Through Red’s brilliant narration, we get to know Andy Dufresne, who may truly be the only innocent man in the Shawshank prison. We’re also given a perspective of prison life that is new: the prisoners are all content with where they are. They know they’ve done their crimes, and inside the walls of Shawshank they are, in a way, innocent; they’re harmless inside them.
What makes Shawshank substantially different than other prison films is how the prisoners are portrayed. The prisoners appear innocent while those running appear to be the truly evil ones: in particular, Captain Hadley and the Warden. There is something we are offered here that isn’t anywhere else: after a certain amount of time, a lot of inmates are actually sorry for what they've done. Under the system, prisoners can become so dependent on prison existence, that they become “institutionalized.”
There are the incorrigible few who remain bitter after serving their time and being paroled, but by the time most are let out, they’re no harm to society. Such men are let go when the inmate’s best years have passed, essentially at an age where the ex-con can no longer be a threat to anybody. They can’t even go to the bathroom without asking permission; they have been dependent on the system for so long that they can’t deal with reality as adult human beings anymore.
Red’s case didn’t seem much different than most. But after knowing Andy and being touched by the “hope” that he had and watching him escape, he became a new man. After thirty years and three parole hearings reading the same old message, Red spoke from the heart. He realized that the stupid kid that had done the crime was long gone, never to return. The parole officers, as rude as they may have felt he was being, apparently realized that, as well. In return for his honest statement, his parole was at last approved.
Everyone, according to this film, is redeemable. You may have heard before that water allows people to forget many things, and that it has so many magical properties. Maybe that’s what Andy means when he says that the Pacific Ocean having no memory. Water has always stood as a symbol for being clean and purified. Supposedly, water can even rid you of all your unhappy thoughts. You can essentially, metaphorically, wash away your former self and become a new person.
The main emphasis of this film is that, for the most part, the American prison system works. However, the film also brings about the idea of corruption in the system. It is a sort of commentary on the corruption that happens in any “social service” that the government supplies. If you pester the government enough, though, they will most certainly do something about serious cases of corruption, as they did with Warden Norton and Captain Hadley.
“Shawshank” also brings up another interesting idea: that many prisoners actually can become content with their lives in prison. Maybe it’s for simply psychological reasons: their way of coping with prison life. Or perhaps, it is that those people understand that they belong there, that they’ve done the crime, and they’re doing the time. How many of them are actually sorry, though? It’s funny how they still claim, for the most part, to be innocent. In their time of being incarcerated, have they actually become new people? Or, do they just think they’ve become new people?
“The Shawshank Redemption” is a fascinating film to watch, and one that is certainly worth seeing multiple times. It’s one of those films that make you think about something different each time you watch it. “The Shawshank Redemption” is easily an all-time favorite film.