I started writing a short history for each of the Top 100 films on the American Film Institutes list, and then I realized that the AFI list is problematic for a few different reasons. It only represents the opinions of film critics, it stays within the boundaries of Hollywood and American born films, and it tends to pander towards the classics with films that were extremely important but don’t necessarily represent the opinions of those that watch them, the movie going public. So, I present the exact same project with the Top 100 movies from The Internet Movie Database’s Top 250 list. The IMDB list is a much greater tool, and one I’ve used in the past because it’s dynamic. Over the course of the years it has changed substantially adding new films, removing old films and generally reflecting the opinions of those that watch the films.
Number two on that dynamic and eponymous list is a film that doesn’t even peek its way into some other Top 100 lists. Clearly a fan favorite though, The Shawshank Redemption has found endless support in the world of DVD sales and television airing. Starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, The Shawshank Redemption is the story of Andy Dufresne, falsely imprisoned for the murder of his wife and her lover for two consecutive life terms. Morgan Freeman plays the part of Red, who also narrates as Andy goes from quiet unassuming banker to beaten, abused bottom rung of the prison ladder to the warden’s personal accountant and purveyor of the newly minted prison library. The film spans the course of 20 years, and in that time Andy finds himself a substantial place in the prison hierarchy and garners powers through his intelligence that no prisoner should be allowed.
When Andy’s savior enters the prison with the proof he needs to clear his name, tensions reach a boiling point and the Warden acts excessively forcing Andy into action. Following is one of the most entertaining and satisfying conclusions in recent cinema. The film’s run time, at nearly 2 and a half hours is well worth the wait just for those final 10 minutes.
The film was written and directed by Frank Darabondt, after his purchase of the rights to Stephen King’s novella, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. He takes liberties with the material and makes a great deal of changes, but the core ideas and themes remain intact albeit the voice severely changed from King’s to something decidedly more subdued.
Interpretations of the film aren’t nearly as varied as films on this list from earlier decades, probably due to its much more recent release. Drawing heavily from The Count of Monte Cristo, the film doesn’t however go down the road of revenge and sacrifice as Dumas’ classic does. Instead, Andy’s key characteristic is his integrity, and as he endures the beatings of his fellow inmates, injustices of his warden, betrayal by his ex-wife, and the injustice of the system that allowed it all to happen, he stands strong and eventually uses his gifts to escape. His is a tale of hope and patience and finally of success under horrendous circumstances and finally reward.
Parallels have even been made between Andy and Christ, following the false arrest, imprisonment and crucifixion after betrayal by a loved one, only to die and be resurrected anew, awarded for the injustices committed against them. The director denies any intentional parallel though. Thankfully art is open to all interpretations despite original intentions, and we’re still allowed to make the connections.
As a film still fresh in the memory of Hollywood and critics, the reception is still very much contemporary. Critics cite it as a great film but a modern film, and in the year of its release (1994) it was forced to compete with Forrest Gump at the Academy Awards and thus failed to win a single one. But, it has endured with greater tenacity than Tom Hanks fame machine, voted to the number two spot on IMDB’s list, and last year named the #1 film of all time by a reader poll in Empire.
A true testament to the nature and power of IMDB, The Shawshank Redemption’s impression is still felt among movie lovers new and old 13 years later, and will likely continue.