Question - Analyze how setting contributed to your understanding of one or more themes. “Setting” may refer to physical places as well as social and historical contexts.
Setting is a relevant idea when understanding the important theme of hope vs despair in Frank Darabont’s film ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. Shawshank prison, where a majority of the film is set is illustrated as a brutal place of horror and despair and is carefully illustrated through film techniques such as lighting, camera angles, dialogue and sound effects.
Based upon a Stephen King novella, ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is illustrated by a convicted felon named Red who narrates the story of a falsely accused man called Andy Dufresene - as he battles the hypocrisies and corruption of prison. The story focuses on the themes of hope vs despair through the suffering of Andy and how it eventually leads to the hope and liberation of the other prisoners; and eventually the redemption of Red when he is released from prison on parole 40years later.
Shawshank Prison is a key setting in understanding the important underlying theme of despair, this can be seen when the viewer is first introduced to the prison. Frank Darabont purposely uses grey overcast lighting techniques to illustrate the mood of the prison when it is introduced in an establishing shot; displaying the neo-gothic grey stone building which is done purposely to create an overwhelming sense of intimidation and fear. The audience is also displayed an over the shoulder shot of a guard holding a gun. Frank Darabont purposely introduces his audience to Shawshank prison in a bleak way to illustrate how this place contrasts to the theme of despair in the film.
Furthermore, through the fashion of which new prisoners such as Andy Dufresene arrive at Shawshank prison can be used to highlight the underlying theme of despair in the film. Frank Darabont purposely emphasizes on the sound effects and dialogue seen through the rattling of the metal fences as prisoners taunt and jeer “fresh fish,” upon the arrival of new prisoners. Red and the other prisoners even bet on which new fellow captive will “break” (cry) first. Finally, as Andy first enters the prison the director purposely uses a low angle which transitions to black which is used to highlight the dominance and certainty of Andy’s fate as intimidating stone walls loom high above the prisoners. The purpose of Frank Darabont highlighting the humiliation upon Andy’s entrance to Shawank prison in this film is to reveal the brutality and so the viewer will recognise this prison as a place of despair and cruelty.
To continue on, through actions of brutality at the beginning of the film - within the setting of Shawshank prison the audience is displayed the theme of despair. This is revealed to the audience through Andy’s first night at the prison, the prisoners are placed in a cage and sprayed down with a fire hose before being doused in lice killing chemicals. Then they are publicly marched naked into their cells accompanied by dark lighting techniques, and Red’s voice over “…The first night is the hardest… They march you in as naked as the day you were born…every year at least someone breaks down crying…” This is all done purposely to illustrate to the audience how this prison dehumanizes its fellow felons, through Andy’s first night at prison Frank Darabont displays to his audience the hopelessness or despair of the prison and the brutal customs that take place within this setting.
Finally, the harshness of Shawshank prison and the brutal reality is conveyed through how the guards treat the prisoners. This can be seen through the example of how Captain Hadley (head guard) brutally bet a prison to the point of death. This event took place on the first night of Andy’s arrival at the prison, a man broke down crying loudly, disturbing the prisoners and when Captain Hadley demanded “I ain’t going to count to three! I’m not even going to count to one! You will shut the FUCK up, or I’ll sing you a lullaby!” This dialogue displays how the prisoners were treated by the guards and when the prisoner refuses to be quiet he drags him out of the cell and beats him to the point of death, the entire scene is purposely shot in silhouette to highlight the sound effects of pain and terror. Frank Darabont’s purpose of this is to reveal to his audience the harsh, unjust and brutal acts that occur within this prison and how Shawshank truly is a place of despair.
The Shawshank redemption can be linked to events in our modern world, through our human condition every human experiences the challenges of hope and despair in their life.
To conclude, The setting of Shawshank prison illustrates the harsh brutal reality and aids it’s audience into understanding the important underlying theme of despair, this is repeatedly illustrate by Frank Darabont using film techniques such as lightning, dialogue, sound and specific camera angles to allude an ominous and intimidating setting.