Book vs. Movie
The Shawshank Redemption
Novella by Stephen King, as part of Different Seasons, published in 1982
Directed by Frank Darabont in 1994
Comparing the book and movie of The Shawshank Redemption
is like comparing a warm chocolate chip cookie and a brownie right out of the oven. When it comes down to it, they both hit that sweet spot and are better than the other during the moment you are eating them. Stephen King is a master storyteller. Even after reading his nonfiction work, On Writing
, about the writing process and his books, I'm still in awe of his ability to weave a compelling tale and think up random character traits. And Frank Darabont's ability to take King's words, characters, and themes and bring them to the big screen is just as noteworthy. I'd seen the movie tens of times before I sat down to read the novella upon which the film is based, ready to highlight all my favorite quotations when they came up. Some of them did indeed come up in the story, but others were nowhere to be found and were actually from Darabont's screenplay. He has adapted several of King's works with great success--this, The Green Mile
, The Mist
. Darabont also wrote the pilot for my newest addiction, The Walking Dead
, which was adapted from a comic book series by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard. The man knows how to adapt, it seems. The Shawshank Redemption
was nominated for Best Picture in 1994, as was Darabont's adapted screenplay.
Andy & Red
I was startled at the onset of the novella when I read the description of Andy Dufresne:
"When Andy came to Shawshank in 1948, he was thirty years old. He was a short neat little man with sandy hair and small, clever hands. He wore gold rimmed spectacles..."
I have no idea what the casting people were thinking when they put Tim Robbins, a tall and lanky man, in this part. Scratch that. If he performed Andy to even 50% of the end product in his audition, I'm sure Robbins clinched the part pretty early on. The same goes for Morgan Freeman. King mentions that Red
was of Irish ancestry and that he knocked up a girl from a rich area of town and her father was agreeable to Red marrying her and joining his optical company. Was he black? No, but again, Morgan Freeman owns this part down to the ground. After hearing people complain ad nauseam about the casting and racial issues in The Hunger Games, seeing how absolutely successful casting someone who captures the essence of a character can be, regardless of how they physically match a writer's conceptualization--it's just...perfect.
In terms of the other characters, several have been slightly altered, expanded, or combined with other characters in the film. I understand why Darabont would do this. In the book, Red tells story after story about Andy's time in prison and some people are only mentioned once. But King wrote some of the quirkiest things in passing, so it makes sense to attribute them to more central characters. The bird in Brooks' inner pocket, whom he feeds with the maggots from dinner is a perfect example of this. Bogs is supposed to be a hulking man, but in the book he is mentioned once and transferred out of the prison. Several of the sisters are combined into his character in the movie, and the actor who plays him is just so creepy... I can't imagine him as anyone else. As far as Andy's dealings with the sisters, it is scarily easier to witness them in the movie than read about it all. King writes frankly about things like the necessity of putting toilet paper down your backside to absorb the blood and Andy having blood running down his legs. I, for one, am happy that these descriptions were left out of the movie.
Several wardens rule over Shawshank in the book, but they are combined into one hardass warden, Norton, in the movie. Aging everyone and trying to keep each of them straight would likely be challenging so having one warden solves that problem. Plus, Norton was actually the warden when Andy escaped, as well as a hard-line Christian and a taker of bribes. The timeline in the book covers about thirty years, so considering the limits of how young and old an actor can reasonably look in a film, it made sense to cut it down a decade or so. (Especially considering that how long any of the characters were actually in Shawshank is of little importance, beyond the life sentences and the repeated parole board rejections.) One of the saddest scenes in the movie is Brooks, the old prison librarian, being released at an old age and not making it. I always liked the way it led to a discussion about what institutionalization does to a person. Brooks is only mentioned once in passing so the entire section with his time on the outside and his eventual suicide was made up for the film.
This scene is basically word for word from the novella.
Hadley was indeed the guard (screw) from the infamous tarring-the-roof/$30,000 incident in the book, but he wasn't necessarily the screw who beat up any of the sisters or shot Tommy, nor was he even around when Andy escaped, so the ending in regards to him is pure fabrication. Speaking of Tommy Williams, the thief whom Andy helped to get his high school diploma, the book finds him transferred to another prison when he provides information that might exonerate Andy. The movie has a much more dramatic ending for Tommy--a "midnight burial" while Andy is in the hole.
Both the novella and the movie are told from Red's point of view, and normally I'd say that the translation into a film takes so much away from the knowledge a reader gets from the narrator in a book, but the entire book and the movie are really about capturing the unbelievable qualities that Andy Dufresne had gained over time, specifically through the stories other inmates told about his time at Shawshank. He was unassuming yet surprisingly strong. To some people, he might seem like just a regular guy. But he was--a regular guy--a regular guy with an amazing capacity for hope. One of my favorite lines from the movie was a voiceover Red does after Andy has gone:
"I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up DOES rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they're gone. I guess I just miss my friend. "
That, and the last words to movie are two of the monologues I look forward to most every time I watch the movie. They both come, almost exactly from King's imagination. The most striking changes for the movie are in the last portion. In the novella, Andy doesn't steal from the warden. He comes to Shawshank with $500 hidden where the sun don't shine and he'd previously planned with a friend on the outside for proper investments to be made. His friend invested all his money and got the forged documents and hid them in the box on the hillside in Buxton. There's no rock hammer hidden inside the bible, stealing a suit and polished shoes from the warden, playing the classical music for the inmates, and the warden doesn't commit suicide in the end. Andy gets out through the same basic route, though. I have to admit, I really laughed out loud when I read that the poster at the time of Andy's escape wasn't Raquel Welch anymore, it was Linda Ronstadt. Imagine how funny it would be to see this in the movie on Andy's cell wall:
It would lighten up the tone quite a bit. Andy doesn't specifically tell Red to go look under the volcanic rock in the book. He mentions where his ID/some money is stashed and Red goes up there on a whim and walks fenceposts for days until he finds the one he is looking for. It just so happens that Andy has left him a note. As the entire novella is basically a journal written by Red, he mentions that he erased any mention of the Mexican town where Andy was going and replaced it with another Central American city in a different country to throw off the cops, should they go looking for Andy. The Texan city where Andy crossed over the border is chanced from McNary (in the book) to Fort Hancock in the movie, for who knows what reason. In the movie, there are only minor clues that Andy might've been planning something all along. Truly the only aspect of the book that I wish had been included in the movie and wasn't was the fact that Andy had a cellmate for eight months of his sentence, a rather large but somewhat simple-minded man who complained a few times about the bad draft in Andy's cell. Integrating him into the movie might've added a bit more suspense... but who am I kidding? This movie rocks without it.
(From The Princess Bride, by William Goldman and directed by Rob Reiner in 1987)
This is a very special rating that's reserved only for those movies that surpass the very books that they're based on. Inconceivable, for the most part but every once in a while it happens! We've probably already quoted these movies in reviews several times.
I've read several posts on the internet in which people say that The Shawshank Redemption
is a movie for people who know nothing about movies. I know nothing about actual filmmaking so maybe this is true. What I do know is that the movie has the ability to make me livid, ecstatic, nostalgic, and sad every.single.time I watch it. There aren't many movies in the same league. So, in a sense, I'd agree with those people--but I'm not into movies to discuss their technical aspects. I'm only into them for their storytelling, the characters, the acting, and how they make me feel. The Shawshank Redemption
as a book was thoroughly entertaining. But The Shawshank Redemption
movie? To me, it's perfect.