Shawshank Redemption Essay, Research Paper
The Shawshank Redemption is a feature film concerned with the repression of individuals within an institution- a prison in this case. It is concerned with routine, forced conformity, power abuse and the struggle of hope to exist in such a lifeless world.Characteristic of this “feel good” genre film, the “good guys”, Andy Dufrense, and the “bad guys”, the warden and his guards are also constructed.
The viewers response to the above elements are shaped by the use of film language (lighting, camera angles, selection of shots, music, etc), but also by character conflict. Shawshank prison is presented to the viewer in a way such that we are positioned to regard it as oppressive, enforcing conformity and routine and removing all elements of individuality within a person, “you come here for life and that’s exactly what they take from you”.
The opening shots of the prison as Dufresne arrives to begin his double life sentences, are ones of an expanse of gray lifeless concrete blocks and bars. The surroundings however are picturesque, the true beauty of nature in bloom, no more evident than when the men are tarring the roof in summer. The effect of this is to immediately evoke within the viewer, the idea that Shawshank exists to contain individuals from the outside world, to torment them with the beauty of nature, yet, force them to exist in a world of ugliness and hatred. Every scene within the prison is framed by bars and dark sombre grays or blues as backdrop, the effect of which is to indicate the oppressive nature of life in “inside” and the dominance of the prison in the lives of every individual.
The repression of Shawshank, as well as the enforced routine, is depicted by the film makers through lighting, camera angles and music. The majority of scenes have no background music; the impact of silence achieving the purpose of indicating the lack of life within and refusal to allow any expression, very effectively. The only music that actually dominates a scene is where Andy lock himself in the wardens office and plays Italian opera over the tannoy system. The impact this has on the other prisoners, transfixing them, shows how Andy is different; not one of “them”. How his hope is still alive and how what’s “in here”, cannot be taken from him.The scenes where the guards are present see them as the dominators of the scene, framed to appear larger than reality and striking figures, almost military like in their uniforms. Their constant presence serves as reminders of the constant and unremitting influence and oppression of the prison.
The development of Andy as a “good guy” is aided by the use of film language. The music that surrounds the supposed events before Mrs Dufresne and her lover were murdered; ironic in their words, ‘if I didn’t care’; if Andy didn’t care he wouldn’t be in the situation he finds himself in. Andy is developed as our good guy, our embodiment of hope. His clean cut image contrasting effectively with the cold harsh prison, creating doubt in the viewers mind towards his supposed guilt. His quiet manner and gentle speech also aid the creation of the ‘good guy’.
The creation of the ‘bad guy’- the warden- is achieved through the use of film language also. The darkness surrounding his first appearance after the men’s showers, his small stature, mean mouth, and slow deliberate speech ‘your ass belongs to me’, as well as his dominant framing in scenes. Although this is however, successful, character conflict development also achieves this. By conflicting the warden with Andy, the issue of power abuse becomes evident as the warden seeks to quash Andy’s hope by abusing his power and sending him to the ‘hole’ or threatening a ‘book BBQ’, after Andy’s refusal to launder his ‘dirty money’ any more.
Film language is a highly effective method of communicating to the viewer because of the impact visual elements succeed in having. The manipulation of the sub-conscious in feature films is a technique that directly achieves its purpose. But it must be remembered that the visual impact of a text becomes a superficial ‘picture’ of events if it is not underpinned by a strong narrative that takes the lead. With this element, the effectiveness of the visual element would diminish as quickly as the impact was made, and the directors aim, to influence the viewer, certainly not achieved.