A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Hope, endurance, and unconditional friendship are core themes of the film. Corruption, manipulation, and betrayal are also present, but they're shown to fail in the end. The problem of "institutionalization" is shown and discussed -- a prison inmate has spent so much time in prison, he has forgotten how to live outside the prison walls. Integrity and perseverance are major themes.
Positive Role Models
Andy never gives up hope. Red is loyal and practical. All the characters are flawed, but it's clear who the "good" and "bad" guys are, even though their positions might not suggest that from the start. Inmates work together, often illegally, to make life more bearable. The warden is corrupt and takes bribes, but it's shown in a negative light.
Violence & Scariness
A man commits suicide by hanging. A man is shot and killed by another man with a rifle. Prison rape, while not graphically shown, is very strongly implied, with references to oral and anal sex and the takeaway that one of the lead characters was raped repeatedly by other prisoners.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Sex is portrayed obliquely at the beginning. Lots of cheesecake photos of sex symbols from the 1950s and '60s decorate the prison walls.
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Frequent profanity, including "f--k." Jokes about rape. "Maggot d--k motherf---er." "Queer" is used pejoratively. "A--hole." "Son of a bitch." "Piss." "Horses--t." "Prick." "Fatass." "Ass." A euphemism for defecation.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A man is shown sitting in his car drinking whiskey from a flask before stumbling out to, presumably, murder his wife and her lover. Cigarette smoking. Inmates drink beer after Andy wins a bet with the captain of the prison guards.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Shawshank Redemption is an Oscar-nominated 1994 movie based on a Stephen King story about a man sent to a maximum security prison in Maine in the 1950s who shows the other inmates perseverance and provides a sense of hope and optimism in the bleakest of places and under the most difficult of circumstances. The gritty world of Shawshank Prison is populated with sadistic guards, a corrupt warden, and predatory fellow inmates. Prison rape, while not graphically shown, is very strongly implied, with references and body positions suggesting forced anal and oral sex. Guards beat and kill an inmate. A prisoner is shot and killed by a man with a rifle. There is also a scene in which a character crawls through 500 yards of a sewer pipe filled with excrement. There is also frequent profanity, including "f--k" and its variations. However, the film also shows inmates forming a loving community of friendship and support despite oppressive conditions and a sense of maintaining perseverance and hope in the darkest of hours. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This is a movie that stands the test of time and still resonates with viewers. 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 is 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 banker and an African-American man in 1949, it's a valuable lesson that may seem inspired to kids who haven't heard this story before.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.