Question: Analyze how visual or sound effects were used to emphasise the theme in the film
Frank Darabont used both visual and sound effects to emphasise the contrast between the two main themes of despair and hope in his film ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. Hope is the expectancy or desire that something good is going to happen, whereas despair is the loss of all hope. The visual and sound effects used to highlight the contrast between these two main themes were; camera shots, dialogue, lighting, sound effects and non-diegetic sound.
This film is follows the character of Andy Du Fresne, a successful banker who is wrongly accused of the murder of his wife and her lover. Andy is sentenced to spend the rest of his life at the brutal Shawshank prison, where he experiences horrific trials, meets new friends and learns about the importance of holding onto hope in a place were there is none.
This film is based on the novel ‘Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption’ by Stephen King. The director, Frank Darabont, goes to great lengths to emphasise the contrast between the two main themes of hope and despair through the use of multiple visual and sound effects. Darabont proves that hope can be a light in the darkness and that it has the power to uplift anyone from a valley of despair.
The beginning of the film starts with Red’s (a 65 year old man who has spent a large portion of his life imprisoned in Shawshank) parole hearing. In this scene, Red is questioned by board members about whether he thinks he has been rehabilitated and is therefore ready to be released. The theme of despair is emphasised in this scene through the visual effect of a camera shot. A close up shot is used to show the big red ‘REJECTED’ stamp that is placed on Red’s papers after his hearing. This shows that there is little to no hope of Red’s release and the film begins on a somber note.
The sound effect of dialogue is used to emphasise the main theme of despair after Red’s parole hearing when he converses with some of the other inmates. “I’m up for rejection next week” says one prisoner, whilst another comments “I got rejected last week”. This shows that the prisoners have given up on all hope of ever being freed from the shackles of Shawshank. Despair corrupts many of the prisoner’s hearts s they learn that freedom is only an intangible thought.
An establishing shot is used as a visual effect to emphasise the theme of despair as it displays the grey, looming manse of Shawshank. This shot is taken from above the prison and it reveals the dark and gloomy presence that the buildings exude. From this shot the audience can fully understand the theme of despair and why is is present in the hearts of all the inmates.
The ending of the film is a complete contrast to the beginning as it is brimming with new hope and happiness. It begins as Red embarks on a journey to fulfill his promise to Andy. This journey takes him to a hayfield in Buxton, where he finds the oak tree from Andy’s description. As Red approaches this oak tree, the visual effect of lighting is used to invoke a warm, hopeful atmosphere. Shining down upon the hayfield, the bright sun exudes happiness and foreshadows the goodness that is to come.
Bird calls are used as a sound effect to emphasise the main theme of hope in this scene as Red searches the stone wall for Andy’s special rock. These bird calls are significant as they link to the symbol of birds, which are used throughout the film to symbolise freedom. Birds are free to fly unhindered by any burdens, leaving the earth behind them. Therefore, the use of bird calls indicates that Red is about to be freed from his shackles of despair.
Lastly, the sound effect of a harmonica is used as non-diegetic sound as Red finds the box that Andy left him. A harmonica is of great importance as Red used to play one during his former life, before he became imprisoned in Shawshank. Like a thief, Shawshank robbed Red of all his hope and left him viewing this salvation as “…a dangerous thing”. This instrument reminds Red of the freedom he once had so when i is played during the ending as a non-diegetic sound, it represents the moment that Red’s hope is restored.
Frank Darabont cleverly contrasts the two main themes of despair and hope through the use of visual and sound effects in the beginning and ending of the film. The overall message that Darabont wished his audience would take away was that, we must never lose hope. We all need hope as no matter who we are or where we are from, at some point in our lives we will experience despair and hope is one of the only things that can lead us out of this valley of darkness and back into the light.
In conclusion, Darabont uses both visual and sound effects to emphasise the contrast between the two main themes of despair and hope in his film ‘The Shawshank Redemption’.