“Nobody is gonna hit as hard as life, but it ain’t how hard you can hit. It’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. It’s how much you can take, and keep moving forward.” – Rocky Balboa

In the film ‘Shawshank Redemption’ directed by Frank Darabont, we see a man called Andy Dufresne wrongfully accused for the double homicide of his wife and another man, resulting in him being sentenced to life in prison at Shawshank penitentiary. Andy is a smart man, managing to create strong relationships with the right people inside prison. He meets a man called Red who is a respected smuggler of items who helps him get through the tough life behind bars, experiencing brutality and eventually adapting to his surroundings. He finally escapes Shawshank after 19 years. In this film, the director’s purpose was to create a text which conveyed three relate able ideas of hope, freedom and justice. He did this by including many cinematic techniques within scenes; Techniques including lighting, camera work and music. Two scenes were perfect examples of the director’s purpose with the use of cinematic techniques. I will analyse and contrast a scene in which we see Andy make a deal with the duty guard in exchange for drinking cold beers on the rooftop with his friends, and a scene where Andy locks himself in the warden’s office and plays a song called ‘Marriage of Figaro’ through the prison intercom.

We first see the idea of freedom conveyed to the audience through the use of scene techniques during “the rooftop scene”. Several volunteers are chosen to tar seal a prison block roof, volunteers including Andy Dufresne and Red. As they are getting the work done, we hear the guards on duty discussing financial problems, to which Andy has great interest in. The director uses different camera shots to display Andy’s interest, at the start of this scene the camera is mainly locked onto Andy, letting us see his facial expressions and body language to the sound of the guards talking in the background. The close up shot is used to see Andy in detail, we can tell by the way he is off task and staring at the guards that he has interest in the conversation which they are having. As the discussion about taxes and money loss gets more heated, the camera pans as Andy decides to get involved, walking over to the guards. The guards quickly act and get Andy into a position where he has no power. This shot goes hand in hand with the use of lighting. The camera work shows how little freedom Andy and the other inmates have within the penitentiary. By placing the guards closer to the camera as Andy approaches, it makes them look larger and overpowering (4 guards to 1 inmate), furthermore displaying the lack of freedom and capacity the inmates have. The camera angle also shows the rest of the inmates continue their prison labour in the background as Andy is in a situation of risk. With very little tolerance by the guards, a close up shot of Andy with a gun to his head backs up the lack of power Andy has in this scene. The director put Andy in this position of submission to show Andy’s compassion and commitment towards the other inmates, he was willing to put himself on the line to gain benefits for them all. During the same scene we see quite a dim light setting, a cloudy day and the inmates wearing dull one sized prison outfits. The dull lighting represents the reality of prison life, it’s not a bright and happy place, instead it is dark and hope is hard to hold on to. The director created this vibe to make the viewers feel a sense of encasement, Shawshank penitentiary was not a pleasant place to be. Another reason he included the lower light setting was to portray that although Andy is pursuing his hope for freedom by approaching the guards, it is still being masked by prison reality, cruelty and depression. Andy then goes on to questioning the guard about his financial problems and offering help in exchange for beer, this part builds extreme tension as viewers know how harsh the guards can be in Shawshank, maybe the director wants the viewers to question themselves. Would they put their own lives at risk under the sole reason of hope? Viewers can relate this analysis to society as everyone has experienced the feeling of success and strength after completing a tough, and in Andy’s case, risky challenge. Andy requesting beer for his friends in exchange for his knowledge of finance and accounting,  shows how even when you aren’t in the best situation, there is always room for hope and friendship.  We notice an uplift in the lighting as the prisoners enjoy Andy’s half of the deal, drinking cold beers on the rooftop. The brighter lighting such as the sun setting with an orange glow in this scene shows us (the audience) the theme of prisoners feeling free from their incarceration, and in turn creating a sense of hope for the other inmates, drinking beers on a sunny evening allows them to feel freedom again and therefore understand that freedom can be reached in Shawshank, and that redemption is very possible. “We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders and felt like free men”. During this part of the scene, the camera angles are close up and very focused on the prisoners faces. We see the pride on their faces as they sat together drinking beers. The camera shifts to a semi-close shot so we can see Andy on his own in dirty work clothes, sitting in the shade with a smile, admiring the joy and hope he has brought to his friends by risking his life. It brought the inmates closer together, it made them respect each other as friends and in turn uplifting their hope. This act makes viewers start to believe that Andy is in fact innocent, he displays human emotions and an obvious joy for his friends, ultimately this scene shows how prisoners aren’t necessarily bad people. Although there is hope amongst the inmates, it will never be fully restored as long as the characters remain behind the prison walls, thus represented by the dirty clothing and old prison rooftop in the surrounding of this scene. HOPE, “It is the only thing stronger than fear”. President Snow from ‘The Hunger games’ says it must be contained otherwise hope will over power the people’s fear and cause an uprising. In Shawshank redemption we see the prison warden and guards consciously try and break the hope the inmates have, as hope is a very powerful emotion. Society can relate to the idea of hope, society must have hope for a better future, better advancements in medicine and technology, violence and inequality could end if hope is powerful enough to make a change.

