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A movie that somehow manages to intimidate and inspire at almost the same time, The Shawshank Redemption weaves a decades-long tale in which Andy Dufresne, a successful banker, is imprisoned in Shawshank Penitentiary for the murder of his wife and her lover. There he meets and befriends Red, a man who “knows how to get things.” At the same time he is subjected to normal abuse by the prison guards, and is raped several times by a gang in the prison. Through his determination and intimate knowledge of the tax system, Andy manages to improve his circumstances and the prison in general. The assaults are stopped as he begins to run finances for the guards and the warden. (SPOILERS from here on) Throughout the movie Andy proclaims his innocence (as do the rest of the prisoners), but it is revealed later on that he is actually innocent. When the warden refuses to even allow him to try for freedom (Andy ran an embezzling scam for him) he uses the escape route he had been building for

This movie is probably most accurately described as a celebration of the human spirit. Andy is subjected to constant torture and abuse. The guards assume total control and they take advantage to bully the prisoners who they see as lesser. The warden is corrupt, the other prisoners take advantage of him. Despite this, Andy still manages to impress Red, the guards, and eventually the warden. He uses his intelligence to create a better situation for himself and his fellow prisoners. He never lets the horrid situation, humiliation, or the lack of basic human rights turn him into a lesser being. As Red watches Andy, he starts to hope again. Red is constantly denied for parole, and uses a false and practiced script every time it comes up. It is not until Andy escapes that he begins to realize that there could be more than the prison.

The old librarian that Andy works with is eventually released, unwillingly at first, back into society. The man is unable to cope and eventually hangs himself in a halfway house. This parallels two instances with Red and Andy. For Andy, he tries to rebel against the immoral Warden (an ironically religious man) and is brutally put down with over a month in solitary. Andy later asks for a rope, and his friends fear he wishes to hang himself. Later on, Red stays in the same room the librarian did, but also decides on a different path. Both men find redemption, not in Shawshank, but in their escape.

While the film slowly picked up sales since it release, millions of people have now been exposed to the violence permeating the American prison system. With over 2 million prisoners, the United States is often criticized over the proportion of prisoners, the treatment of prisoners, and the long sentences for prisoners. At its worst, when the legal system fails us, we even subject the innocent to this. And not all people are as strong as Andy. During his first night in the prison another new arrival breaks down and is beaten to death by the head guard. This is perhaps the most frighteningly real movie I have examined yet. As Red says, “prison is no fairy-tale world.”

– Josh