The unlikely greatness of ‘Shawshank’
MANSFIELD, Ohio — In the lobby of the Renaissance Theatre, Justin Tedders lifts his Tshirt: A poster for “The Shawshank Redemption” is tattooed across his entire back. The movie’s phrase “Brooks was here” is just above his right butt cheek.
The 34-year-old from Barbourville, Kentucky, a loader at a Walmart distribution center, beat out other Shankheads to be second in line at a 25th anniversary screening here in August, part of a three-day celebration in and around the prison where the movie was filmed. His obsession with movies is a safe way of channeling an “addictive personality,” he says, and anytime he’s in trouble, he returns to “Shawshank.”
“It’s given me a purpose,” he adds. “My back represents what it means to me. I can’t really tell you what it means. I can show you what it means.”
What does this movie mean? In its 25 years, as of October, “Shawshank” has emerged as an unlikely entry in the contest for the most beloved movie of all time. It’s not a family saga like “The Godfather,” or a geopolitical romance like “Casablanca,” or a technical masterpiece like “Citizen Kane” — just a boxoffice also-ran about two prison friends. It’s too sappy, some might say. It’s too neat. It’s basically an all-male cast. It’s not quite at those other movies’ level, but it’s not quite not at their level, as it’s spent the last 11 years as the No. 1-rated movie on IMDb. It somehow found the right alchemy of hope and friendship and, of course, redemption — with an ending so cathartic that, yes, this story still requires a spoiler alert. And it’s moved fans to make pilgrimages to this town in Ohio that once pretended to be a town in Maine.
When writer-director Frank Darabont read the original Stephen King novella, “it felt like a perfect metaphor for every hardship I ever endured,”
Morgan Freeman, left, and Tim Robbins in 1994’s “The Shawshank Redemption,” which has been the No. 1-rated movie on IMDb for the past 11 years.
The Ohio State Reformatory, where much of “The Shawshank Redemption” was shot. Now it’s a tourist attraction, with tours, a museum and a gift shop.