2019 Paper - Question 4 ‘Analyse how language features encouraged the audience to feel hopeful - or hopeless’
Cinematic history has forever been reliant on the language features used to make the audience feel specific ways, in particular, to feel a sense of hope or a sense of hopelessness. In the case of the thrilling ‘The Shawshank Redemption,’ both of these emotions are played on, yet the main idea of the film is to show that hope will triumph even in the darkest of places. Frank Darabont demonstrates this through specific scenes; Red’s parole rejection, the Rooftop scene, the Music scene and Red’s release scenes (Red is the main character and prisoner who has been in jail for 40 years by the film’s end).
Frank Darabont himself is no stranger to the concept of finding hope when a place of deep despair. When he was very young his family was forced to flee from Hungary and therefore he spent much of his childhood in refugee camps. These are the types of places where it is clear to see true despair. They often hold people who have lost everything, yet if one chooses to look deep enough a spark of hope can be found buried beneath. Due to such experience, Darabont has a particular affinity for directing films that contrast the themes of hope and despair, especially in regards to prisons, such as ‘The Green Mile’ and ‘Prison Break’
When the audience is first introduced to the character of Red (the main character of the film, convicted for murder), it is during a parole rejection hearing. It is through this scene that the prison of Shawshank and the reality of the despair that is felt is demonstrated. Red is shown to be a character who has lost his sense of hope and then through this, he has become used to the environment and ways of the prison. Red’s reaction when it becomes clear that his parole has been rejected, (signified through a closeup of a red rejection stamp), is not that of a man of hope. This is also demonstrated in Skeeter’s dialogue ‘I’m up for rejection next week!’ this is also significant as it highlights that it is not simply Red who has lost hope, Shawshank prison is a place that breeds despair. The audience is encouraged to feel this despair right alongside the characters, they are shown this complete lack of hope and it is through the use of these specific language features. This ties in with Darabont’s purpose of the film to make his audience see that hope can be found in the darkest places of their lives. To do this though, he must first describe the type of place that Shawshank is and make his audience truly feel a sense of despair and hopelessness.
The scene on the rooftop is significant as it shows the growing hope found in Red which is brought through the character of Andy, (Andy, fellow prisoner, who was convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover). This scene uses language features in a specific way to highlight a building sense of hope within Red. Andy puts his life on the line to help the brutal Captain of the Guard, which in turn means that the small group of prisoners are given a bucket of beers to share. A midshot of Red holding a tar mop in high key lighting is reflective of a growing sense of hope. He is able to see that despite the darkness and brutality of Shawshank there is also a lighter side, something to look forward to. This scene and language features are used to encourage the audience to feel a building sense of hope. It is this idea of being left with nothing and then having the realisation that there is something to look forward to, there is something in life worth fighting for that Darabont is trying to show to his audience. Not all is lost when hope can be found, and hope can be found in the most sinister of places.
A dramatic change in the feeling of hope within the film comes through the music scene. This scene is also instigated by Andy when he finds an old record of the ‘Marriage of Figaro’ and chooses to play it over the loudspeaker of the prison. The language feature of the music (diegetic sound) in the scene is significant as music is symbolic of hope. It signifies how the prisoners, mainly Red are beginning to find their sense of hope once again. Red’s voiceover of ‘I tell you those voices soared, it was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and dissolved those walls ways. For the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free’ again highlights the building sense of hope and freedom. This is due to the fact that both the music and bird motif are found within the voiceover, the music motif is symbolic of hope whereas the bird motif is symbolic of freedom. What these prisoners dream of most and hope for most is freedom so therefore these two motifs are intrinsically linked. This is significant as the audience here is shown that Red is beginning to really feel a true sense of hope, he is beginning to long for something more than what he has. Freedom has become something that he truly desires. This in turn makes the audience feel like they want more for Red as well, they now desire the same freedom on behalf of Red. Frank does this to show the audience that they can want something more than what they have, it is okay to hope for a better future than what they currently have. There is nothing to be ashamed of in hoping for something more, especially when circumstances seem bleak.
The first part of Red’s release scenes shows him as he leaves Shawshank Prison. This is important as it shows him leaving a place that he never thought that he would ever leave, thus reflecting the newfound sense of hope and purpose. As Red leaves Shawshank there is a full shot of him leaving the prison, the camera points to outside the gates. This is significant as it shows that Red’s future lies outside the prison gates even though he may not know it yet. The scene also uses the language feature of high key lighting which is used to highlight the hope and light that is to be found waiting for Red as he departs Shawshank. The audience is encouraged to be hopeful for Red’s future through these techniques, they are left to hope that Red will succeed in life, that he will be able to achieve everything that he now dreams of. Darabont does this to reflect a stark contrast from the beginning of the film. Red was a man who had lost all sense of hope, all sense of belonging, yet through the actions of others and deep searching, hope was still found, hope triumphed over hopelessness. This is the key message that Darabont tries to show to his audience, he shows them that people can change, circumstances can change, life can change. Hope can be found even when people may think that all is lost and nothing will ever change.
When Red is in search of Andy it is clear to see that he has finally let go of any sense of hopelessness that may have previously been holding him back. Language features such as high-key lighting and a close-up of him of the bus travelling to Zihuatanejo are significant as they present him in a relaxed, happy, hopeful light. His voiceover as he travels states
‘I hope I can make it across the border,
I hope to see my friend and shake his hand,
I hope the pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams,
This also highlights the freedom and hope that Red now feels. He has been set free of the demons that haunted him within Shawshank, he is no longer caged. Through these language features the audience is able to feel the same kind of freedom and hope that Red does. They want the best for him and they want him to succeed in his venture to find Andy. There is hope and desire on behalf of the audience. Darabont does this to emphasise to the audience the power that hope has as an emotion. Hope has the power to heal many wounds and can make a significant difference in the mental states of many. There is a point where hoping and looking forward to the future becomes essential to wellbeing.
In this way, the following of Red’s journey to hope from hopelessness by the audience through specific language techniques is relevant to the world today. It highlights that no one is ever truly lost within the darkness and people can still be redeemed even when they may have done truly terrible things. Darabont clearly shows the terrible nature of people and then follows this with a rollercoaster of a journey that his audience can become lost in. This journey reflects that nothing is impossible if one really wants it to become possible.