The Trial and Incarceration of Andy Dufresne

By Van Patten, Jonathan K. | South Dakota Law Review, Spring 2017 | Go to article overview

The Trial and Incarceration of Andy Dufresne


Van Patten, Jonathan K., South Dakota Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION

The Shawshank Redemption (1) had a relatively humble beginning. Stephen King wrote a ninety-page novella, entitled Rita Hay-worth and the Shawshank Redemption, one of four short stories or novellas, published collectively under the title Different Seasons, in 1982. (2) In terms of movie interest, this novella was not the first choice among the four. (3) Frank Darabont, a then relatively inexperienced screenwriter and director, purchased the movie rights from Stephen King for the grand total of one dollar. (4) The movie was shot over an intense three-month period during the fall of 1993. It was released in 1994 to mixed, albeit generally positive, reviews. (5) While the movie was not initially a box office success, managing only barely to cover the expenses of production, it found a niche in secondary distribution, particularly as a staple on night-time television on Ted Turner's classic movie channel. (6) Together with continued strong word-of-mouth support and growth in DVD sales, The Shawshank Redemption's reputation grew steadily until, ten years after its initial release, it had become a very popular film. (7) Today, it is ranked by the Internet Movie Database as the most popular movie of all time. (8)

How did this happen? It is a good story, but there are many good stories out there. Why did this one touch so many people so deeply? It has roots in the genre of stories about revenge, including the classic The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. (9) The story connects with a deep-seated sense for righting a wrong. The victim of an injustice eventually escapes to freedom and exacts a measure of revenge against his principal tormentor, a representative of the system. But revenge is not the main attraction. To be sure, revenge is no small part of this story. It is more about redemption, however, as the title suggests. The injustice does not destroy the victim. Rather, it provides the setting through which he becomes transformed. Moreover, it is not just about the victim. It includes at least one other character who becomes redeemed through this experience as well.

The power of story is well-known. (10) Stories help make sense of life; they provide a moral framework for understanding. (11) People think in terms of metaphors, which are actually compact stories. (12) A good story entertains, charms, and inspires. It thereby has the peculiar power to get past our natural resistance to argument. (13) Stories touch deeply-held values of the audience and cause them "to know without knowing that they know." (14) Stories not only affirm, they can move us to want to be better. We are given the freedom to participate along with the characters as they work through the problems posed in the story. We can judge them without actual recrimination; we can suffer with them without having to undergo the trials they face; we can laugh with and at them as we suspend disbelief and enjoy the wonderful possibilities of human frailties and the spontaneity of life; we can learn from their mistakes as well as applaud them for good choices that we may not have had the understanding or the courage to make; and we can be pulled along to a greater awareness of who we are and who we might be. Allan Bloom captured this in his introduction to Shakespeare's Politics: "What is essentially human is revealed in the extreme, and we understand ourselves better through what we might be. In a way, the spectators live more truly when they are watching a Shakespearean play than in their daily lives...." (15)

Director Frank Darabont explained, in part, the success of The Shawshank Redemption by noting how people saw themselves in the story:

The film seems to be something of a Rorschach for people. They project
their own lives, their own difficulties, their own obstacles, and their
own triumphs into it, whether that's a disastrous marriage or a serious
debilitating illness that somebody is trying to overcome. … 

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