The Shawshank Redemption
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this movie is rated R for a reason: The gritty world of Shawshank Prison is populated with sadistic guards, a corrupt warden, and predatory fellow inmates. Two characters have sex (their clothes are on, and it's not graphic), one loveable character hangs himself, guards shoot an inmate and frame it as an escape attempt, inmates attempt and, we are told, succeed in raping Andy, and guards beat and kill an inmate in the opening scenes. But the film also shows inmates forming a loving community of friendship and support despite oppressive conditions.
What's the story?
In THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover, and sent to prison. It's 1949, and Andy doesn't have the stuff for prison life. Andy befriends \"Red\" Redding (Morgan Freeman) and uses his past as a banker to get a job in the prison library. But things unravel. In doing the books for the warden, he learns that the prison boss is taking bribes, and Andy is to launder them. A loveable former inmate hangs himself when he gets to the outside after decades behind bars and can't adjust. The inmate whom Andy helps get his GED is shot by the guards to keep him quiet about information that might prove Andy is innocent of the murders and set him free. Andy spends two months in solitary. After he gets out, he seems depressed and Red worries he'll kill himself. The next day, Andy isn't dead, but he isn't there, either. He's escaped. The rest is a perfect Stephen King happy ending, complete with come-uppance for the corrupt warden.
Is it any good?
Call this the Stand By Me of prison stories. Stephen King, who penned Stand by Me, also wrote the short story on which The Shawshank Redemption was based. Here we have all the things that made Stand By Me such a satisfying experience: loveable characters, writerly flourishes , one-dimensional evil antagonists, enduring friendships, poetic justice and a happy ending. This one is far darker and far more violent than Stand By Me, and so ought to be reserved only for older teens. The story is slow to develop, and younger kids and children sensitive to the suffering of others may find this world a difficult one to sit with for the film's duration.
Having said all that, the film is satisfying, but cloying. Andy is the minister of the healing power of hope. He educates the inmates on the healing power of Mozart. He builds a library. He asks Red why he stopped playing the harmonica. When Red replies that it's no use in prison, Andy looks at him soulfully and replies that "here's where you need it the most." Despite the somewhat unbelievable friendship between a white, upper-class, innocent banker and a black man in 1949, it's a valuable lesson that may seem inspired to children who haven't heard this story a couple hundred times.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the ways oppressed people have kept their spirit historically -- for example, through spirituals created by slaves. How do Andy and Red handle prison differently? How would you handle such a bleak future? Why did Brooks feel more comfortable in prison than out of prison? Why did Andy get Red a harmonica? What did that represent? Why did Red and Andy disagree on whether they should have hope for a better life? Did their class and race affect their approach?