Life-Lessons from The Shawshank Redemption by Christina Knowles

The-Shawshank-Redemption1            In 1982, while still in high school, I first read Stephen King’s “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” in a short story collection called Different Seasons and have been hooked on King ever since. Then came the movie version: Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, two of my favorite actors. It has been my favorite movie since the first time I saw it in 1994. If you haven’t seen it, where have you been? A movie about hope, friendship, and the indomitable human spirit, it’s still the highest rated movie of all time according to the IMBD. If you haven’t seen the movie, you need to stop reading and watch it now. Get ready to “get busy living or get busy dying.”

*SPOILER ALERT* If you’ve never seen it, you might want to stop here. Anyway, there are some minor differences between the story and the movie. In the story Red is an Irish guy with graying red hair, there are a few different wardens during Andy’s incarceration, and the last one is forced to retire instead of getting busted and committing suicide. Tommy, who had new evidence of Andy’s innocence, was bribed with minimum-security prison instead of getting shot, and Brooks played a slightly more minor role in the story than in the movie. Also, the story ends with Red getting ready to go meet Andy instead of arriving in Mexico. However, minor differences aside, Darabont held closely to King’s original story and was true to the integrity of the characters. Even many of the lines from the movie are dialogue taken directly from the story. This story is so poignant, so profound, and so universal that I don’t know anyone who sees it without feeling like he just got schooled on life and how to live it. The basic premise is that prison is a metaphor for life and, no matter what life gives us, how we handle it makes all the difference. But there are so many life-lessons in this movie that it’s worth taking a closer look at them.

One of the first things I get from this movie is that life is just not fair. Just get used to it, bad things happen to good people all the time. Not only did Andy’s wife cheat on him, but he is blamed for her murder as well as for her boyfriend’s. He got two consecutive life sentences, and he didn’t do anything. Life’s not fair, but Andy did not let even that ruin his life because not only can suffering be endured, you never know when things will suddenly turn around. Time is going to pass anyway. Will it be good time or bad?

                  Andy went through some serious suffering at the hands of the “sisters” in prison, as well as at the hands of the guards and the warden. But Andy doesn’t let anything in that he doesn’t want in. We see that the body can be broken, but not the spirit. No one can take away what is inside you. The human spirit cannot be contained within the walls of any prison if you don’t let it. We have control over our inner life, and no one can affect us in any significant way unless we let them.

Andy always had hope, which is the main theme of the movie, but not only did he have it, he shared it with everyone around him. Hope is essential to human endurance. A lot of long-term prisoners at Shawshank didn’t have a lot of hope. Red said hope was a dangerous thing, but Andy didn’t see it that way. He thought losing hope was more dangerous. Hope kept him going when he didn’t think he had the strength, and hope led to action. He was willing to take the biggest risks because of hope. Andy also gave hope to Red, who might have ended up like Brooks if not for him.

Brooks had become institutionalized. The thing that struck me about Brooks was how we can so gradually get used to the way things are, even if they’re terrible, that we become immobile from fear of change. When Brooks was released after serving over thirty years in prison, he couldn’t take it on the outside. He lost hope because he let fear paralyze him.

Red didn’t want to become like Brooks. He learned to take risks from Andy. What did he have to lose? When Andy had had enough, when he decided he couldn’t take it anymore, he took a risk, and it paid off. There was no point in playing it safe because time was passing rapidly, and if you just play it safe, you’re just waiting to die. Andy said, “Get busy living or get busy dying,” and taking risks is part of living. Time is going to pass either way, so we may as well spend it living. He successfully taught this lesson to Red because when the time came, Red was willing to take a risk to jump parole and take a bus to join Andy and start living rather than ending up like Brooks.

