Get busy living or get busy dying

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Get busy living or get busy dying

Any person who calls himself at least half a movie buff would definitely have seen this movie. And most probably it would be in his top of his favorite movies list. Yet, I was zero biased when I started to watch and to say I was overwhelmed at the end of it is an understatement.

It starts off with one of the protagonists Andy ( according to me there are three important characters ) is tried and sent to a jail (named Shawshank) under the offense of killing his wife and her friend, but he is innocent. In jail he makes friendship with Red who is also serving life time.

There are those sadists and jail goons who unnecessarily insult and thrash Andy, who tries his best to stand up and fight but is always beaten up. Meanwhile in one of the best scenes, Andy using his banking knowledge, offers to help one of the officers to save money. In return he asks beer for his co-workers. In this one master stroke act, he not only wins friends, but also gains recognition as a guy who could do with banking and finance. Also, the officers, when the goons beat him up again, thrash the goons and reduce them to utter pitiable bodies.

There is another librarian, who after serving for 40 years is let free. The scene in which he wants to kill another prisoner, just so that he stays in jail, afraid of the life outside is a very touchy scene. He is set free and unable to cope up life outside jail, he kills himself.

Red is slowly becoming what he so clearly understands – institutionalized. After spending, so many years within the walls, he realizes there is nothing he could do outside even if he is let go. He slowly gives up hope.

Meanwhile, Andy is so silent. He gets promoted from laundry to assist librarian, does tax work, he teaches a new prisoner to pass his exam, he even manages the records of Warden and cover his financial scams. He also gets the clue to who had killed his wife, for which he is serving in jail, but warden prevents the case get any further. 20 years pass hence.

But he does not give up, he has a goal – an immediate one was to survive prison, long term is the life after prison. He plans to get out of prison and achieve them. How he achieves forms the surprise and is the beauty of the movie.

There is this scene which is one of my favorites – Andy plays the opera music to the whole of jail through the speakers which is meant only to give orders. He knows he would get punished or ill-treated for it, but he does not care. All jail inmates feel happy for a minute hearing to the song, and Andy sits silently there. Even when warden threatens to open up the door, Andy ignores and sits silently, allowing the music to go on for a little while more.

Another interesting lesson is in the perseverance Andy demonstrates – he keeps writing a letter each week to get grants for the library and finally after getting fed up of his letters they agree to give one time grant and send over many books. Not very satisfied, Andy plans to increase the frequency of letters asking for more !!

It is slow, but likable in a vague way. There are sequences which absolutely mean nothing to the story and there are sequences which look trivial but add up to a grand plan at the end. And at the end, I was left gaping.

No wonder it has been rated in top films even among top spiritually significant films.

Some dialogs are excellent :

The funny thing is, on the outside, I was an honest man, straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook.

He’s just institutionalized…The man’s been in here fifty years, Heywood, fifty years. This is all he knows. In here, he’s an important man, he’s an educated man. Outside he’s nothin’ – just a used-up con with arthritis in both hands. Probably couldn’t get a library card if he tried…these walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, it gets so you depend on ’em. That’s ‘institutionalized’…They send you here for life and that’s exactly what they take, the part that counts anyway.

I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are better left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was as if some beautiful bird had flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.

My wife used to say I’m a hard man to know. Like a closed book. Complained about it all the time. She was beautiful. God, I loved her. I just didn’t know how to show it, that’s all. I killed her, Red. I didn’t pull the trigger, but I drove her away and that’s why she died – because of me, the way I am.

Philosophy other than movie :

The movie, at its face value, is as excellent as it could get . It has a good story, good performances and well written. The cruelty invoke pity from the audience, the surprise elements leave the audience speechless and mouth open in awe for a minute. But for me the take away from the movie, is “hope”. I enjoy the movie while watching for what it is, but when I go over it again and again, when I munch over it, I draw extensions, I draw comparisons…and thats when I probably come to a better conclusion whether movie was really worth the time or not.

This movie could possibly be summarized in that one great dialogue Randy says to Red “Get busy living or get busy dyin.”. For 20 years, he hasn’t lost the hope and he was reconstructing his life. Silently, persistently.

Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.

That’s TWENTY years and I am always just too eager to give up ! I get frustrated , disappointed very fast. Many of us are all in our own dungeon and after a certain time we give up.

There are three different mentalities depicted nicely in three who has given who is confused but is moving towards giving up ..and the one who holds up.


Since people call on hope in circumstances ranging from those where one has much control over matters to those where one can do nothing but expect outside influences to help, Andy’s use of “hope” is ambiguous. That is because given Andy’s basic circumstances, it may appear he’s invoking the latter meaning of “hope” — that is, he can do nothing but expect that his innocence will somehow, someday be revealed and he’ll be set free by these influences outside his control. However, as evidenced by Andy’s characterization prior to this scene, “hope” to him means the belief that the good, such as freedom, has a chance of being achieved, but such a chance can really only arise through one’s rational thought and actions

Whether or not Andy succeeded in achieving his freedom, it is his fundamental view of life, one which refuses to resign to hopelessness in the face of evil, that makes The Shawshank Redemption a great, heroic work of art.

Tagline of the movie goes “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.” And it definitely does not just mean about prison. It is the principle one should adapt towards any helpless, any hopeless situations in life – it does not or need not solve the problems, need not show the solutions, but at least it makes it easier to breathe.

PS: Kashmir Singh (who got released from jail after 35 years) said “Hope kept me alive”.

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