QUESTION: The characters who matter most are those who lead us to understanding new ideas.
Shawshank Redemption, directed by Frank Darabont and based on Stephen King’s famous novel Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, is a powerful film that shows how characters who matter most are those who lead us to understanding new ideas. Such is the case for the old prisoner Brooks’ a mild manned old prisoner who finished serving 50 years sentence becomes eminently hostile showing the audience idea that prisoners can become immensely institutionalized that they are incapable of being free putting into question what freedom truly is in this essay I will be looking Darabont uses Brooks’ lead the audience to better understand prison system and the long term on the prisoners how prison fails rehabilite its inmates and how the prisoners are worse off post incarnation How prisoner freed after large sentence are never truly free fails, Darabont shows the level of institutionalization and lack of hope the prisons have for themselves by using film techniques such as camera angle, lighting and mise-en-scene in Brooks’ attempting murder scene and his freeing of the crow scene.
Brooks relisnes on the prison systemJust before Brooks’ release, he put a knife to his friend Haywood’s neck, threatening to kill him just so he could stay in prison. The director uses this scene to demonstrate, to the audience, the level of institutionalization and lack of hope Brooks has towards his own freedom in that he would attempt to kill one of his friends just to not go to the outside world. This is because for Brooks prison is his life, it’s all he has ever known and he fears release the same way a man would fear death, so he reacts by trying to kill his friend which is what someone would only do as a last resort.
This is a failure of the prison system as its aim should be to rehabilitate criminals and not only punish them but to prepare them to become normal citizens. However, instead, ex-prisoners struggle to fit in with society and often have no hope that they will ever fit in, which results in them seeing no other option, but to take their own life.
The knife scene starts with Red, Andy and another prisoner running to the library with only the suggestion that something has happened to Brooks, gives a sense of confusion which becomes even more confused when Red, Andy and another prisoner eventually run into the library with a midshot of them running to the door and the use of diegetic sounds of yelling and struggling which continues to confuse the audience. The camera then cuts to a close up of Brooks holding a knife to Haywood’s throat, with Haywood struggling to get out of Brooks’ chokehold without getting stabbed and Brooks yelling in a desperate, threatening tone, “stay back.”
This knife scene is made even more confusing because throughout the film Brooks has been a kind librarian and shown no signs of violence until now. Brooks’ threatening tone starts to deteriorate to a cry for help when he says, “it’s what they’ve done. I have no choice” and then begins to cry, saying “it’s the only way they’ll let me stay.” The lighting used is split into two halves, on Brook’s face showing his split feelings about this decision. As Andy tries to talk him out of it, Brooks’ face gradually goes into the light as he calms down, he lets go of Haywood and begins to cry.
Brooks’ desire not to leave prison is very common. For example, according to New Zealand’s Department of Corrections, the percent of prisoners coming back to jail is as follows, “By the two-year mark 37 percent had been returned to prison, by the three-year mark 44 percent of the sample, with the 49 percent figure attained by 48 months.”
The freeing of the crow scene shows him not only letting go of his life in prison but his life itself truly showing his lack of hope towards his freedom. This is depicted with Brooks in the library with his crow, in a dark black suit like he is dressed for a funeral. His silhouette comes out of darkness, into light, from a background of dimly lit bookshelves. The director’s purpose of these techniques is to show that Brooks is entering a new world, implying he’s about to die, which is further referenced by his funeral like clothing. His face looks like he feels completely hopeless and most significantly he is saying goodbye to his crow who he has been taking care of. The crow represents his sense of familiarity, but more significantly in some cultures, crows symbolize death and transformation into the spiritual world which is a foreshadowing of Brooks’ impending suicide. The way Brooks talks to the crow almost sounds like he’s talking to himself when he says in a sad, caring voice, “I can’t take care of you no more. You go on now. You’re free.” His words and tone show he has more hope for the crow than he does for himself. For Brooks freedom is an exile to a world that he doesn’t belong to, so when he finds himself in this exile empty and alone he sees no other option but to hang himself.
Brooks’ eventual suicide reflects how the whole prison system is pointless because for prisoners’ the only way they can survive in prison is to behave criminally and, when they are released, society expects them to have learned their lesson and be a better fit for society. The only thing that’s achieved is that they’ve learned their lesson, but they are now even more unfit for society because they have adapted to the prison system and then thrown into a whole new one so that the majority of them either commit suicide or go back to prison. The director’s purpose behind this scene in the film is to show the fate of most prisoners of not only Shawshank but prisoners from the real world.
A statistic from the Guardian newspaper states, “The number of people who took their own life while on supervision after leaving prison has increased sixfold since 2010 to a rate of one every two days, fresh analysis seen by the Guardian shows. There were 153 self-inflicted deaths among those on post-custody supervision in 2018-19”
However, the most important thing for prisoners when they are released and to prevent them from going back to prison is to have organizations built around helping prisoners back into society. An example of this is an organization known as Hope for Prisoners which focuses on educating about budgeting, teaching finance, human relations and effective communications, and much more, all to help prisoners fit back into society. They have had over 60% employment and only 6% reoffended, showing that teaching prisoners basic social and financial skills, which they have failed to learn, because of all their years in prison. But with organizations such as this, they can fit better into society giving them hope.
In conclusion, the two scenes of Brooks attempting to murder and the freeing of the crow are used by the director, Darabont to shows the level of institutionalization and lack of hope the prisons have for themselves. This has been shown through Brooks’ hopelessness and the effect that institutionalization has had on him making him every important character as these ideas would not be put to light. The director communicates these themes through the use of film techniques such as close ups and mid shots of Brooks to show his desperation and isolation. The director’s use of split lighting shows Brooks’ divided feelings about trying to kill his friend. The director’s use of mise-en-scene such as his funeral like suit and the black crow both foreshadow Brooks’ death. Finally, the director, through the movie Shawshank Redemption, questions the whole prison system and the level of impact institutionalization and hopelessness have on them. They may leave the prison but they may always be trapped in the prison of their mind. As Stephen King says, “Fear can hold you prisoner; only hope can set you free.”