“The Shawshank Redemption:” The reality of prison life and the sacredness of friendship


Graphic by Maliah White

Tegan’s back with another Throwback Thursday Review. This week she’s covering the emotional and iconic “The Shawshank Redemption.”

Tegan Ruhl, Staff Writer

Netflix put many “familiar favorites” on its platform. Among the many throwbacks included “The Shawshank Redemption,” my favorite movie. 

Beginning in the late 1940s, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a young, successful banker, is wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and her lover. Sentenced to two life sentences back to back, Dufresne becomes a resident of Shawshank State Prison. 

Beginning his early years as the awkward outcast in the prison, Dufresne becomes good friends with fellow inmate Ellis ‘Red’ Redding (Morgan Freeman), “the man who knows how to get things.” As the years roll on, Dufresne is quick to learn the ins and outs of Shawshank and becomes one of the smartest and most well-respected people in the prison. 

I’m not sure how I should begin to talk about this movie, so I guess I’ll start from the beginning. 

I think I first watched the censored version of this movie all the way through when I was 13. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but something about this film really struck me. 

I’ve watched “The Shawshank Redemption” many times since then, and I have a few ideas as to why the movie draws me so much. 

The plot of the movie is phenomenal. The original premise of the movie comes from the Stephen King novella “Rita Heyworth and Shawshank Redemption” from his collection of short stories “Different Seasons.” Unlike his usual horror stories, “The Shawshank Redemption” is not necessarily scary, but it’s serious and concerning in its own way. The plot shows the brutal lives of prisoners living during the late 40s through the late 60s.

The images of prison violence, death and just plain sorrow are especially difficult to watch. The early years of Dufresne’s time at Shawshank have always been the hardest parts of the movie for me to swallow. Watching him being ripped away from his life, thrown into a place with no love, fighting for his life against “the Sisters” and in misery weighs on me as if there is no tomorrow. 

Your capacity for sympathy will be tested all throughout the movie. As you pass time with the fellow inmates of Shawshank, your heart will bend and break as each of their tragic stories unfolds. At some point, your eyes will grow heavy with tears because you learn to mourn and hurt with them. It’s okay to shed a tear or two while watching. Lord knows how often I end up crying each time I watch this movie. 

“The Shawshank Redemption” is not always sorrowful, however. For a movie about the hardships of prison, there is an abundance of satisfying moments throughout. Some of them are major while some are just little moments. 

Time and time again, I have found the little moments in the movie to be the most satisfying. Something about them has always brought about a strange sense of peace. It’s like a small moment of freedom. You experience it with the inmates at Shawshank. For a moment, you’re in their shoes, and you understand, and that’s all the movie is asking of you: to understand. 

Straying away from the emotional aspects of it all, the acting is astounding. I know I say that a lot, but it’s really something. Freeman’s character narrates the entire movie, and despite being a convicted felon, Freeman presents his character as an honest man who’s wise in his prison life and is just trying to make it by. 

Robbins’ character, on the other hand, is an excellent example of the deterioration of the mind. I don’t mean for that to sound harsh, but it’s true. Dufresne begins his time at Shawshank as a confused and frightened man and ends it on the verge of insanity. He’s beaten, verbally abused, sexually assaulted and has watched far too many of his friends die because of their time in prison, and it shows. It shows. By the end of the movie, you understand why he did what he did while he was in prison. What he did, I won’t tell you.

You’ll just have to find that out by yourself. 

Of course, I have to mention the supporting cast as well. 

Warden Norton (Bob Gunton) is the stern, strict and hypocritical head of Shawshank. Captain Hadley (Clancy Brown) is about the most brutal prison guard to ever play on-screen (aside from Robbin, Brown’s performance is probably the best character portrayal in the entire movie). 

Heywood (William Sadler) is the arrogant prisoner who thinks he can get his way in just about anything. Tommy (Gil Bellows) is the cocky youngblood who just wants to make something of himself outside of the prison walls. Finally, there’s Brooks (James Whitmore), the institutionalized old man of Shawshank whose story will have you in tears before the movie is even halfway over. 

I know I painted “The Shawshank Redemption” as a very depressing movie, and it is in some crucial ways; however, the movie is not trying to grieve you. Instead, it’s trying to give you something worthwhile. You just have to watch the entire movie before you can get there. 

The ending of “The Shawshank Redemption” is one of the most satisfying endings you could ever ask for. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but you’ll probably feel satisfied by the time it’s all over. I would encourage everyone to at least watch the ending alone. It’s probably one of the most memorable endings in film, and anyone can see why.

The reason why “The Shawshank Redemption” is probably my favorite movie is because of how quotable it is. If you couldn’t tell from my “Napoleon Dynamite” review, I’m a sucker for good quotes, especially in movies. However, these quotes from Shawshank have stuck with me for years now, and they never cease to make me smile. 

“Get busy living, or get busy dying.” 

It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man at Shawshank felt free.”

“It’s funny. On the outside, I was an honest man. Straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook.”


“I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.” 


I’m not even going to rate this movie because a number cannot describe how I feel about the whole thing. 

But a fair warning, this movie is not for the faint of heart. It’s brutal and real. It embodies the grittiness of life inside prison walls, the struggle to feel human again. The longing for the freedom all of them once had. Your heart will probably bend in every direction it can because so much is happening at once. 

For those who are willing to give “The Shawshank Redemption” a chance, stay prepared. You have a long journey ahead of you.