But before Andy ever took this biggest risk, he planned ahead and used his skills that he already possessed. Before Andy went to prison, he set up an account under a pseudonym with some money in it. He hid a fake passport and ID under a rock in the middle of a field under an old oak tree—just in case. It was there waiting for him when he needed it. When he was in prison, he used his skills with accounting and his knowledge of tax law to become a valued and necessary person in the prison. Eventually his skills led him to successfully escape. He was also educated and intelligent. His cleverness led to his freedom, but along the way he shared his knowledge with others and showed them how important knowledge and ingenuity is to survival. He had self-worth and persistence as well. No one could make Andy feel like he was worthless or take away his belief in himself. He endured, knowing he deserved better, and set about to make it happen. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, as the saying goes, and Andy wrote letters every week to the prison board until they funded his new prison library.

Eventually his persistence led to his freedom too. If you chip away at a problem a little at a time, it will yield big results. Andy picked away at the crumbling concrete walls of his cell for years, hiding his work behind a series of pin-up girl posters, smuggling the powdered remains out into the yard on a daily basis. He took his time (he had plenty) and kept up the pressure. Eventually, he had his path to freedom. He never could have gotten away with it if he tried to do it all at once, or had given up because it was taking too long.

Andy always had purpose. Immediately upon arriving at Shawshank, Andy took up hobbies. He collected rocks, carved figurines, built up a great library within the prison, and got a job doctoring the books for the warden. He even tutored a fellow inmate, helping him pass his GED. Keeping busy, whether in prison or in life, makes the difficult times go faster, gives us purpose, and can even be enjoyable.

            He noticed beauty even in prison, and it made his time go easier. He read books, carved beautiful figurines, appreciated his pin-up girls, and let beautiful music take him away from the prison in transcendent bliss. Beauty would be easy to ignore in a place like Shawshank, but Andy let it help him rise above his surroundings.

Andy made friends and took care of them. He helped Tommy get his GED, he was a loyal confidante to Red, he finagled a deal to get beers for his work crew, he brought culture and beauty to the prison, and he offered his help in financial matters to several people at the prison. As a result, Andy was well-liked, respected, made real friends, and put himself in a position to help himself. But the most important thing he did for everyone was to remind them that the human spirit can never be imprisoned. He genuinely cared for others, rejoiced in their successes, and was loyal and kind to those who earned his friendship. He realized that people need to feel free and have dignity and respect. If we have this, we don’t need much else. When Andy got the guard to buy his work crew beer, and they sat on the roof enjoying the suds on a summer afternoon, it was like all of them had been set free for just a little while.

Andy teaches us that sometimes you just have to take a stand for what you believe in. When Andy found an old record album of beautiful opera, he locked himself in the office and broadcasted the beautiful music over the loudspeakers, so that all the inmates could experience a moment of beauty. He knew he would be punished, but it was worth the cost.

Andy shows us that we might have to be willing to go through some shit to get what we need. Andy knew that freedom meant wading and crawling through 500 yards of sewer to get to the other side, so he bucked up and just did it. The lesson here: Suck it up and do what’s necessary.

Next, we learned that transformation is possible. People can change if they learn how. Andy changed a lot of lives, but he probably had the biggest effect on Red. He changed Red’s outlook, and he taught Red not to be institutionalized and to have hope. Red also was rehabilitated. He was a different person than the brash young man who entered Shawshank.

Being honest is another theme. Red sat in front of the parole board time and time again, giving them the stock answers about how he was rehabilitated, not a threat to society, had learned his lesson, and he was always denied release. When Red didn’t care enough anymore to say what he thought they wanted to hear, he was just honest. He talked about the young man he was when he committed his crime, he talked about what he’d learned through the years, about his regrets, and about how he wished he could go back and talk to his younger self. Recognizing his sincerity and his true rehabilitation, the parole board approved his release.

            Another important lesson from Shawshank is not to be bitter. In the end, Andy claims responsibility for driving his wife away, and even feels bad for putting her in the position she was when she was murdered, even though he spent more than twenty years in prison, paying the penalty for a crime of which he was innocent. He wasn’t bitter. Instead of dwelling on others, and things he could not control, he reflected on himself and how he could learn and change, and be a better person.

