There are a few great novelists whose works are generally just as good on screen as it is on paper and I believe Stephen King’s stories has an indelible quality that translates smoothly into film. King’s creative inclinations toward the bizarre have helped him develop his craft as a celebrated story-teller. It’s amazing how his stories have become integrated in popular culture since majority of its themes deals with unsettling life scenarios. Still, his stories have created a niche in the entertainment industry as people attempt to breathe life into them through film adaptations.
People usually assign Stephen King’s writings as part of the Horror and Science Fiction genre. However, after reading the novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, I realized how extensive King’s abilities were and how he had managed to unearth the depths of fear in human nature. The story’s plot was simple yet it was packed with riveting life lessons that focused on the fundamentals of fear that is inherent within an individual.
It seems fitting that such a story was made into film by Frank Darabont, a long-time admirer of Stephen King’s writings. The movie, which gathered several noteworthy nominations and wins in award giving bodies, had managed to turn a dramatic prison story into a compelling visual narrative that offers a unique perspective into the beauty of story-telling within the realms of filmmaking. The artistry that was placed into translating the story on-screen was so seamless that it has garnered the praise of thousands of viewers worldwide, establishing it a success in its transition from book to film.
The story revolves around prison life through the eyes of Ellis Boyd Redding or “Red” (Morgan Freeman), who had served his prison sentence in Shawshank for most of his adult life and the arrival of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) a banker who was to serve two life sentences for allegedly murdering his wife and her lover. Andy’s presence in the Shawshank prison leads to a string of events that transforms the desolated walls of the prison into a den of hope, established in a big climatic sequence when he successfully escapes from the shackles of his fettered past (King, 1982).
Through the auspicious direction of Darabont, the film took flight in the right path as he knew how to transmute Stephen King’s story onto the big screen. His familiarity with King’s work may have been brought about by the fact that he also shares the same interest in Science Fiction, which the latter is known for.
The film manages to create a believable concept of reality that happens within the prison walls as every detail was carefully researched and envisioned for clarity. The success of the transition was due to the effort of Darabont and his crew to stick to the essence of King’s narrative, which played vividly through the sequence of the scenes that they chose to present and the subtle symbolisms that they included to make things more artistically translatable.
In the DVD commentary of the film, Darabont had relayed that there were several scenes that were cut or added in the editing room for practical reasons. One of those scenes was the last scene wherein Red and Andy finally reunite in Mexico, which was not originally part of the script. Darabont stated that he initially intended to end the movie with Red inside a bus en route to Mexico hoping to find Andy, just as it had been stated in the book but the production executives wanted to end the movie with a touching scene which translated into Red and Andy reuniting in Mexico. When Darabont and his team shot this scene and included it in the final cut during a movie test, the audience loved the alternate ending so they decided to keep it as it gave the audience a sense of closure (Darabont & King, 1994).
Although the ending was a typical Hollywood style execution in which everybody lived happily ever after, it did bring the movie into full circle and I believe it was one of the best decisions that Darabont has made into creating his own masterpiece.
The Characters and its corresponding Actors
Although Red is narrating the story, the main focus of his narration was not about himself but of his fascination for his inmate, Andy Dufresne, who was described as an enigmatic character that set him apart from the rest of his inmates. Andy was a likable protagonist for he was fittingly portrayed by Tim Robbins as both an innocent man and a fish out of water. Robbins had a way about him that revealed Andy’s characteristics in a humane manner. He knew how to play his part and he played it very well. It wasn’t hard to root for his character as he was a crucial element in exposing the face of human frailty and corruption present within the prison walls (Darabont & King, 1994).
Morgan Freeman was equally impressive as Red since his character becomes a symbol of redemption through the course of the movie, reinforcing his important role as the story-teller of what Andy had helped him discover – hope. Even if I knew that Red was of Irish descent in the book, I don’t think I could ever picture anyone else who could execute the character best than Freeman. The role suited him well. (Darabont & King, 1994).
With regard to the other actors, their character portrayal was very much in line with how they were perceived in the book. Bob Gunton as the Warden was believably insufferable while Clancy Brown and Mark Rolston who plays Captain Hadlety and Bogs respectively, fine-tuned their role as the frightening antagonists. Each character had a unique role to play and the actors did a wonderful job into making the audience feel for the plight of every character in that prison.
The setting of the film is in the late 1940s at a run-down Prison in Maine called Shawshank. Although there were some time-framed details presented in the film that didn’t quite hit the mark when one consult actual historical facts, the end point was forgivable. I was simply amazed at how Darabont and his crew built the entire prison institution in a warehouse in Ohio as it was convincing enough to have been shot in an existing prison establishment (Darabont & King, 1994).
The landscape shots in the film and the melodramatic hues of a few key scenes helped to create an environment that invited the viewer to take in the scenery and the frame by frame moments in each of the character’s musings. Selective sound effects were injected thoughtfully to help set the mood of the story and the transition of climactic scenes. As a whole, the technical aspects were only there for enhancement and not a major participant.
I have always believed that for a movie to be labeled a success in adapting a story from a book, it should be able to contain both the artistic voices of the author and director. It should also touch base with an audience that draws the transition to a close. The Shawshank Redemption is one of such films that present these qualities. Its story reflects tangible themes that were visually translatable, containing the visions of King and Darabont. It has also enticed the audience to feel sympathy for the web of characters that pepper the film, mirroring the complex duality of human nature.
Darabont, F. (Director/Writer), & King, S. (Writer). 1994. The Shawshank Redemption [Motion Picture]. United States: Castle Rock Entertainment.
King, S. (1982). Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. Different Seasons. Minnesota: Viking Folk Art Publications.