Analyse how language features were used to show the positive and / or negative aspects of one or more characters.
The specific language features of camera shots, diegetic and non-diegetic sound, pathetic fallacy, low key, and high key lighting, are all used to great effect in ‘The Shawshank Redemption,’ to convey the characters of Andy Dufresne, Ellis (Red) Redding, and Brooks Hatlen respectively. Darabont does so to show the relevance of themes of hope and despair, and by doing so shares several important messages for his audience.
Frank Darabont’s 1994 sleeper-hit drama, “The Shawshank Redemption,’ based on the Stephen King novel, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” focuses on the life of convicted felon Ellis (Red) Redding, and his interactions with fellow inmate and best friend Andy Dufresne. Andy is known as a christ-like figure because he suffers for the sins of those around him. He is sent to prison for the murder of his wife and her lover, a murder that he did not commit. Andy also brings hope to Shawshank, a place of despair and hopelessness. Dufresne inspires those around him and Red in particular. The prison is under the jurisdiction of the sinister Warden Norton, who rules with fear and violence, courtesy of his second in command and captain of the guard, Byron Hadley. Darabont’s purpose is made clear over the course of the film, as a balance between hope and despair is displayed through his characters. He teaches his audience that life is not always smooth sailing and that with the good, also comes the bad. Darabont’s message talks about determination through the adversity that we find ourselves in during our lives, as there will be a silver lining and the light will shine through the darkness.
Darabont uses language features with great poise, to bring to the fore the positive aspects of the character of Andy Dufresne. As stated previously, Andy is a christ-like figure who redeems others, by bringing hope to those who have none. He also shows a formidable level of determination and a great amount of resolve, by digging away at the prison wall of his cell in secret, for almost twenty years. Once Andy emerged from the sewer a free man, a voiceover (non-diegetic sound) is heard from Red, “Andy Dufresne, the man who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.” this carries not just a literal meaning, but also speaks great volumes about Andy’s character, and how he was able to push through many tough years of physical, mental and sexual abuse to reach his freedom. Darabont also uses an iconic high-angle shot that alludes to Andy once again as being that Christ-like figure, with his arms outstretched as if he was being crucified. Frank Darabont uses this positive aspect of Andy’s character to convey to the audience the importance of hard work and determination, and also how we are not defined by the situations we find ourselves in. Trials and tribulations are a part of life, and it is about how we respond to that adversity, that determines who we are.
A second aspect of Andy Dufresne’s character that is further revealed by the accurate use of language features during this film, is his selflessness and kindness towards others, in relation to his Christ-like status. A key example of Andy demonstrating this is during the ‘Music Scene.’ Andy locks himself inside Warden Norton’s office, and plays Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro,’ through the prison loudspeakers. All over Shawshank, the prisoners stop whatever they are doing and stand in awe and disbelief at what they are hearing. A high angle/crane shot presides over the inmates in the prison courtyard, as they look up at the speaker. A voiceover provided by Red says, ”Those voices soared, and for the briefest of moments, every man in Shawshank felt free.” This relates to the frequently mentioned bird motif throughout the film, which represents hope. Music had not reached the ears of the prisoners ever since they were brought into Shawshank’s cold stone walls, and Andy provides a means of escape for them, a glimpse of their old life, and the hope for a new one. Andy does this at his own expense, as he is severely beaten and sent to solitary confinement for an extended period of time. Darabont uses this scene as a fantastic example of Dufresne’s desire to fill others with hope, and inspire them to hold onto that hope. He tells his friend Red later on in the film, “Hope is a good thing, maybe even the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Darabont teaches his audience that we must hold onto the hope that we are presented with, and also to find satisfaction through helping others.
Darabont uses language features during his film “The Shawshank Redemption,” to reveal and communicate the positive and negative aspects of Ellis (Red) Redding, and Brooks Hatlen respectively. The director contrasts these two characters at different points over the course of the visual text, as both Red and Brooks create a very interesting dynamic between the themes of hope and despair. Brooks Hatlen is another inmate at Shawshank, an elderly man who serves as the prison librarian during his tenure. He is eventually released and commits suicide because he has become so reliant on Shawshank and when thrust into a foreign outside world he lacks purpose. He provides a negative example of those conflicting themes. Brooks succumbs to despair, while thanks to Andy Dufresne, Red does not.
During Brooks’ release scene, a full camera shot is used by Darabont, from the outside of the prison gate facing inwards. This shows that Brooks belongs in Shawshank. Outside only despair awaits him. Inside prison, he is a man of importance and on the outside, he is simply another old man struggling to keep up with the ever-advancing world around him. In contrast, the same full shot is used for Red’s release scene, except the shot is from the inside facing outwards. This signifies that Red, unlike Brooks, has a future outside of Shawshank. On the prison bus that takes all of the outgoing prisoners, Brooks is sat in darkness. This low-key lighting foreshadows what is to come, and indicates the despair that has filled Brooks Hatlen, who knows he is unable to reintegrate into society. Red however, sits on the bus in sunlight with the use of high-key lighting by Darabont showing that Red is holding onto the hope that Andy has given him. He has made a promise to Andy to find the oak tree that his friend proposed to his wife under, for reasons that he does not yet know. Darabont uses the characters of Brooks Hatlen and Ellis Redding, to show the audience how vital it is that we find and hold onto hope in our own lives, in times of darkness and despair, to not let troubling times dictate who we are. Through Andy’s influence on Red’s character, we are shown how important it is to look after and reach out to our friends, especially during the testing times that the world finds itself in presently, with the Covid-19 pandemic testing friendships and connections more so than ever before. Because as shown through this visual text, a simple kind gesture or helping hand, can prevent someone from falling into the clutches of despair.
Frank Darabont competently uses visual and oral language features, to show the aspects of vitally important characters Andy Dufresne, Ellis (Red) Redding, and Brooks Hatlen from his 1996 film, “The Shawshank Redemption.” A variety of camera shots, lighting techniques, diegetic and non-diegetic sound along with pathetic fallacy are all used fruitfully to demonstrate Andy Dufresne’s determination and selfless nature, along with how Red becomes positively influenced due to Andy, while Brooks, unfortunately, is unable to find purpose in his new life, as he is left unsupported and forgotten by the same system that is responsible for his dehumanization. This film has taught its audience the value and importance of showing determination especially when the “chips are down,” while also encouraging us to look for gratification through seeking to help others wherever and whenever we can because as we are shown by Red’s example this can make a major difference in someone’s life. Brooks Hatlen is a minor character that provides a very raw and upfront reminder of what despair can do to a person, and how someone who has spent most of their life institutionalized, is unable to come to terms with a world around them that could not be more different than the one that they remembered. This message is relevant to teenagers especially, as we often see plenty of positivity and smiles on social media which is not a bad thing, but it does hide that other side of life that is not talked about nearly as much as it should be. Because if there’s anything that “The Shawshank Redemption” has taught me, it’s that life is just as much about our worst days, as it is our greatest moments. That is what makes life worth living.