- The Shawshank Redemption showed the necessity of hope in people’s lives, even in the darkest times.
- Andy Dufresne’s character and the events of the story show that nothing is beyond hope.
- While Andy’s friend Red may have deemed hope dangerous, its significance to humanity cannot be overlooked.
- Hope provides us with the resilience to push through adversity and keep striving for a better tomorrow.
As communicators, we can’t forget that storytelling can be a powerful method of conveying our messages. It’s effective to portray our deepest human feelings in authentic ways.
As much as people need food, water, and other tangible necessities, there’s something intangible that may be even more important: hope.
The Shawshank Redemption takes place in one of the darkest and most hopeless places in the world, a prison where inmates have been convicted of the worst crimes imaginable and sent away (most for life).
The filmmakers used the darkest of settings to explore this idea of hope, and how we can hold onto it in circumstances that seem completely hopeless. The character Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, is serving two life sentences after being wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife and her lover.
Holding on to Hope
Andy didn’t commit the murder, but viewers know he came close, as he stood outside their door with a loaded gun. This is the circumstantial evidence that lands him in jail. The prison is exactly what one would expect, with brutal beatings by guards, and inmates who show their power through violence and intimidation.
He endures all this until he starts laundering money for the warden (the first crime he has committed, and he is forced into it). Although his activities give him protection from further brutality, he’s eventually thrown into solitary confinement, in a pitch black cell completely removed from human connection.
After his first stint in solitary for playing a Mozart record on the prison loudspeaker, he tells his friend Red (played by Morgan Freeman) and other inmates in his circle that hope is what kept him alive. His time in “the hole” was “the easiest time [he] ever did,” for he had “Mr. Mozart” to keep him company. The music was in his head and heart.
“There’s something inside they can’t get to, that they can’t touch,” he tells Red and the others.
Red doesn’t get it, so Andy spells it out by saying, “Hope.”
The filmmakers’ depiction of hope through Andy’s experience could easily be seen as nothing but platitudes. It’s easy to lecture the audience to never lose hope, but it’s harder to show the survival of hope in such terrible circumstances.
Andy’s bravery in taking action to bring hope to the prison is what makes the message seem more real. Red’s initial reaction to Andy’s words, that “hope is a dangerous thing,” is another.
At first, Red is having none of Andy’s “hope” talk. He’s trying to survive, and hope is going to make that harder, not easier. “Hope can drive a man insane,” he says. “It’s got no use on the inside. You better get used to that idea.”
Red’s pushback on Andy’s deeply felt convictions about hope force Andy (and the film) to show that hope is possible in any situation, that the human spirit can triumph over even the worst misfortunes in life. Even when your closest friends think your situation is hopeless, you can still dare to be hopeful.
More Than a Plot Device
Hope is more than a plot device in the film; it’s almost a manifesto. As Andy doesn’t let go of hope during the 19 years he spends in prison, he changes many of his fellow inmates’ lives for the better.
In exchange for his bookkeeping for the warden, he writes diligently to the State Senate of Maine to request they send materials for a library. After a few years of persistence, the Senate sends books and funds to Shawshank.
Andy teaches some inmates to read and write, and helps them get educated. All the while, he’s making his own hopeful plans; ones that include escape.
As the events of the film play out in dramatic fashion, Red sees the wisdom of Andy’s ways. In a voiceover at the end of the movie, he says, “I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”
Hope in the human form of Andy has changed Red’s life for the better. He discovers he has something to live for. He has discovered hope.
The Power of Storytelling
At its core, The Shawshank Redemption is a powerful expression of hope, one of the great human character strengths. The movie is not a neatly wrapped-up story about a minimum-security prison, but one full of raw emotions, violence, and messiness.
As communicators, we can find power in telling emotionally-gripping stories with deeper messages that relate to people’s lives in all their woundedness. Telling your own story of how you found hope in the midst of despair, is a timeless message that will resonate with your audience — and give them hope, too.
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