The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

My thoughts on the immensely popular movie with the impossible name

with 13 comments

The Shawshank Redemption must be one of the worst titles for a movie ever. It sounds like a tongue twister – you know one of those verses which are fun because you have to make such an effort to manage to say them correctly. “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.” My tongue goes on strike.

Since it’s so hard to pronounce or to figure out what it possibly could refer to, it’s also difficult to remember. This makes its number one position on the imdb ranking list even more impressive. People love this movie so much that they’re prepared to learn a name they don’t understand or know how to say.

I’m quite new in the circle of film nerds, but from what I’ve seen so far, they generally don’t approve of this ranking. While very few think it’s a bad movie, they roll their eyes a little at the idea that Shawshank Redemption would be the best movie ever.

Why so popular?
But let’s go with the majority. What is it in this movie that makes it so immensely popular? What is it that we love so much?

The other day I watched the movie for the first time and I liked it so much that I also had a look at some of the extra material included in this edition. Among other things there was a very well made documentary with no less than my favorite critic Mark Kermode as a host, gathering opinions from various people about why The Shawshank Redemption has become the phenomena it is. I thought Tim Robbins, who plays the leading role, put it well in his explanation:

“A lot of people are in prisons of relationships, of jobs that they hate, of lives unfulfilled and have given up hope. What this movie is saying to them was: it might take a while, it might take some time, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and if you have the patience and the belief you can make it there. […] It allows people to see that they can get out of the prisons they’ve created for themselves.”

Yeah. I think so too. While film buffs tend to like movies with tragic or at least vague, open endings, most people shockingly enough prefer movies that make them feel a little bit better when their own life is miserable. They’d rather get hope and inspiration to endure and improve what can be improved than to see someone confirm to them what they already knew: that life is a bitch and we’re all bound to die anyway, so why bother?

Self help guru
There are moments when Andy Dufresne – falsely accused for murder, serving a life long sentence in a prison under hellish circumstances, in case you’ve forgotten – sounds like a self help guru, cracking lines that someone most likely has printed as a poster with a sunset background.

“Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong about the line; as a matter of fact I like it. I like it a lot. And there are many self help gurus out there who actually inspire me and give me insights that help me to get along better with life. There are quite a few charlatans as well, obviously, but the teachings of Andy are solid. Like when he risking a severe punishment plays classical music in the speakers so all prisoners can hear it and the following dialogue takes place:

Andy Dufresne: That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you… Haven’t you ever felt that way about music?
Red: I played a mean harmonica as a younger man. Lost interest in it though. Didn’t make much sense in here.
Andy Dufresne: Here’s where it makes the most sense. You need it so you don’t forget.
Red: Forget?
Andy Dufresne: Forget that… there are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside… that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours.
Red: What’re you talking about?
Andy Dufresne: Hope.

I like this, even if I also see the risk for scenes like this to get too much of love for their own benefit. If it’s repeated enough many times, those lines will eventually become feel worn out and shallow as “Carpe Diem” became after the mega success of Dead Poets Society.

Well crafted
The Shawshank Redemption will not become my number 1 movie. It was a little bit too Hollywood cheesy at times, and slightly too predictable at moments, to beat every other movie I’ve watched. However – I loved it a lot – I guess I’m quite unsophisticated in my taste for movies – and next time I look over my top 100 list, it will definitely be somewhere on it. Because it’s incredibly well crafted in every aspect from screenwriting to score and because it’s wonderful to see someone who goes for the big style storytelling. Screw special effects and 3D! You can tell that this movie is made by a guy who takes his inspiration from good old movie makers such as Frank Capra.

I’ll give you a final quote from the movie, for no other particular reason than that I thought it was beautiful. It hit me like poetry.

Andy Dufresne: You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?
Red: No.
Andy Dufresne: They say it has no memory. That’s where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory.

And now I’ll go practicing on the title. Shankred Shawdemption. No, wait… Shawshemtion Redshank… No, no, no… Shenkshank Ration….

Crap. I guess I’ll stick to the Swedish in this case. In Sweden the distributors gave up about the original title altogether and made a new one: Nyckeln till frihet (The key to freedom). It’s generic and a little bit forgettable, but at least I can pronounce it.

