Escape from Institutionalized Society: Shawshank Redemption
After watching movie, probably over five times at least, I finally got to the original book by Stephen King.
The Shawshank Redemption is one of the highest rated movies in history. One of my all-time favorites too.
I was just going to sit back and enjoy an old story I always liked, about hope and perseverance. Instead, just like any other great stories do, it showed me another side of it.
Because you do get institutionalized. When you take away a man’s freedom and teach him to live in a cell, he seems to lose his ability to think in dimensions. He’s like that jackrabbit I mentioned, frozen in the oncoming lights of the truck that is bound to kill it.
Andy wasn’t that way, but I was. The idea of seeing the Pacific sounded good, but I was afraid that actually being there would scare me to death–the bigness of it.
I was startled. Shawshank wasn’t just a prison story. It wasn’t story about a guy whose life hit rock bottom. It was story for all of us. It tells a story about what we are all suffering from living in modern society. And how we might escape from it.
I found that Shawshank was a metaphor for any “institutions” we belong to. You culture, company, school, even family. Once we decided to get in (chose it or not), we need to follow certain sets of rules. Then, we start thinking inside of that small circle drawn by those rules. This is what education and culture is mainly about, to create individuals that follow rules, and behave. There are a lot of good in it, but there are side effects too. They might be well-hidden, but they are real.
I think this is what Red was talking about, and what Andy managed to escape from.
Well, it’s great. But I am not Andy. I am not that strong… You might ask.
In book version, the Shawshank story is actually manuscript written by Red, who also wondered the same but rejected;
Well, you weren’t writing about yourself, I hear someone in the peanut-gallery saying. You were writing about Andy Dufresne. You’re nothing but a minor character in your own story. But you know, that’s just not so. It’s all about me, every damned word of it. Andy was the part of me they could never lock up, the part of me that will rejoice when the gates finally open for me and I walk out in my cheap suit with my twenty dollars of mad-money in my pocket. That part of me will rejoice no matter how old and broken and scared the rest of me is. I guess it’s just that Andy had more of that part than me, and used it better.
Besides, Andy wasn’t natural-born superman either. Andy’s great escape plan, too, had so much uncertainty. There were too many what-ifs. What if some guard find that escape hole behind poster? What if they decide to transfer Andy? What if Andy gets parole? (Red found the last what-if scenario most “amusing” because they will move Andy to another temporary room for preparation and clean Andy’s cell completely, leading to the discovery of escape hole.)
Red thinks Andy too got scared in the last moment.
Andy just froze in place for awhile. After all, you can’t lose if you don’t bet. What did he have to lose, you ask? His library, for one thing. The poison peace of institutional life, for another. Any future chance to grab his safe identity.
Despite all of these uncertainties and doubts, Andy went ahead and got out. All those What if? and What have I got to lose? are very popular self-questions. But sooner or later, like Andy did, we must get up and say To hell with it!
And I believe that was the very lesson this story is telling us.
What is so liberating about Shawshank in the end is that Andy ended up freeing his friend too.
Wondering what I should do.
But there’s really no questions. It always comes down to just two choices. Get busy living or get busy dying.
I find I am excited, so excited I can hardly hold the pencil in my trembling hand. I think it is the excitement that only a free man can feel, a free man starting a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.
I hope Andy is down there.
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.