cell and being able to quote scripture from memory helps Andy win over the Warden, in addition to his considerable skill set during his life as a banker. It also becomes the hiding place of his rock hammer, which makes the first scene between the Warden and Andy INCREDIBLY tense.
- During the first night, Andy witnesses/overhears the beating and subsequent death of a fellow inmate, aka "FatAss." (That's the only name the movie gives us, at least.) As told by the narrator, Ellis "Red" Redding, Andy Dufresne never made a sound his first night in Shawshank. Andy just saw a man die. I suggest he spent the night exploring his cell, trying to locate hollow spots or any structural weakness he could exploit. (Hey, its a prison run by a frugal Warden, maybe they went cheap on materials!) This night is one of the few scenes where we don't see Andy up close in his cell, even in the big flashback sequence toward the end of the film. Either way, as an amateur geologist, Andy knows what kind of rocks the walls are made out of.
- The morning of FatAss' beatdown, we see Andy WIDE AWAKE, STARING AT THE WALL HE EVENTUALLY TUNNELS OUT OF. Why is already awake? He doesn't know when they will be let out of the cells, and he seems confused when he walks out with the other inmates. Andy scoped out the interior of his cell that night, and formulated a plan to escape the prison, which explains why he is already awake and staring at the wall.
Now let's jump ahead a month later. Andy approaches one of Shawshank's known smugglers, Red, and asks him for a rock hammer to continue his "geology hobby" while serving his sentence. But at this point, Andy already has a plan to escape the prison, and the rock hammer is a pivotal part of that.
It's also worth noting that Andy quickly caught on to Bogg's attraction of him, and I think its reasonable to assume Andy knew it was only a matter of time before he was assaulted, especially after seeing the guard's indifference and disregard of prisoner safety.
Also, there's some decent foreshadowing during Andy and Red's first meeting. The former picks up a few pieces of rock on the ground, and as he walks away from Red, he examines his findings and tosses one of them in the air. Andy realizes that he can discard his tunnel chips in the yard, and no one will ever suspect a thing. This is before he ever gets the rock hammer from Red.
The next two years, Andy is repeatedly abused by Bogg's and his crew, both sexually and physically. Andy spends this time getting to know the populace of Shawshank, and becoming friends with Red and his crew.
And this ends up being a good thing, as befriending Red lets him join him and his boys on the roof-tarring crew, being supervised by Captain Hadley and a few other guards. Andy overhears the captain's money problems and makes a deal with him that both satisfies the guards and makes his fellow inmates appreciate him more. ("3 bottles of beer apiece, for my coworkers.") He does this incase his cell ends up being tossed, as Red warned him 2 years ago when they made the deal on the rock hammer. (His cell gets tossed, incidentally.)
At this point, Andy has made friends with guards and inmates alike, which comes in handy. After being viciously beaten to a pulp by Bogg's and his boys, Captain Hadley cripples the malicious rapist.
After the beatdown, Andy now has the poster to cover up his tunnel and the tool that will make it happen. He did not stumble upon an escape plan as the movie illustrates, rather, he started his master plan years earlier.
One scene that I love and that supports this theory is during the chess sequence between Andy and Red.
Andy spends years building his chess set during daylight hours, and spends his nights trying to break out (Actually, chess could reference the darkness and light of his daily life in Shawshank.) He spends years on this chess set, which represdents his nearly two decades long con of escaping the prison.
Red calls chess, "...a total fucking mystery", indicating that chess (Andy's plan) is incomprehensible to Red, and that he is unaware of the moves his best friend is making. Red has no idea what it's about, and prefers to play the simpler game, checkers.
From the moment Andy befriends Red, EVERYTHING that follows from that point onward, is a calculated move by Andy to make friends with cons and guards alike. I do think the friendship between Andy and Red is genuine, but it definitely suited Andy's needs to be on good terms with one of the prison's well-known smugglers. Don't forget, Red supplied Andy with the poster and the hammer.
Andy Dufresne is a calculating, brilliant man that can think several moves ahead (like in chess). The ending sequence where he initiates his escape from Shawshank was fantastic, and I think this theory illustrates his ingenuity even further.
Am I reading too much into this movie? Maybe so. Maybe I just love me some Shawshank Redemption.
-- Thanks for reading my first article! There might be more on the way! --
Written by: Raymond M.D. Gerald