The ending of “The Shawshank Redemption” is one of the most famous and shocking final moments in cinematic history. The entire movie builds to an emotionally devastating reveal that changes everything we thought we knew about the characters and their arcs. Even if you know what’s coming, it still packs a punch. And yet, this twist has been so widely discussed that its impact has been somewhat devalued.
It’s become something of a joke in film criticism circles to bring it up as an example of how viewers are misled by indie movies with misleading marketing campaigns. If you haven’t seen it, don’t worry; this article will not spoil anything for you. But just in case you have seen it, or want to revisit it after reading this article, here is a spoiler alert just in case! END SPOILER! In this piece, we explore why so many people misjudged “The Shawshank Redemption” by deconstructing what makes its final moment so brilliant.
We’ll look at why having two protagonists works brilliantly as a plot device; how the prisoners represent sacrificial heroes; how their respective journeys support the redemptive arc of both men; how switching the roles of protagonist and antagonist cleverly reverses our perceptions; and why all of this supports the themes about social injustice we see throughout the movie.
Just One More Day, That’s All I Need
We first meet Andy Dufresne when he’s been in prison for 19 years. He’s done his time, paid his debt to society, and like all long-term inmates, he’s eligible for parole. But there’s a catch: parole boards rarely grant parole for lifers. In this case, he can only be released if the governor himself signs off on it. Andy has been asking for a parole hearing for two years now, but the governor keeps postponing it.
The date keeps getting pushed further and further back until it’s been almost a decade since it was first requested. The other prisoners assume that Andy will never get out. They’re resigned to it. They assume the system is too broken to be fixed. But Andy isn’t giving up. He keeps on applying for a parole hearing, even though he knows his request will likely be denied. He keeps on requesting just one more day, even though he knows it’s a long shot. This is the kind of persistence we rarely see in movies.
Hollywood likes to portray heroes who are impulsive and risk-taking; who take action without thinking about the consequences. We’re often shown characters who are pushed to the brink and then fight back. But Andy’s story is about determination; about someone who knows the odds are against him, but stays optimistic and keeps fighting anyway. He’s not willing to give up.
Andy Dufresne: The Sacrificial Hero
Andy’s story ends with him being found innocent and released from prison. The twist is that he wasn’t innocent all along, as we’ve been led to believe. Rather, he was guilty all along and framed himself to get a reduced sentence, so he could serve his time in a place like Shawshank, where he could transform himself into a better person. His journey through the movie is the classic hero’s journey, where the protagonist starts out as a flawed person, and through their journey, they gain the necessary wisdom and strength to become a better person.
A key part of this transformation is the death and rebirth of the hero. It’s a time-honored storytelling tradition that can be traced back to ancient myths and legends. To properly understand the shocking final moments of the movie, we have to go back to the very first scene of the movie and explore the parallels between the story of Christ and Andy’s journey.
Redeeming a Corrupted Soul: Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne
Like Christ, Andy’s transformation begins with his betrayal and arrest. He’s taken down by a false accusation and a false witness. The false witness is a classic motif in storytelling that goes back centuries. It’s a theme that’s been used in everything from “Hamlet” to “Romeo and Juliet” to “The Simpsons”. In the case of Andy’s story, it’s the shady banker, whose greed leads him to frame Andy with false testimony.
It’s a classic false witness device because it’s a lie that leads to an innocent man’s downfall. And it’s a classic false witness device because the banker knows he’s lying. The false witness device is often used as a symbol of corruption in society. A banker is a greedy person who’s willing to lie to get what he wants. Andy’s arrest is a manifestation of that. And like many heroes, Andy has to face the false accusations of society with a false silence.
It Is a Crime to Be Good in a Place Like This
In the very next scene, we see Andy being transferred to prison. This is a deliberate parallel to the journey of Christ. A key part of the Christ story is that he’s tortured and crucified. After being betrayed and falsely accused, he’s arrested and taken to jail. Then he’s brought to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who orders that he be flogged, beheaded, and then hung on a cross for everyone to see.
The scene in the prison is a parallel to this. There is a major difference, however; in Andy’s story, he’s not the victim of corrupt social justice. He’s the perpetrator of corrupt social justice. He’s a criminal who commits crimes and is sent to prison. Later on, he frames an innocent man just like he himself was falsely accused. Andy is not the victim of a broken system; he’s the perpetrator of a broken system. This is why the parallel to Christ’s story stops at the flogging and beheading. Those are the only punishments Christ ever received. Andy, on the other hand, receives the full punishment for his crimes; the full punishment of being “hung” on a cross. He has to endure full punishment for his crimes.
Confronting the Cause of Your Suffering Is the Only Way to Be Free
A key part of Andy’s transformation is the fact that he makes friends with the other prisoners. He is not only a model prisoner, who serves a long sentence with dignity and respect but also becomes a counselor and mentor to the other inmates.
All of this is in stark contrast to the way he began his sentence: keeping to himself and hiding from everyone. Andy’s journey is not only about redemption; it’s also about confronting the root cause of his suffering. He was not able to move on from his guilt and shame until he confronted his victim and made him a part of his journey. It’s only when he makes friends with Red and begins to accept the implications of his earlier actions that he is able to fully come to terms with what he did. It’s only when he fully accepts the consequences of his actions that he is able to find redemption and peace.
Ultimately, the twist at the end of the movie reveals that we can’t rely on simple narratives or stereotypes. It reveals that redemption is not a tidy process. It reveals that there are no easy answers, and that true redemption is a long and difficult journey that each individual must climb for themselves. In the end, it’s not about the person who suffers or their circumstances, but about how that person reacts to their suffering. It’s about what we do with the cards we’re dealt, not about whether we have good cards or bad cards. It’s about what we do with what we have, not about what we wish we had. The Shawshank Redemption is an incredible movie with a shocking twist that has become