And finally, we learn that it’s good to take a rest. Andy headed to Mexico to live a better life. He earned it, he deserved it, so he took it. At the end, we are left with the impression that Andy is going to spend the rest of his days living out the hopes and dreams of his long and unjust incarceration. He isn’t going to punish himself, living in fear or anger. He’s going to “get busy living.”

So, I apologize for going on so long on this topic, but this story is so rich with meaning and deeply insightful that I just couldn’t help myself. This is why it’s my personal favorite when it comes to movies, and why I consider King, who has an intuitive understanding of the human condition even in its most degraded state, the Charles Dickens of our era. So, what will it be? Good time or bad? Will you get busy living or get busy dying?—Christina Knowles


20 Spectacular Films Reboot by Christina Knowles

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I’ve wanted to write a favorites list for a while now, but I haven’t until now for two reasons: 1) I am no authority on movies. I just love them, and 2) I didn’t know how I would be able to narrow it down to a reasonable number in which to write about. But everybody likes to read about good movies, and chances are some of my favorites will be yours too, and even if they aren’t, maybe it will make you think of the movies you love and why, and that’s good too. I decided I could narrow it down to my top twenty favorite movies, and then just list some honorable mentions with no detail. I am not trying to judge these movies on any criteria other than that I loved them. There may be better movies, but either I haven’t seen them, or these just had a bigger emotional impact on me. Here they are:

minority_report#20: The Minority Report: (2002) Directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Cruise, adapted from the short story of the same name by Phillip K. Dick.This is a film exploring the theme of free will versus determinism as well as the social/political theme of the power of the state. In the future, “precogs,” who see the future, report crime and citizens are arrested before they break the law in order to prevent crime. The main character, a pre-crime cop, is the next reported for a murder he has not yet committed. This movie is intense and thought-provoking with edge-of-your-seat action.

cru11#19: The Crucible: (1996)Directed by Nicholas Hytner, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder. The film was written by Arthur Miller and based on his play of the same name. This is the story compiled from actual historical research and the diaries found in Salem, Massachusetts regarding the witch trial hysteria of the time. Daniel Day-Lewis portrays the dynamic character of John Proctor powerfully, revealing a very human, flawed, but good man who wishes to be better than he is. He stands strong in the end, revealing a deep character growth. I love this version of Arthur Miller’s play because it is accurate to the original, except for the final scene, which has an even bigger impact than the play.

#18: In the Valley of Elah, (2007) Written and directed by Paul Haggis, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, and Susan Sarandon. “The film’s title refers to the Biblical valley where the battle between David and Goliath is said to have taken place. It portrays a military father’s search for his son and, after finding his body, subsequent hunt for his son’s killers. The film explores themes including the Iraq war, abuse of prisoners, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following active combat” (Wikipedia).

In-the-Valley-of-Elah2I love this movie because it realistically shows the consequences of modern warfare and the trauma dishonorable behavior during war and the dehumanization of the enemy causes to ordinary people. This movie had a huge emotional impact on me. Watch this movie if you don’t believe in glorifying war or the military, but want to see the reality of wars’ effect on the human psyche.

_59724584_91890b22-2cef-4e82-8d3d-a3904f1972e2#17: Titanic: (1997) Directed by Richard Cameron, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. This movie is an epic disaster film and a fictionalized account of the sinking of the ship, Titanic. Some may find this movie cheesy, but no can deny its cinematic beauty, intense suspense, and dramatic love story. I love this movie because of how this incredible tragedy is depicted in excruciating detail. One of my favorite things about this movie is when the orchestra continues playing as the ship sinks with people dying all around them. I also appreciate its depiction of how the wealthy were treated versus the third class travelers. This movie makes me cry every time I see it, and I love a good cry.