The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, US, 1994) My rating: 5/5

Written by Jessica

October 3, 2011 at 1:00 am

13 Responses

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  1. My theory on why this movie stays so popular is a little simple and not as deep as other people’s analysis. I think it is just a good movie. Every thing about it is good. Good writing, good directing, good acting, good everything. It is just a perfectly good movie. I know that doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement, but it is very rare to find something that is good completely. It is isn’t spectacular at anything, however, it is always good.

    I’ve got to say though I’ve never gotten the dislike of the title some people have. I thought it was a wonderful title the first time I heard it. Stuck right in my head. Made me want to see what a movie called “Shawshank Redemption” was about. Guess I’m the odd opinion out.


    October 3, 2011 at 2:07 am

    • Good everything is a good thing I guess. 🙂 It’s a little strange though if this is such a rare thing these days that you’ll stand out like this one has.

      The title is a blind spot to me. Even after writing this post I haven’t learned it. I have to look twice every time to be sure I get it right.


      October 3, 2011 at 11:28 am

  2. All other similarities aside, my approach to this movie is a bit like Dan Brown. Not as bad as all the haters will have it but neither as fantastic as the fans claim. I side with Kierbuu, its simply a good movie. And since I _am_ an avid King-fan, I would say that part of its goodness comes from a very competent handling of the text and atmosphere of the orginal novella.


    October 3, 2011 at 10:14 am

    • Yak. I can’t stand Dan Brown to be honest. I tried to read The Da Vinci Code but gave up after a few pages since I couldn’t stand it. Drivel. Sooo badly written. I actually think this movie is far, far better than to be put in the Dan Brown category. I’ve never been a vivid Stephen King reader, but his novels and shortstories often make good movies, that’s for sure.


      October 3, 2011 at 11:25 am

  3. This is one of the movies that we had to watch in the theaters with our school class when I was about 15 years old. Ever since, it’s one of my favorite movies.

    There’s just so much to like about this movie. The brilliant helicopter opening shot, the music scene, when they watch an old movie, the scene where he escapes,… Most movies would be happy to have one scene like this but this movie has one after another. Add a great score, great performances, a good script and you’ve got a great movie.


    October 3, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    • Great to hear that the school watching didn’t destroy your experience. Sometimes the fact that it’s mandatory can take away a bit of the pleasure.


      October 3, 2011 at 7:14 pm

  4. I love this movie too. First watched it at my brother’s urging years ago and have watched it many times since. I agree with Kierbuu it is “just” an all-round good movie, I don’t really think it has any weak spots. In many films one of the strengths covers up a weakness (ie special effects covering up plot weakness, or poor dialogue, etc.) but I feel in this one the strengths just complement other strengths.

    I quite like the title, and am a little perplexed why some people find it difficult I must confess. I love the sound of it. “Shawshank” just sounds ugly, and the sound of it clashes wonderfully with the concept of redemption – and in that way it beautifully expresses what you get in the film – a clash of the horrible and the wonderful in so many different ways (Boggs compared to Red for example).

    Lewis Maskell

    October 3, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    • I just find it hard quite hard to pronounce. All those “schh” sounds are filling my mouth making my tongue crinkle. And “redemption” is not a common word in vocabulary. As a matter of fact I didn’t know exactly what it meant until I finally looked it up ten seconds ago… (Yeah, I know… /blush)


      October 3, 2011 at 7:26 pm

  5. I think it´s just a good movie that suits just everyone. It´s not fantastic just good.


    October 4, 2011 at 9:17 pm

  6. There were actuallies a story about this on National Public Radio a few weeks ago. Apparentlies is people what make pilgrimages ta the decommissioned prison in Ohio where the movie were filmed, and volunteers what’ll take ya on a tour of the place. Also, the woman what owned the farm with the oak tree on it were none too happy about random buggers traipsin’ around so she put up a big fence. Sadly, the tree came down in a storm this summer, so ya cain’t see it no more.


    October 6, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    • The cult around the movie is quite amazing. I can really recommend the anniversary edition on DVD which has a lot of extra material where they talk about it.


      October 6, 2011 at 10:15 pm

  7. […] whispers in someone else’s ear, who tweets it… As far as I understand it, that’s how The Shawshank Redemption became so […]

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