This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … The Shawshank Redemption‘s inspirational message.
I wasted another two hours of my life last weekend watching The Shawshank Redemption for the 247th time. It’s one of those movies I have to watch every time I come across it, like Rocky, Kingpin or anything starring Helena Bonham Carter. This can be quite time consuming, because, just as the sun never set on the British Empire, Shawshank is showing on some station right now. That is, if your cable package is worth a good squirt of piss. Go to your TV and test this. See, right there on channel 268! And it’s over in 40 minutes. Start watching now or you’ll miss seeing Andy crawl through that river of shit.
I’m not asserting that the movie itself is overrated. Any movie that’s almost impossible not to watch has a greatness to it. What is overrated is our reaction to it as a “feel good” movie. We ought to be overwhelmed with anger and loathing every time we watch it, but instead we are manipulated into a case of the warm fuzzies for a bunch of long-term felons who probably wreaked more emotional havoc than three 9-11’s.
Let’s start with the overall prison population in the movie. The cons in general are the most docile, tame-looking prisoners this side of Hogan’s Heroes. When Andy and Red are shooting the shit in the yard, the rest of the prisoners loll about unthreateningly in the background. I’ve never been to a prison and I don’t intend to end up in one (They’ll never find the body. She was a cinch to bury. She was too tiny, you know?), but I’ll wager that there ain’t a prison yard in America as safe and harmless as the one in Shawshank.
It’s also laughingly, overwhelmingly white. I know the movie takes place 40-50 years ago, but even then this country was passionately engaged in one of its favorite pastimes: locking up colored folks at a disproportionate rate. Other than Red, I don’t recall seeing another black man in the movie. But that’s probably savvy casting, as the producers wisely figured that white America would see them as the “bad” prisoners, thus voiding the misplaced sympathy we are duped into feeling for the white human trash that makes up Shawshank.
Then we have the scene when the lovable louts are watching a movie and Rita Hayworth makes her grand appearance to obscenity-free (yeah, right) hoots of appreciation. We are supposed to feel sorry for the loveless blokes who can no longer enjoy the company of a beautiful woman. The moviemakers fail to remind us of the fact that most of these scumbags are incarcerated for heinous crimes, many of which probably involve women. In a real prison, when Ms. Hotshit makes her grand entrance, one third of the men would fantasize about raping her, one third would dream of stealing everything she owns (after raping her) and the last third would dream of slitting her throat (after raping her and stealing her shit). But we see their innocent longing and say, “Awwww! Poor horny fellas.”
None of those scenes are as pathetic as the one in which the men hear the Mozart song blasted over the P.A. by rabble-rousing rebel Andy Dufresne. We have a yard full of hardcore felons reduced to wide-eyed awe by Herr Mozart, and they stare longingly at the sky, wishing, I suppose, for freedom … so that they can dismember another body or rob a few more banks. The only scene in movie history cornier than that one was Tom Hanks’ overwrought Opera Appreciation scene in Philadelphia. [Caution: If you watch these two scenes back to back, you will suffer great neck pain as a result of the extreme cringing they elicit.]
The movie also tricks us into adoring and pulling for some of the individual cons. Take Brooks. That lowlife fucker served most of his life in prison for some god-awful crime, yet we’re supposed to see him as the lovable old fart who wouldn’t harm a fly, or at least his dirty pet bird. However, he would hurt a fellow inmate and friend, if you recall the scene where he nearly slits another dirtbag convict’s throat. The incorrigible old bastard should have been reported the parole board right then and there so that they could rescind the parole he’d been so stupidly granted.
Then the dumbshit can’t even handle a job bagging groceries. The grocery store near my house hires the occasional ‘tard or two to bag groceries, and they pick up this Einsteinian task in a day or two. But this dipshit just can’t grasp the concept of not putting 32 pounds of groceries into one paper bag. The only thing he and his thick sausage fingers were good for was committing major felonies. And being that he spent the bulk of his life in jail, I guess he sucked at that, too.
We’re also tricked into seeing the grocery store owner as some sort of hump for the way he treats the Shawshank graduates. Just how nice and accommodating is he supposed to be? The man is running a small business. He hires hardcore ex-cons. He’s got pissy old women customers giving him shit. Excuse the man if he can’t devote the bulk of his work day to politely teaching septuagenarian murderers and rapists the proper way to bag groceries. The man should be one of the heroes of the movie, not the cranky, impatient tool he’s made out to be.
Instead, Red the slick bastard killer is one of the heroes. During his final parole hearing, he refers to his youthful “mistake” as if it were nothing more than spray painting graffiti on an abandoned building. By the time he’s done whining, we are hoping beyond hope that good ol’ Red gets his parole. I bet if it had been your sister whose throat he slashed (after raping her), you’d not be so anxious to see “APPROVED” stamped on his form. You’d be rooting for the “No fucking way, dirtball!” stamp.
Finally, we have our hero, Andy Dufresne, the one we’re supposed to pull for with all our bleeding hearts. If you ask me, he’s the biggest asswipe of them all. Yet every time we watch, we wait expectantly for his big escape and the delicious come-uppance he inflicts on the evil warden. Yes, Andy was innocent, and that’s terribly unfortunate. But he’s not the wonderful guy we are led to believe. The douchebag was this close to killing his wife and her lover for … what, fucking? We are duped into thinking they deserve it. But if Andy can’t sling that dick and twirl that tongue good enough to sate his wife’s twitching twat, then more power to her for getting some strange dick. He deserved 3 – 5 years just for intent.
Andy is also portrayed as a deep-thinking intellect. He plays chess and shapes rocks. He creates a library. He is transported to a better place by Mozart. He philosophizes in the yard about hope and shit for the edification of his less intellectually-equipped prison mates. And what else does he do? He steals the fucking money that we vilify the warden for stealing. When it was the warden taking pilfered money, it was reprehensible. But when Andy takes that same money to buy a piece of shit boat, he somehow deserves it? Not only did he steal money, but he also stole the warden’s shoes and suit. Hell, he even heisted his Bible! And this is the guy we hope makes it safely through the tube of diarrhea? We should be rooting for six wrong turns.
Yes, this movie’s message is overrated. Real prisons are overflowing with human filth who have committed the most depraved crimes imaginable. (Exception: All the black men we’ve incarcerated for minor drug crimes.) Shawshank is akin to a summer boys camp, with sports, movies and three hot squares a day. (Sure, there’s also the occasional forced BJ and anal rape, but into each life a little rain, right?)
In one of the movie’s big dramatic scenes, Andy tells Red that “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever really dies.” Right, Andy. What does die are friends and relatives and little children at the hands of the subhuman filth who make up a large part of prison populations like Shawshank. Hey Andy, you know what else is a “good thing”? America’s goddamn penal system. Lights out, scumbags. Eat shit. Rot in your cell. Stick a … oh shit … look! Shawshank is on. I gotta go. I love this movie!
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.