Visit the Movie: Shawshank Redemption

Shawshank Movie
Destination: Mansfield, Ohio

Movie: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

When I hear the term “movie magic,” rather than think of the technology– shadows move around so that we think they are real–I think of the magic as an unknowable X factor that appears for the fortunate few movies. Casablanca had it.  Recently  The King’s Speech had it. And The Shawshank Redemption definitely captured some movie-magic-fairy-dust that made it rise above the mundane possibilities of a Prison Movie, or a Buddy Movie to become a movie that inspires lasting adoration in its viewers.

Stephen King wrote Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption. He set it in an imagined prison called Shawshank in the state of Maine. The two main characters were an intelligent banker falsely accused of killing his wife (Andy Dufresne) and a street-smart Irishman (Red) who is the long-time prison wheeler-dealer.

From reception room to cells, Shawshank Prison
From reception room to cells, Ohio Reformatory as Shawshank Prison (with leftover Halloween decor)

Movie makers made a few changes, of course.  They found the setting they were looking for at the Ohio State Reformatory in central Ohio.  A brilliant choice that combines a Gothic exterior and church-like reception area with 6 tiers of claustrophobic cells. They settled on boyish-looking Tim Robbins as the thoughtful Andy and very un-Irish Morgan Freeman as “Red.”  And inside joke in the film has Andy asking Red how he got the name. Long pause. “Maybe because I’m Irish,” says a grinning Freeman.

Ohio Reformatory cell block
Ohio Reformatory cell block

To the movie-makers’ credit, they helped the magic along by giving adequate attention to the complexities of each of the characters–smarmy prisoners, cruel captain of the guard and the self-righteous warden.  While there is never any doubt about whose side we are on–who is good and who is evil–there is not a cardboard cutout in the bunch.

It is particularly satisfying to watch Andy outsmart the system with clever and bold plays, like becoming a tax advisor to the guards, making up a horrendous result of brain damage that persuades the “sisters” to back off on rape, and persistently bugging the state until he gets library improvements. Of course his final trick is after serving 20 years, he demonstrates that he was not the trusted model prisoner everyone thought.

Hearing the music
Prisoners in the wood shop listening to Mozart (re-enactment)

But Andy’s mind games only demonstrate he is someone to pay attention to and therefore his somewhat platitudinous advice to Red and others sticks with us. He inspires the prisoners by purloining the loud speaker system and playing a Mozart aria for all to hear. In solitary he says, “I had Mr. Mozart with me,” tapping his chest, “In here.”  He demonstrates the choice “to get busy living” is better than the passive “get busy dying.”  Ultimately, he gives us hope to overcome our fears, despite the fact that Red warns Andy that “inside” hope is a dangerous thing. Red gets the last word of the movie, and that word is “Hope.”

People pour into the city of Mansfield and the surrounding Ohio countryside looking to touch some of that movie magic.  The city has caught on and offers a brochure for a self-guided tour, and you can also book a complete tour with a step-on guide from the Shawshank Trail web site. (And see my companion post to this one about how Hollywood affected Mansfield in my guest post at Reel Life With Jane.)

Visitors tell the tour guides how the movie changed their lives.  Howe it affected them as they faced difficult times.  They want to see the courtroom where Andy was tried, the prison, the rooming house and park bench where James Whitmore’s character Brooks went when he was released. But most of all, they want to see the Oak Tree.

The Shawshank Oak Tree
The Shawshank Oak Tree, after wind damage

At the end of the movie, Andy instructs Red that if he gets out, he should go to that oak tree and dig up something Andy has hidden.  He does, and sets off on a hope-filled trip to find his old friend.

Even Jodie Puster of the Mansfield Convention and Visitors Bureau was amazed at the international news coverage when that oak was damaged in a wind storm last summer.  Although the tree grows on private property and you can’t walk right up and touch it, you can park across the Pleasant Valley Road and gaze at the half that remains. Like Red and Andy, the tree is busy living–despite a personal catastrophe.  Perhaps it has even more meaning now than it did when it was untouched and majestic.

I was able to follow the Shawshank Trail a part of a press tour arranged by the Mansfield Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. All photos here belong to me. Please ask permission before making copies or using on the Internet.

Believe it or not, I had not seen Shawshank Redemption before I went on this tour.  Since it is arguably the most popular movie (based on DVD and video tape sales) how is that possible?  And how about you?  Have you seen it? How did it affect you? Have you visited the locations where it was filmed? (For more specifics about the tour, please take a look at my post on Reel Life With Jane.)

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

7 thoughts on “Visit the Movie: Shawshank Redemption

  1. I had no idea there was a Shawshank Trail. Interesting.
    I saw the movie, though I don’t remember whether I saw it in the theater or not. I’ve watched it several times on television. It’s such an uplifting film. Even though the main characters are imprisoned, they never lacked their humanity.

    1. IF you watched it on TV, you’re with the majority. As I mention in my guest post over at Reel Life With Jane, the movie flopped at the box office, but took off with video sales.
      The Shawshank Trail is relatively new as a formal brochure, but people have been flocking to Mansfield almost since the movie was made. There is a prominent thank you to Mansfield at the end of the movie.

  2. Love that you’re doing these movie travel related posts — and that you’re guesting on a movie blog too. I thought that film was terrific, despite its title.

  3. I saw the movie when it was first released and it is now my favorite movie of all time. I think it speaks to so many because there is not one person who doesn’t cling to hope (spoken and unspoken) at some point in their lives. We all want to believe that we can “swim through a river of shit and come out clean on the other side”.

    We hold on to the hope that no matter how difficult our lives are, that it can get better at some point. So hope is not only a promise, it’s a currency…one that we pray will be redeemed before we are too old or too dead to enjoy it.

  4. Vera, Shawshank is one of my favourite movies for the reasons you describe above anbd more. I like the depth in the main characters and the little twists and turns. The prisoners all have some sense of good (and bad) in them which I like and the character’s actions are so believeable. I’d love to re-live the movie via the arious ets – I quite agree that the gothic church made for the ideal prison.

  5. I saw the movie in the theater when it was first released and thought it was a marvelous bit of storytelling with a very apt ending.

    My wife and I always watch the entire credits that roll at the end of a movie, waiting to see at what locations filming occurred. Having a sense of place makes a movie seem more real and less make-believe for us.

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