Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption – Stephen King

The Shawshank Redeption has always been one of those movies that people can’t believe I’ve never seen. If it ever comes up in conversation, there’s always that one person (usually several, actually) who says, “Oh, it’s amazing, you’ve got to see it.” I always smile and nod and think, yeah, like I’d be interested in a movie about a prison. I wasn’t interested, that is, until I learned that it was based on a novella by Stephen King called Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.

Honestly, I’m still not all that interested in the movie—I’m just really not a movie person in general—but I finally got around to reading the novella, from the collection Different Seasons, and it was really, really good. I can see why people would like the movie so much.

Andy Dufresne is sentenced to prison for the murder of his wife and her lover. He contends that he is innocent, despite the overwhelming evidence against him. It is this conviction, along with Andy’s quiet, thoughtful, methodical nature, that sustains him through almost three decades in Shawshank State Prison. His story is a tale of unflagging hope in the face of more adversity than you or I could ever imagine.

Red, the narrator, is one of those guys you find in every prison: the one who can “get stuff.” He eventually befriends quiet, taciturn Andy, often helping him get materials for his rock-polishing hobby, and once every few years getting him a new pin-up girl poster for his cell. Much of the story is Red’s amazement at Andy’s attitude: he never gets that dead, hopeless look in his eyes to which so many other convicts eventually succumb. He always walks with his shoulders squared, light of foot; he doesn’t shuffle with his head down like the others. In a place of vindictive guards and back-breaking work, Andy Dufresne retains his sense of self where most others have failed at doing so. And when he does the unthinkable, Red is hardly surprised.

I really enjoyed this story. It wasn’t nearly as heartbreaking as King’s other extremely famous prison story, The Green Mile, and thank goodness for that. (I was a mess for quite a while after reading The Green Mile.) It was, for lack of a better word, mild. Probably not the first word that comes to mind when you think of Stephen King, but the best descriptor I can come up with nonetheless.

I said above that, despite my enjoyment of this novella, I’m still not really interested in the movie. This for two main reasons: First, like I mentioned above, I just don’t really like movies all that much as a rule. I find it hard to pay attention to them for long—they are just not my preferred medium through which to consume a story. Second, I have an extremely low tolerance for visual violence. I can barely even watch a fistfight in a TV show; even a hint of blood gives me the willies. I can read just about anything, but seeing it makes me want to hide under the covers. I don’t know for certain that there’s a lot of violence in the movie, but based both on what was written and what was merely implied in the story, I don’t think I could handle it. But I can definitely see how it would be a good movie.

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is a mere 82 pages (in my copy, anyway), but it carries a surprisingly big punch. You don’t really expect a lot of hope from a prison story, but Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption deals out hope in spades. Andy’s refusal to give up despite the worst of circumstances speaks to us all, and inspires us to keep going no matter what.

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