PSA: The Shawshank Redemption (1994), or Maine Is One Fucked-Up State

13 11 2009

Okay, okay, let’s get serious for a minute. I have browbeaten today’s movie around the site very sparsely over the past 11 months. A little here, a little there; not that big of a deal in the long run. But rarely in my history of critiquing movies has there been such a backlash from people when I tell them my dislike for something. If I said right now that I think Citizen Kane is bullshit and I had a reasonable explanation, I think I would be let off the hook if I elucidated enough. But if I tell most people that I dislike watching The Shawshank Redemption and I very plainly give reasons why, I would still be looked upon like I just told everyone I had a plate full of mashed potatoes in my underwear. People are emotionally attached to this movie like it hits close to home or something (I was incarcerated for life, too; don’t feel bad!). Admittedly it has a positive message about the power of equality and courage in the face of despair, but it really doesn’t seem as potent of a film as everyone makes it out to be. I’ve now seen The Shawspank Inflation 4 times now, every time feeling exactly the same as the last. So the two logical conclusions I can come to are either

A). I have a heart made of stone


B). Everyone I’ve ever talked to about this movie has an emotional disorder.

I think you know which one I’m leaning towards…

The Sweetsnack Resplendence is really the story of Andy Dufresne. We follow poor, completely innocent Andy as he’s put through the wringer of the American judicial system in the late 40s after being falsely accused of murdering his wife. He receives a lifetime sentence and is sent to notoriously harsh Shawshank Penitentiary (Maine is one fucked-up state; every King novel references it, and seemingly not in a good way). There, he quickly finds a niche with fellow lifer Ellis “Red” Redding, a friendly fellow who recently was denied parole at his hearing. The two bond over a number of subjects, and they become fast friends. Andy even makes friends with some of the guards, with whom he imparts valuable financial information, and in exchange keeps his enemies at bay. But his one real problem in Shawshank, besides being in prison, is the Warden, a heartless shell of a man who uses the prisoners for his own devious profit. So most of these prisoners will be here for the rest of their lives, doomed to stand behind the same four gray walls until their dying breath. But Andy has a plan; a plan for escape. It won’t be easy, and it will take many, many years for it to come to fruition, but it will be a sweet, sweet victory if he can pull it off without a hitch.

See, a nice story, to be sure. I never once said The Shortcake Relation wasn’t a well made film. It’s meticulously produced and executed with a wonderful cast that had the potential to make something great. Almost to the letter there is quality in every aspect of this production. Frank Darabont makes another appearance on this site within a single week to get on his hands and knees for the one they call Stephen King. His direction is again nothing to scoff at, and it should be noted that while this probably isn’t his best Stephen King adaptation, his is still a vivid storytelling style that will appeal to the visually minded. It’s a good try, and I really can’t stress enough how much I respect the cast and crew for their efforts.

But that doesn’t exactly translate to something worth your time, so what’s the catch? Well, it’s simply that this is one of the most listless mainstream films I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s a story of triumph over adversity that is fun for the whole family (except the rape and suicide parts), but it has no zest, no flavor. It’s a boring gray film that emphasizes only how depressing being stuck in a prison in Maine can be. It isn’t even an artistic decision; there’s a huge difference between feeling a character’s listlessness and being bored by the image and everything it represents. It’s just a spectacularly humdrum affair full of muted colors, Morgan Freeman’s droning narration, an unrelenting cloudy sky, and a time period known for its drab conformity and lack of anything stimulating. I squirm from start to finish during The Sharkbait Rotation, and I somehow sat very patiently through all four and a half hours of Che!

It’s also a certain distance between the main character, Andy Dufresne, played by a prime-of-his-career Tim Robbins, and the audience. We’re seeing him through the eyes of Red, played by a prime-of-his career Morgan Freeman, something that would have worked better had Freeman a more intimate knowledge of the guy. Instead, we get sketches of who Andy is and what his motives are while we see them play out on the screen. Some people might argue that Red is the main character, and that we are really seeing his journey through the exploits and times of a younger, more optimistic prisoner. But we know even less about Red than we do Andy, and for a drama set where people are just sitting around talking all day or curled up in a cell thinking about talking, you think that would be easier. We go off of prison yard legends, gossip, and conversations often had on screen about who these people are, when I’d rather just see it happen.

Don’t get me wrong; I can certainly handle my fair share of longer titles, but this one just seems to drag into infinity. Only spanning about 20 years, the film, while over 2 hours long, stretches out in my brain for about an extra 45 minutes. An excellent production brings all these characters to life, but their lives are apparently duller than a prison shank. I wish I could like The Soreflank Indention, but its reality of banality is as painful as it gets, and I don’t wish to be put through it any more. It is a bore of a film that poses the question to me; could you walk out of this movie and find a better one to say what it has to say in a more concise, artful manner, or are you cursed to stay in frown-inducing Maine state prisons for the rest of your life as a thinking individual? I’ve found enough films in my travels to say conclusively that The Skullblank Retraction is a movie that is all pomp and no circumstance. It’s a little bit of some things, but not enough of anything to make it too exciting or memorable or even intensely endearing. I’m sure I’ll be suckered into watching it again at some point next year, with people telling me how good it is and how insane my ambivalence is, but until that time, I’m so done with Stephen King’s incarcerated fairy tale. I give The Stoolsoft Reflection 5 comically misspelled names out of 10, and a hearty bleh from yours truly.

Tomorrow I will see a movie, but I don’t know what it is yet! Send your requests in today, and I’lll make sure you get your voice heard! Until then, folks!!!