#16: The Matrix: (1999) Directed by The Wachowski Brothers, starring Keanu Reeves. This film is set in a future where people, who are actually acting as a power source for the fake world around them, think they are living in the real world. What they see is actually a computer construct of a world similar to ours. The actual world is a desolate and barren place destroyed by wars and pollution.The_Matrix_Neo_and_Morpheus_Construct

This movie is often seen as an allegory for the “real” world and the spiritual world, implying that the spiritual world is more real than the world we live in. The Matrix works on so many levels though. It is also a comment on how we are willing participants in our own deception. We need to wake up and see things how they really are. This movie is a masterpiece of filming and special effects, but what I love most about it is the philosophical wisdom dispensed throughout the film, mostly by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and its references to famous philosophical and religious works. The Matrix is more than an action film. It is a deeply thoughtful movie, which will open your eyes to the realities of our culture’s systems of mind control.

crash#15: Crash (2004) Directed by Paul Haggis. This movie is a drama with a huge ensemble cast, wherein, seemingly unrelated people and incidents all seamlessly coincide or “crash” into each other in an intricately woven story about racial prejudice in Los Angeles, California. This movie is an intense, at times hard to watch, movie that explores the origins of hate, mistrust, and ignorance, and poignantly shows that we are all flawed, and the same person capable of extreme cruelty one moment, can, in the next, be capable of heroism and selfless compassion.

Ringstrilogyposter#14: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Directed by Peter Jackson, ensemble cast. I couldn’t separate these movies in my mind, so I lumped them into one selection. Based on the novels by JRR Tolkien, these three movies are better than the books, in my opinion. While Tolkien is a genius of story-telling, he tends to go on and on with details of setting, which are necessary to the creation of this world. However, obviously in a film, we can instantly see this detail and get straight to the action and story, which is amazing. I love this series because it explores good versus evil through the archetypal hero’s journey or quest for a higher cause, ideals of friendship, loyalty, selflessness, overcoming evil, and finishing strong. This series will inspire you to face evil and adversity.

forrest-gump-220857#13: Forrest Gump (1994) Directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Sally Field, and Gary Senise, and based on the novel by Winston Groom. This epic movie about a developmentally challenged man, who is accidentally present at numerous important historical events, often inadvertently influencing them, is a touching story of the beauty of life and overcoming obstacles. This movie is funny and poignant. I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen this movie, and still, whenever I am flipping channels and run across it, I have to stop and watch.

lib1#12: Life is Beautiful. (1997) Directed by Roberto Benigni. This is an Italian movie with English subtitles about a Jewish man during the Nazi occupation, who protects his son from the horrors of a concentration camp with humor and make-believe scenarios. I love this movie because it shows the power of attitude and love. If this man can make the best of a situation like a Nazi concentration camp just to make things better for his son, then who are we to complain about anything? This movie will make you laugh and cry and celebrates this beautiful life.

#11: Les Miserables (1998 and 2012) I still can’t decide which version I love more–the 1998 version starring Liam Neeson or the 2012 musical starring Hugh Jackman. Both of these wonderful movies, based on the amazing book of the same name by Victor Hugo, are absolutely beautifully acted and have a life-altering quality about them. These movies are about a man imprisoned for stealing bread, Jean ValJean, and an investigator obsessed with justice, Javert. It is a story of change, compassion, justice, the desperation of poverty, mercy, and forgiveness. Many people see this story as an allegory for Christianity. Jean ValJean receives mercy that changes his life, and he in turn, shows that mercy and forgiveness to others. Javert, on the other hand, is unable to accept mercy and doesn’t believe in forgiveness, but believes only in justice. In the end, he cannot even accept mercy for himself. Both of these movies are superbly acted, and make the viewer look at the juxtaposition of justice and mercy in a new way. Life-changing with a huge emotional impact.


540#10: A Walk in the Clouds (1995) Directed by Alfonso Arau, starring Keanu Reeves, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, and Anthony Quinn. In this movie, a young man returning from the service in WWII meets a pregnant woman on a bus, who is afraid of returning home to her father’s vineyard unmarried. The man agrees to pose as her husband with a plan to stage an argument and leave her, so that her Old World parents from Mexico will not expel her from their home. Of course, they fall in love for real, but the beautiful thing about this movie is the depiction of the depth of love for family, tradition, and the need for a home. The man not only falls in love with the woman, he falls in love with her family, her home, their traditions, and their lives. The acting is superb, especially that of the father, Don Pedro Aragon, played by Anthony Quinn. This movie is beautiful and poignant.

