On This Day: ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ Premieres in 1994

Why is The Shawshank Redemption now considered one of the best movies of all time? It strikes at the heart and mind. Everyone deals with survival, transformation, friendship, freedom, perseverance, and hope. The story may be set inside a prison, but the themes are universal. We can all recognize pieces of ourselves in The Shawshank Redemption’s story. As the warden says, “Salvation lies within.”  

Morgan Freeman, Frank Darabont, and Tim Robbins smile for the camera.
Morgan Freeman, Frank Darabont, and Tim Robbins | Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

The power of friendship

Based on Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the story took place in 1947. Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) gets sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife and her lover. He is found guilty. Inside the prison, Andy looks out for his fellow man and performs good things to improve his quality of life. He helps a guard avoid an inheritance tax in exchange for beers to share with other prisoners.

Andy forms a strong bond with Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman). Redding feels remorse over a terrible crime he committed as a young man. The Shawshank Redemption uses Freeman’s distinctive vocals to add insight and emotion. From his perspective, the audience learns what is happening inside the prison, including how Andy helps build a library.

Andy and Red’s relationship grows to impact each other. It reflects Andy’s hopeful disposition and Red’s realism. Ultimately, Andy’s hope conquers Red’s fear. Their friendship becomes the heart and soul of the movie.

Memorable images in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’

The image of Andy, arms outspread in the pouring rain, symbolizes the victory of freedom and hope after performing good deeds in prison for a decade. “Andy Dufresne, the man who crawled through 500 yards of shit and came out clean the other end,” says Red.

The final image of Andy and Red hugging after being reunited by the sea has been earned. “You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?” asks Andy. “No,” responds Red. “They say it has no memory. That’s where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory,” answers Andy.

Hope: The legacy of ‘The Shawshank Redemption’

“I guess it comes down to a simple choice. Get busy living or get busy dying.” (Andy Dufresne)

The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture (lost to Forrest Gump). The movie was not a box office hit. Audiences discovered that the story was really about hope. Andy’s determination to never give up becomes a source of inspiration to Red, other prisoners, and ultimately, the viewer. In the final scene, the sun makes a breakthrough.

The Shawshank Redemption explores the concept of existentialism. An individual has the power to find meaning in life and live it with passion and authenticity. As represented by Andy, we all have the power of hope. As Andy says, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Red states the movie’s theme on his way to meeting Andy. “I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.”

Related: Morgan Freeman Said ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ Was a Box Office Flop Partly Because It Had a Weird Title