First-Time Watch Review – The Shawshank Redemption

Posted on 24 May 2020
By Dana Andersen
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There are some films that are deeply ingrained in our culture, to the point that it can seem like everyone around you saw it years ago. They can be different for someone watching it for the first time, decades after its release, and without the hype that existed for it at the time, or the nostalgia that has since arrived. Films can lose their shock factor, plot twists of the time become commonly referenced, and it feels that you know the film without even watching it.

The Shawshank Redemption is not a film you can forgo seeing, just because you know the plot. For a first-time viewer, being aware of the basic plot goes straight out the window within the first twenty minutes. Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, is a banker, sentenced to a life sentence in Shawshank State Penitentiary, for the murder of his wife and her lover, despite claiming his innocence.

Following his time in prison, making friends and enemies, building a library, and working his way to the best position a prisoner can really get to, the plot is constantly engaging. Morgan Freeman’s iconic narration, despite having been parodied enough for anyone to recognise off the bat, is so rich in tone, and perfectly written to be able to both make you laugh, and make your heart jump up into your throat. Theres no question of Freeman’s talent, the emotion in his voice draws the viewer constantly deeper into the story.

By the time the movies climax begins to approach, its easy to have forgotten everything that you already know of the plot. Waiting for Andy to leave his cell, as the guard screams at him from outside, the misdirection of expectation given by Freeman’s character, Red, keeps the audience tense, prepared for the worst to have happened.

We’ve all experienced a Shawshank parody during our viewing history, but when you’re hours into The Shawshank Redemption, and you’ve been hanging onto every word, flinching at every beating, and glaring at the Warden, for the entire time, the moment that the rock goes through the poster is so genuinely uplifting and joyous. Knowing what was coming didn’t lessen the impact of the moment in the slightest, which really demonstrates the all consuming writing, and performing, in this movie.

Narration over action as intense as Andy escaping, and seeing up his new life, is the perfect representation of how supportive, and hopeful, Red is, both of and thanks to, Andy. Although its now quite a dated technique of story telling, its perfectly fitting for this movie, and feels necessary to add emotion into what would have otherwise been an action scene.

With Andy’s escape, and Red’s eventual release, it’s nice to see how things tie together, and saddening, but resolving, to see things briefly tie back to Brooks. Multiple climaxes can feel drawn out, like the ending of the Lord of the Rings, but for The Shawshank Redemption, it feels like we’re getting all the tie offs required. The ending resolves everything perfectly, even after how dark and upsetting some parts of the film are, it leaves you with a smile and a feeling of hope.

The Shawshank Redemption is one of the few films that, when people say you need to see it, they’re one hundred percent correct. It’s engrained it pop culture for a very real reason, it’s a brilliant movie. Its more than deserved its place as a must watch movie, and its one people still talk about, because you just have to talk to people about it after watching. If you were only going to watch one movie that considered a must watch, it should be this one.