The second scene is another great example of how Frank Darabont uses camera techniques and lighting to incorporate the themes of hope, freedom and justice into the film. He shows how hope can be created by one person, and how large an impact on the people can be from a single act of courage. The scene begins with Andy cleaning out the Warden’s office as he is in charge of all of the guards and the Warden’s taxes because he was once an accountant. When cleaning, Andy manages to lock himself inside the office before placing an old vinyl record on the player. He then decides to turn on the intercom for the entire prison to hear the song “Marriage of Figaro”, an Italian opera piece by two female opera singers. We first see a semi-close shot camera angle which displays the excitement on Andy’s face as he’s looking through the vinyl records, a sudden brightening in his emotions with a smirk on his face and eyes glaring at the cover. The director included this close up angle on Andy to make the audience have a connection to the scene, we can always be inspired by hope and freedom, in the deepest and darkest places, like Shawshank. It shows the viewers how enlightened Andy was in this situation,  rescued by something small but was put to use to be so powerful, it allowed Andy to appreciate what the outside world could offer him on return. It switches to a shot focusing on Andy’s hands as he places the record onto the player, then turning on the prison intercom. This demonstrates how Andy’s rebellious nature and love for his comrades in prison is at his fingertips, showcasing his ability and willingness to sacrifice himself to punishment in order to let his friends experience freedom. As we hear the music play throughout the prison, we notice the camera switch to an angle showing the prisoners facing the yards’ speakers with a bright sun light on their faces. This shot portrays that the inmates have finally seen light within the dark penitentiary of Shawshank, the feeling of freedom and another life. The song follows a path of emotion and expression, making the inmates feel open in a way where they are no longer held down by the depression and repetitiveness of prison life. The high angle shot which was used in this part of the scene displayed how the inmates were looking upwards towards the speaker, holding their heads high symbolises looking up to another future outside of prison, hope is at the core of this belief. It switches to a long shot showing the vast amount of prisoners staring silently at the speaker, this demonstrates that Andy has significantly impacted the thoughts and minds of all the prisoners in Shawshank with the help of a single song. “It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every man in Shawshank felt free”. Red saying this further shows how much of an impact Andy has had on the prisoners, as Red comes across as an inmate with the least of hope for another life,  prison has taken a toll on his mind. “Hope? Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside. You’d better get used to that idea.” The message of hope and freedom in this scene can be related to the film ‘Freedom writers’ directed by Richard LaGraveness, in which me see kids experiencing a tough upbringing in South Central LA gang violence and racial seperation. They show a lack of care about their present or future because they were hopeless that anything would ever change. Through the exercise of reflection and writing journals set by their teacher Erin Gruwell, these students began to see each other as people and not adversaries that need defeating. The small act set by the teacher of journalling their daily lives had such a powerful impact on the students hope for a better future, free of violence and hatred, much like how the vinyl record played by Andy had affected the inmates hope for freedom and a better life.

In this write up I aimed to analyse the director’s purpose within the two set scenes in Shawshank Redemption, this was to create a text which conveyed three relate able ideas of hope, freedom and justice. Both scenes (Rooftop scene + Music scene) work in parallel to display this purpose, using camera angles and different light settings to help influence the viewers to feel a connection to the characters, in turn relating to a search for freedom through a grasp on hope. For example, we saw the directors use of close up shots in both scenes. He used this type of shot to let the audience analyse and see further detail within the scene, such as Andy’s facial expressions as the guards are talking on the rooftop, showing the interest he had on the topic. We saw the use of this angle in the second scene as Andy placed the vynil record on to the player, again to show the confidence and pride on Andy’s face. These correlate with one another to display Andy’s true self, he has a powerful grasp of hope and puts it to good use, by giving the other inmates a sense of freedom even if it’s for a brief period of time. 

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Alistair, in our editing periods you need to:
    – Develop your underlying thesis- what is it about hope/freedom that you are trying to convey?
    – Ensure when you are discussing camera shots you are specific and accurate.
    – You have some great moments of analysis but at times the writing around these is clumsy. How can you ensure your analysis of the film shines through?
    – Some of your ideas feel unfinished- I find myself wanting to know just a little more about some of your ideas. E.g. This shot portrays that the inmates have finally seen light within the dark penitentiary of Shawshank.

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