“Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying”

 The Shawshank Redemption Rant

I feel like it has become fairly common lately to shit on Shawshank Redemption. You say it is the best movie ever made and people scoff, laugh and proceed to throw stones at you. The worst is when you say it around other people who consider themselves “film lovers”. This is a death sentence.  People just don’t respect Shawshank Redemption as one of the greatest movies ever made and I have never understood why. If you say you love Citizen Kane or the Godfather, (one of which I have seen) someone will probably wet themselves. Especially if there a film student. But Shawshank Redemption deserves to be equally respected, and here’s why;

  1. It is the most rewatchable movie ever made

Oooo controversial I know. But hear me out.

When someone says rewatchable, a couple of movies come to mind. Back to the future, Jaws, Star Wars, Love Actually, and at the top, is Shawshank.  And I think there is a clear reason for this.

The ending.

The whole film builds up to the ending perfectly. Throughout the film, some of the worst possible shit happens to Andy Dufrene. He is falsely imprisoned, beaten, raped, locked away, lied to. But the audience knows what’s coming. They are sitting there, waiting for his moment of freedom and redemption. Waiting to see the look on the Warden’s face. Waiting for his reunion with Red. No other film has that same sense of satisfaction as Shawshank’s ending. It draws the viewers in, forcing them to wait to finish it and see his escape. Saying to their parents at 11:00 at night when its on Channel 7 “just one more bit.”

Just me? Fair enough.

2. The Writing

Every list I ever write will have a point about writing, mainly because it is very broad, makes you sound smart and to me, is the most important part of a film.

But Shawshank Redemption has some of the best one liners in movie history. Instead of ranting about how much I love them, I will simply drop my favourites below.

“I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really: Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

(I mean come on)

“Andy Furesne – Who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side”

“I’ve decided not to stay. I doubt they’ll kick up any fuss. Not for an old crook like me”

“They send you here for life and that’s exactly what they take.”

“I like to think the last thing that went through his head, other then that bullet…”

Its like every second line in this movie is quotable. Something I don’t think I have ever seen in another film.

3. The structure

I honestly can’t remember where I heard this but it has always been stuck in the back of my mind ever since. (I am also probably butchering this) Basically, Frank Darabont structured the film as 6 short stories.

  1. Andy’s trial
  2. Andy’s first few years in Shawshank
  3. Andy and the library
  4. Andy and Tommy
  5. Andy’s Escape
  6. Red’s Redemption

Having such a unique and bold structure has always felt like I was watching someone’s entire life, rather then just a few parts of it. It makes the audience engaged in such a long film because they are only waiting for the conclusion of this story, not the whole film.

It’s always reminded me of a parent, uncle or teacher telling interesting anecdotes from their lives. Stories that hook you in and show you what type of person they are. Stories that have multiple characters that you only understand if you know that person well.

Ultimately, this film comes down to just pure excellent storytelling.

4. The casting

I just don’t think I have ever seen two roles cast so perfectly.

It sounds like a cliché, but Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are born to play these roles. Ever since this movie, both actors got stuck playing a similar role – a shy man, and an old narrator. And that’s for one very specific reason.  They are so good at it.

Tim Robbins can play that quiet, awkward man so accurately. That soft whisper he does is so effective. It draws you in, waiting for every word he perfectly delivers. Even his walk is scarily accurate to people I have met. His hands hanging limply by his sides, almost uncomfortable in his own body. But throughout the film, he drops the moments of anger. (at the warden, at life, at the sisters.) Its not overbearing yelling like you would see in 12 Angry Men, but a more subtle, realistic anger. Showing a man whose rage is slowly rising throughout the film, until his boiling point, where he is forced to escape.

Morgan Freeman. For me, his performance is special for two reasons. His voice and his face. Both combine to show you this man that is aged and worn down. The deep wrinkles and voice display this wise man who has been beaten down by the world around him. Its almost this purposeful contrast to how he acts, so young and full of life.

5. The antagonists     

There is undoubtedly another 10 points I could make as to why Shawshank Redemption slaps.  But I will finish on this one.  

For me there are roughly two types of villains in films. One is outright evil, doesn’t hide it and         basically knows it. This is like your Darth Vader, Jason, Freddy Kruger. But there is also one much harder to perfect. A villain that truly believes they are doing good work. For me, Delores Umbridge from Harry Potter comes to mind. And for Shawshank Redemption, it has both. Two villains you love to hate and are desperately waiting for their comeuppance. Two antagonists that are so evil you would watch the entire film just to see them crumble at the end.