The Shawshank Redemption has stood the test of time as a perennial favorite. This film is celebrating its 25th anniversary, yet it still broadcasts regularly on television and continues to be a favorite among industry creatives and everyday viewers. In 2015, the U.S. Library of Congress added the film to its National Film Registry for its significance to culture and it currently holds the top-rated spot on IMDb.
The drama’s path towards universal acclaim is fascinating considering its disappointing theatrical run against box office smash hits like Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump. However, a 1995 release to VHS and the power of word of mouth changed its trajectory towards becoming a classic. Why do people love The Shawkshank Redemption? In short, the power of Andy and Red’s friendship is the foundation of this endearing narrative.
The concept of finding a person and forming a friendship bond is one of life’s truly underrated gems. It happens every day but that doesn’t make it less of a miracle in a world of seven billion people. And some of the strongest friendship bonds are solidified in bleak times or perhaps forged outside of a person’s normal social scope. Those friendships serve as an affirmation of love, a spiritual awakening, and sometimes the only source of solace in shaky territory.
Andy and Red fall into the category of friendship that blossoms under uniquely horrific circumstances. Outside of prison walls in 1940s America, Andy and Red would have likely never been friends. But incarceration levels the playing field by stripping them of their humanity, autonomy, dignity, and general human rights. Andy and Red slowly find light in each other after being forced into a confined space that breeds despair, distrust, and abuse. Many people cannot relate to being falsely imprisoned or spending decades in prison. But the emotional value that friendship brings during despair is a universal theme.
This is obviously why many movies center upon friendship. However, it’s hard to examine in the midst of sensitive subject matter without seemingly preachy or overly mawkish. The Shawshank Redemption manages to do this well without falling into typical tropes. Red isn’t a “magical Negro” positioned to uplift his White counterpart but instead a pragmatic man who was naturally drawn to Andy’s personality. And Andy isn’t looking for external motivation or validation regarding his situation. His strength comes from hope and not allowing prison to erase who he has been for years.
“You need [music] so you don’t forget… forget that there are places in the world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. It’s yours… Hope.” —Andy Dufresne
Andy and Red’s interactions don’t lead to a whirlwind friendship filled with sweeping platitudes, heroic appearances during times of trouble, and motivational speeches. Their relationship builds out of a necessary trade and slowly transforms to something that feels normal and familiar despite the strife they face in prison. The duo’s matter-of-fact conversations give a deeper look into the real-life consequences of long-term imprisonment, morality, regret, and the merits of maintaining hope, which sometimes put them at odds. However, they always keep it real and respect each other’s brilliance and opinions.
Andy uses his smarts to get beer and a sliver of relaxation for Red and their working crew. He gains a piece of his former life by doing taxes and employs Red to get him out of field work. There are a ton of shady dealings, frustration, and pain, but he has a supporter and someone to confide in through it all.
Red is not able to stop Bog and The Sisters’ assaults against Andy, but he makes sure a poster of Rita Hayworth is ready for Andy when he gets out of the infirmary. He’s a listening ear, a smuggler, a chess partner, and a comedian when the need arises. Red doesn’t realize it, but his willingness to get Andy what he needs to find a way to pass the time—a rock hammer and various posters—is the ultimate gateway to their freedom. These moments of love and affection are prominent without glossing over the realistic issues that incarcerated people face.
The pair imprint on each other over the years. Red dares to find hope after 30 years of incarceration through several methods—Andy’s relentless pursuit to build a prison library, a gifted harmonica, and finding a productive way to pass the time. He’s in a world where people only use him for what he can do for them, but Andy sews a seed in his soul. Andy learns how to bend the rules of prison to suit his own progression and uses Red as a springboard for his laundering idea. When Andy escapes, Red is proud of his cunning perseverance but also sad to lose a nearly 20-year friendship. It’s almost impossible to not feel a gut punch when Red says he misses his friend while working in the field. Red later steps into unfamiliar and terrifying world. But a promise to his friend restores his hope.
In the end, they start a new chapter of freedom together in heaven after years of hell. The Shawshank Redemption‘s final moment comprises everything the film set out to accomplish by showcasing hope, love, resilience, and redemption through the magic of friendship. It has the type of impact that will continue to resonate for the next 25 years—and beyond.
Featured image: Castle Rock Entertainment