Saturday, March 7, 2009

Music and Transcendence in The Shawshank Redemption

Stephen King's novella "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" is a dark romance that sets genres incongruously beside another—the hard-boiled realist prison novel and the nineteenth-century "escape" adventure novel (there is even a trace of the coming-to-age narrative, although in the warped sense of men coming to terms with the realities of life imprisonment). The protagonist Andy is falsely imprisoned for the murder of his wife. Only in the last two and a half pages of the ninety-five-page novella does the story suddenly come open, as the second protagonist, Red, is paroled and decides to follow up Andy's hints on how to join him in Mexico. In the feature film version, The Shawshank Redemption (1994; musical score by Thomas Newman), this corresponds to the last minutes of the film. Although both novella and film place the center of attention on Andy (Tim Robbins), the novella is written from the first-person perspective of Red (Morgan Freeman), who is now offered a deus ex machina, thanks to Andy's persistence and intelligence.

The novella ends there, with Red's hope that he can indeed find escape, but the film goes further to show us (to imagine?) the realization of that hope, and it is at this moment that the film's main theme, a simple melody, resists the old cliché of a descending close, which it has followed several times earlier, and instead reaches out and up to end on a high note just as Red, still absorbing the demonstration of Andy's generosity and loyalty, speaks of things "only a free man can feel." (The two versions are shown in musical notation below.) Two markedly different iterations of this transcendent, utopian gesture immediately follow in confirmation, and the film comes to an end with the two men greeting each other on a pristine, isolated beach as credits begin to roll, superimposed.


JB here: I found the clip on You Tube.

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