Great Scene: “The Shawshank Redemption”

Red’s parole board scenes — three of them — are their own mini-story.

Since I’ve ventured back (once again!) this week into one of my favorite movies The Shawshank Redemption — analysis here and here — I figured why not select something from it for this week’s Great Scene.

But which one? The trial? Suds on the roof? Mozart? Brooks’ suicide? Andy’s escape? So many memorable scenes. And I’ve chosen this one — Red’s final parole board hearing — because it represents perfectly a payoff scene. Twice before, Red sits in the same chair in front of the same type of soulless, dreary people — the first time we meet Red in the movie in 1947, then about midway through the movie in 1957 — and goes through his rote lines:

MAN #l
It says here you've served thirty
years of a life sentence.
MAN #2
You feel you've been rehabilitated?
Yes sir, without a doubt. I can say
I'm a changed man. No danger to
society, that's the God's honest
truth. Absolutely rehabilitated.

And both times, the scene ends with a big rubber stamp slamming down: “REJECTED.”

Now it’s the third time in front of the parole board:

AN IRON-BARRED DOOR 274slides open with an enormous CLANG. A stark room beyond.
CAMERA PUSHES through. SIX MEN AND ONE WOMAN sit at a long
table. An empty chair faces them. We are again in:
INT -- SHAWSHANK HEARINGS ROOM -- DAY (1967)Red enters, sits. 20 years older than when we first saw him.MAN #1
Your file says you've served forty
years of a life sentence. You feel
you've been rehabilitated?
Red doesn't answer. Just stares off. Seconds tick by. The
parole board exchanges glances. Somebody clears his throat.
MAN #1
Shall I repeat the question?
I heard you. Rehabilitated. Let's
see now. You know, come to think of
it, I have no idea what that means.
MAN #2
Well, it means you're ready to
rejoin society as a--
I know what you think it means. Me,
I think it's a made-up word, a poli-
tician's word. A word so young fellas
like you can wear a suit and tie and
have a job. What do you really want
to know? Am I sorry for what I did?
Well...are you?
Not a day goes by I don't feel
regret, and not because I'm in here
or because you think I should. I
look back on myself the way I
was...stupid kid who did that
terrible crime...wish I could talk
sense to him. Tell him how things
are. But I can't. That kid's long
gone, this old man is all that's
left, and I have to live with that.
Rehabilitated? That's a bullshit
word, so you just go on ahead and
stamp that form there, sonny, and
stop wasting my damn time. Truth
is, I don't give a shit.
The parole board just stares. Red sits drumming his fingers.CLOSEUP -- PAROLE FORMA big rubber stamp SLAMS down -- and lifts away to reveal the
word "APPROVED" in red ink.

Red comes clean, no more spouting off what he thinks the boards wants to hear, but a true confession from his soul leading to this:

Here’s the movie version of all three scenes back to back to back:

What is different about Red the third time around? Why does he change his tune with the board? I’ve got some ideas, but I’d like to hear your thoughts about this Great Scene.

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[Originally published July 17, 2009]

For more articles in the Great Scene series, go here.