0#9: Sommersby (1993) Directed by Jon Amiel, starring Jodi Foster and Richard Gere. “Set in the south of the United States just after the Civil War, Laurel Sommersby is just managing to work the farm without her husband Jack, believed killed in the Civil War. By all accounts, Jack Sommersby was not a pleasant man, thus when he returns, Laurel has mixed emotions. It appears that Jack has changed a great deal, leading some people to believe that this is not actually Jack but an impostor. Laurel herself is unsure, but willing to take the man into her home, and perhaps later into her heart…” (Murray Chapman, IMDB). This is a romantic drama with a mysterious twist. I love this movie because what it is really about is choosing to become the kind of person you want to be, even if it costs you everything. Grab several boxes of tissue to watch this film.

#8: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Directed by Frank Capra, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. This movie needs no synopsis. If you haven’t seen this movie, you live under a rock or are very young. A Christmas classic, I love this movie because it makes you realize how perception is everything. Its-a-wonderful-lifeLessons from this movie: Appreciate what you have, know you have value, and know that if you have people who love you, you are the luckiest you could ever hope to be. Oh, and stand up for the common man, help your neighbor, and money is not all that important. I could watch this movie a million times.

#7: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) Directed by Jeremiah Chechik, starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo. A bumbling father insists on going to extreme measures to have a wonderful Griswold family Christmas even though everything is conspiring to ruin it. Another Christmas classic. I watch this one every year, and although it may seem a little out of place on this list, it made it into my top ten because this movie makes me happy. Everyone needs a good belly laugh from time to time, and this one makes me laugh out loud to the point of snorting, no matter how many times I see it. Slap-stick at times, extremely quotable, and even a little heart-warming, this movie is a Christmas staple.430849_orig

file_200263_0_Psycho_Norman_Bates#6: Psycho (1960) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, and Vera Miles. Norman Bates goes “a little crazy sometimes” in this classic horror film with heart. Norman Bates is probably the most likable psychotic serial killer in film history. I love this film because Norman is a sympathetic character in this story that explores the psychology of multiple personality disorder and the trauma of childhood abuse and mother fixation. Very Freudian, but wonderfully intense.

#5: Big Fish (2003) Directed by Tim Burton, starring Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney. This beautiful and surreal story told through a series of tall-tales by a dying father to his son, not only teach the son about his father, but about life itself. Full of symbolism, this movie explores forgiveness, understanding, dreams unfulfilled, and a host of other important themes. It is deeply meaningful, funny, fantastical, and imaginative. Love it!


936full-dead-poets-society-screenshot#4: Dead Poets Society (1989) Directed by Peter Weir, starring Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, and Ethan Hawke. A quirky prep-school English teacher inspires his troubled students with literature, and breaking all the rules, he teaches them to “seize the day” and live lives worthy of being remembered. As an English teacher, I think it is a requirement that I adore this movie, but anyone who loves insightful and poetic words, philosophy, and high ideals will appreciate the inspiration of the literary greats quoted in this film. And, of course, everyone loves an inspiring teacher who cares more for his students than for staying out of trouble. In addition to exploring the Transcendental themes of “sucking the marrow” out of life, this movie does justice to showing the realities of realizing these ideals in the midst of expectations and responsibilities. Deeply moving and inspiring.

#3: Magnolia (1999) Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Tom Cruise and Julianne Moore as well as a huge and  famous ensemble cast. This masterpiece of filmmaking, like Crash, threads the separate lives of many different characters together, connecting them in surprising ways. However, this movie explores fate, coincidence, regret, compassion, loneliness, forgiveness, love, death, acceptance, abuse, and grief in strange and symbolic ways. I won’t even try to give a synopsis because there are too many different stories going on in this film, but I will say that the characters are realistic, flawed, beautiful, and complex. I loved almost all of them, and even the one I didn’t, I felt something for. I love everything about this movie and am left sitting stunned and in awe every time I see it. The acting is superb, especially by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Tom Cruise. In my opinion, this is absolutely Tom Cruise’s best acting. He convincingly goes from a despicable, disgusting pig to a hurt little boy that we want to hold and comfort in the course of 189 minutes of perfection in filmmaking.TOM-CRUISE-MAGNOLIA

