25 Years of The Shawshank Redemption: The Movie that Legitimised the Guy Cry Genre

Pop Culture

25 Years of The Shawshank Redemption: The Movie that Legitimised the Guy Cry Genre

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Frequent flyers at Gatwick Airport, London recently voted The Shawshank Redemption as the fourth-best film to watch on an airplane. The three films above it were Bridesmaids, The Hangover, and Meet the Parents.

Think about this. A list that begins with cringe, comfort comedies that thrive on shock humour and loud characters, somehow also includes a quiet yet powerful film on the world’s most ambitious prison break. The Shawshank Redemption is a cultural anomaly that continues to survive and endure the rapid changes of the world, and I don’t think we quite know how and why.

It is not the greatest film of all time. Even though a lot of us first encountered it perched atop the IMDb Top 250, in our heart of hearts we know that the rating system on the website is, at best, questionable (for one, not only is it a list that includes 3 Idiots and Taare Zameen Par, but it is a list that rates them higher than Taxi Driver and A Separation).

However, even if it is not the GOAT, the film is very good. Excellent, even; a masterpiece, perhaps. It redesigns the traditional narrative of redemption to gain maximum emotional effect, pushing the right buttons at opportune moments. It was also released at a time when Hollywood was going through its most radical change.

The Shawshank Redemption makes you cry because of how powerfully it uses catharsis as a device.

The year 1994 is landmark for cinephiles. Pulp Fiction won at Cannes and took the box office along with it, making bank and altering the language of cinema forever. What didn’t change though was the Hollywood standard for masculine identity. And Pulp Fiction’s success only bolstered the idea of sex, drugs, guns, and suits being the markers of a powerful man.

Boys didn’t cry before the internet. They were discouraged to do it and disparaged if they did, and tears were held back in favour of punching holes in walls. Masculinity was, is and will always be fragile, but there exists this fine, straight line from The Shawshank Redemption’s failed release to BROCKHAMPTON’s new album cover that has two men comforting each other with a hug, and that line was drawn on the backs of Tumblr reblogs and Orkut testimonials.

The Shawshank Redemption makes you cry because of how powerfully it uses catharsis as a device. Andy Dufresne’s journey is one we become completely invested in, as with his friendship with Red and every other character we see in the movie. It’s a prison- break movie that doesn’t overexert on the prison break part of it, rather it gives us ample time to spend with the prisoners themselves, these broken bunch of lost souls who you begin to relate to in ways you didn’t think you could with a convict.

You don’t cry because Andy completes the task he set out to do, you cry because you find yourself invested in Andy’s catharsis. The task becomes irrelevant then – he could have been trying to cook the largest ever meal for all we cared, the script and direction’s emphasis on him rather than the task make us feel what he does.

the_shawshank_redemption_25_years

Andy Dufresne’s journey is one we become completely invested in, as with his friendship with Red and every other character we see in the movie.

Castle Rock Entertainment

It’s a movie for the internet age. The internet, where we endorse and express our feelings so openly, and feel validated when others seem to share the same thoughts and opinions. Shawshank climbed to the top of the IMDb Top 250 in 2008, right at the start of what constitutes a “post-Facebook” age. It appealed to the anonymous internet guy who publicly was bullied into holding back his tears, but got his time to share on internet threads and forums. It’s comforting to know that someone feels like you do.

Shawshank made it okay for guys to cry, and spawned a change in modern-day cinema that helps encourage this. Even superhero films today don’t end with the guy saving the day and getting the girl, they end with tears and male fans endorsing their bawling as a thumbs up to the movie. 

Cinephilia is depressingly masculine, but The Shawshank Redemption was a jab at turning it into something a little less toxic. In the 25 years since, we’ve now reached a new kind of cinema, a new kind of format, and a new kind of audience, and we’re ever so slightly better for it.

The real revolution though will arrive when men accept that they’ve cried while watching 27 Dresses.

Comments