The Shawshank Redemption: Why Red Is In Prison (Who He Murdered)

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The Shawshank Redemption stars Morgan Freeman as convict Red but leaves out the details of his crime – so, who did he kill and why? The character in question narrates the 1994 film and mostly displays good behavior throughout, however, writer-director and frequent Stephen King collaborator Frank Darabont cut a relevant piece of information from Stephen King’s 1982 source material, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, in order to make Red a more likable character.

In The Shawshank Redemption, Red helps pass the time by acquiring goods for his fellow inmates. He initially takes a liking to Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a convicted killer with a reputation amongst inmates for being slightly pretentious. Red honors the former banker’s request for a rock hammer but also schools him about the unofficial codes of conduct within Shawshank State Penitentiary. During their first conversation in The Shawshank Redemption, Andy claims his innocence and refuses to admit that he killed his wife and her lover. In response, Red laughs and snarkily states that every other inmate is innocent, too. The two men become good friends over the years and while they rarely speak about their past at one point, though, Red does admit to Andy that he’s the only guilty man in Shawshank.

Related: Stephen King: The TV & Movie Adaptations That Stay Closest To The Source

King’s novella reveals the truth about Red’s past. The book character grew up without a father and then married a woman who came from a rich family. Knowing that his wife had a sizable life insurance policy in place, Red planned her murder by cutting the brakes on her vehicle. In a dark twist, Red’s wife had picked up her neighbor who brought along an infant. So, what The Shawshank Redemption doesn’t reveal is that Red actually killed more people (three) than Andy (two) was accused of, though it turns out Andy didn’t commit the crime.

In the movie adaptation, Red becomes a less hardened individual over time. He theoretically lost all hope after serving multiple decades at Shawshank, especially after the suicide of his “institutionalized” friend Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore), but it’s Andy who restores Red’s humanity in The Shawshank Redemption. It’s that spirit of friendship – which runs through lots of Stephen King’s non-horror stories – During a crucial moment, Andy returns from solitary confinement and explains that Mozart’s music helped him pass the time, giving him hope. Andy later acquires a harmonica for his friend Red, who shows his appreciation for the symbolic gesture but acknowledges that he’s not ready to play it (meaning, he rejects the concept of hope, at least for now). Whereas Andy can’t change the past and Brooks couldn’t imagine a future outside Shawshank, Red is firmly rooted in the present. That’s his comfort zone.

Just as Darabont erased part of Red’s past in The Shawshank Redemption, the thematic concept of Zihuatanejo, Mexico similarly does the same. According to Andy, his preferred landing spot has “no memory,” which makes it the ideal place for a convict like him. When Andy finally escapes, he leaves a letter for Red with a message of hope. Red spends the majority of IMDB favorite The Shawshank Redemption pushing against the past, pushing against the concept that life can indeed get better. However, by accepting his guilt and embracing Andy’s goodwill, Red can once again envision the future. “I hope…,” he says as the film comes to a close, “I hope.”

More: Shawshank Redemption Poster Plot-Hole Explained & The Real Solution



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