braveheart_27_robert#2: Braveheart (1995) Directed by Mel Gibson, starring Mel Gibson and Angus MacFadyen. “When his secret bride is executed for assaulting an English soldier who tried to rape her, a commoner begins a revolt and leads Scottish warriors against the cruel English tyrant who rules Scotland with an iron fist” (IMDB). The story of William Wallace is one of courage, loyalty, and freedom, but the character that had the most impact on me was that of Robert, the Bruce. My favorite scene in the movie is when after the Bruce has been convinced to betray Wallace and it has led to tragedy, the Bruce confronts his evil father and states, “I don’t want to lose heart. I want to believe as he does … I will never be on the wrong side again.” To me the most important themes are tied up in this character and in these lines. This movie asks you what you believe in, what you are willing to do to stand up for that belief, and challenges you to decide, once and for all, if you will have the courage to stand on the right side, regardless of the cost. This movie makes me want to be a better person. The acting is superb, especially by Angus MacFadyen, who plays the Bruce. This movie is highly quoted because it is filled with high ideals and pearls of wisdom. I love, love, love this movie. “FREEDOM!”

MV5BODU4MjU4NjIwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDU2MjEyMDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_#1: The Shawshank Redemption (1994) Directed by Frank Darabont of The Walking Dead fame, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, adapted from the short story by Stephen King, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” My all-time favorite movie ever, this film is the only film that has actually done justice to King’s work. I loved the story when it was first published and couldn’t have been more pleased when it was made it into this fabulous film, starring two of my favorite actors.  Shawshank_Redemption_

The Shawshank Redemption, set in a harsh 1940s prison, is about hope, perseverance, friendship, redemption, and the indomitable human spirit. Two prisoners, Andy and Red, one innocent and one guilty, who become true friends behind bars, share hopes, dreams, and the cares of daily life in the system. Andy brings hope, culture, and humanity to the prison inmates, and teaches Red that there is always hope, that the spirit can’t be crushed if you won’t let it, and that life isn’t fair, but there is always beauty to be found. This movie is profound, moving, funny, and leaves you with the feeling that no matter what, everything is going to be okay. Strength comes from within, and no one can take away what is inside of you. This movie deserves a million stars. I never get tired of watching and feeling uplifted by it. It gives me hope, and that is why it is my favorite movie.

Now, for some honorable mentions, although I am sure I will leave some important ones out:

Other Great Movies or Movies I Just Love Watching (in no particular order):

The Book of Eli, Terms of Endearment, Gattaca, Coma, Marnie, They Live, Cloud Atlas, The Stepford Wives, The Best Grand Budapest Hotel, The Silence of the Lambs, Prince of Tides, Fargo, Argo, Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, U-571, The Fugitive, Vertigo, Awakenings, Rebecca, The Shining (1997 mini-series), A Time to Kill, The Devil’s Advocate, Pulp Fiction, The Notebook, Message in a Bottle, A Christmas Story, Homeward Bound, My Dog Skip, The Breakfast Club, Gun Shy, K-Pax, Bladerunner, Star Wars Trilogy (original), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Godfather, This Boy’s Life, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Signs, The Sixth Sense, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, A Streetcar Named Desire, Rebel Without a Cause, Creator, Casablanca, To Kill a Mockingbird, Shutter Island, Young Guns, The Goonies, Ladyhawke, Deep Impact, Fatal Attraction, Legend, The Princess Bride, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Time Traveler’s Wife, 12 Monkeys, The Terminator, The Book Thief, Clue, Life of Pi, and The Grey. And hundreds more I don’t have room to mention.

I apologize for the length of this blog. If you read to the end, thank you, and please leave me some suggestions if I left your favorite movies out. Happy movie viewing!–Christina Knowles

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