Year Released: 1994
Directed by: Frank Darabont
Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman
(R, 142 min.)
"Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage." Richard Lovelace
Those of you who liked the quiet dignity that Morgan Freeman brought to Million Dollar Baby, should catch his earlier work in The Shawshank Redemption, where his mournful voice fits the raw prison setting and provides a touch of class even in this bleak world.
In the notorious Shawshank prison “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) is, by his own admission, the only guilty man there. Everyone else, including Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), proclaims his innocence. Red has served 20 years of a life sentence for killing a man and has “nothing left but all the time in the world.” Each time he comes before the parole board, like a kid mindlessly reciting a catechism, he tells them he is no longer a danger to society, that he is completely rehabilitated. The board is as unconvinced as we are.
Red gets by because of his ability to get about anything a prisoner wants. He is a “regular Sears and Roebuck.” He also keeps himself in cigarettes by his first night picks, whereby he older prisoners amuse themselves by betting on which new recruit will be the first to break down and cry that first, that hardest night.
Red stakes a whole pack on Andy, the soft banker convicted of murdering his wife and her lover. He loses it, because Andy not only does not cry, he fails to utter a single word the whole long night. Woe unto the poor fat slob who does break down, and refuses to stop when the guards order him to. Their nightsticks quiet him permanently. Andy is the only one to wonder,” What was his name?”
Andy keeps mostly to himself, a “cold fish,” according to Red. It is only because of business that the two get to know each other. Andy asks Red to smuggle in a rock hammer, which Red is hesitant to do. After all, it is a potential weapon, a potential escape instrument, and a risky contraband. Andy tells him it is too small for either, that he only wishes to use it make ornaments from the loose stones in the exercise yard. Red’s worries later become a joke between them, because when it comes, Red sees that the tool is so small, it would take about 100 years to dig out with it.
One of Red’s most challenging feats is smuggling Rita Hayworth into the prison. The huge pinup adorns Andy’s Spartan quarters and later becomes a marker of the passage of time. Marilyn Monroe replaces forties’ glamour girl Rita, and then Raquel Welch ushers in the sixties.
But much more than the changes in wall décor mark the decades behind bars for Andy. His early years are punctuated by routine gang rapes by “the sisters.” Andy naively wonders if he could just tell them he is “not a homosexual” and that would stop it.
The “sisters” are not homosexual, Red corrects him. “To be a homosexual, you have to be human first.” Andy resists the attacks as much as he can, at one time using his knowledge of anatomical reflexes to discourage one humiliating scenario. But it is really his courage and resourcefulness as demonstrated in the 1949 outdoor detail that ends the abuse.
One of the guards, most of whom are stereotypically portrayed as sadistic beasts, laments to his colleagues that a huge chunk of the 35 thousand dollars he has inherited from his diseased brother, will go to pay taxes. Andy breaches protocol, leaves his tarring mop on the deck, and approaches. The guard’s reaction is swift, and Andy is bout to be dropped off the building, when the sense of his tax suggestion saves his life. His only request for payment is cold beers for his fellow cons.
So begins Andy’s new life as free tax consultant to all the prison employees. His work detail switches from laundry to library, where he arranges tax shelters, college annuities, and other less ethical transactions.
The unscrupulous warden has a scheme and he needs someone to doctor the books. Honest banker Andy has to come to prison to be a crook, but he toils obediently for his “boss,” ending his day’s labors at the desk by polishing the warden’s shoes, and cleaning his suit.
But Andy never completely submits, and his persistence is remarkable. He gladly takes 2 weeks in the hole (solitary confinement) as punishment for a few short minutes playing prison disc jockey. He writes endless letters to get more books for the library, and even tutors a young prisoner toward his G.E.D.
Warden Norton is not amused. He believes in discipline and the Bible. “Put your trust in the lord; your ass belongs to me,” he tells new prisoners. Again, he is portrayed as too wicked, with Hollywood’s favorite canapé of religious hypocrisy crusted over unadulterated evil. Here is one Hollywood creation, though, where evil does not triumph.
The magic of The Shawshank Redemption lies not in the fabulous ending, where ironic undercurrents break the surf in tidal wave proportions, but in the simple trust and friendship that allow both Red and Andy’s moral redemption, where in their minds, at least, they leave the gray walls of prison for freedom in a place where “Hope is always green.”
The most memorable food episode in The Shawshank Redemption is the prison cafeteria scene where a wriggling maggot emerges from Andy’s rice, only to be snatched greedily by Brooks, the prison librarian, as dinner for his pet bird. Perhaps we will have to go beyond reality here to find something more suitable.
New England banker Andy shuns his native rocky hills -- too many bad memories there – and longs for some place else. Someplace in Mexico, where the warm land is lapped by a blue pacific that washes him clean of his past, like the mythological Styx, River of Forgetfulness.
He tells Red about this dreamed of paradise, about the aged sailboat his is going to restore one day at a time. We can imagine the two of them thinking abut the turquoise shores, the bleached sand under their bare feet, as they sip sangria and eat the catch of the day “cooked” in lime juice.
Sangria and Seviche
From the Spanish word for blood, sangre, this red wine drink is a perfect companion for the spicy foods of Mexico. Its blood red wine may be the only component that reminds Andy and Red of their violent pasts.
My version is from Alfredo Sanchez, who brings his Venezuelan roots and American experience to this sure-to-please punch. And don’t substitute anything for the secret ingredient, Big Red.
1 liter Big Red
1 bottle dry red wine
1 can orange juice concentrate, still frozen
1/2 cup Cointreau (or other orange-flavored liqueur)
*1 bottle Champaign or other sparkling wine (optional)
Garnish with slices of orange and apple.
This appetizer is cooked without heat by marinating it is lime or lemon juice, so there’s no toiling over a hot stove for our Shawshank dreamers.
1 1/2 pounds catch of the day fillets
Juice of 5 lemons or 6 limes
2 canned California green chiles, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup minced onion
2 large tomatoes, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crumbled oregano
1/4 cup olive oil
Avocado slices or chopped cilantro for garnish
Cut fish in small, thin pieces. Cover raw seafood with lemon or lime uice and let stand covered, in the refrigerator, 2 hours. Then mix with all remaining ingredients. Garnish with the avocado and/or cilantro.
Serve very cold in cocktail or sherbet glasses, but paper cups are okay if you’re the informal type.
Recipe Source: Seviche from Sunset Mexican Cookbook Lane Books, Menlo Park, California