There’s a line in The Shawshank Redemption where Morgan Freeman’s character, Red, tells us, “Prison is no fairy tale world.” Except that’s exactly what it is in this movie. Make no mistake about it: Frank Darabont’s 1994 prison drama, based on a Stephen King novella, endures as a kind of modern fairy tale, albeit one that transplants the most basic of all human emotions to the least romantic of all story settings. Instead of happening in space, like The Empire Strikes Back, this tale unfolds in a penitentiary.

Interpretations of Shawshank abound; depending on who you ask, the film might resonate as everything from a simple bromance to a biblical allegory. However, by using the prison as a canvas for a humanistic hope parable, the film managed to tap into something sublime and all-inclusive, something that cuts across demographics and appeals to people’s innermost yearning selves. Or, as Red puts it, “something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it.”

The story of wrongfully convicted inmate Andy Dufresne, played with glassy-eyed stoicism by Tim Robbins, speaks to the imprisoned dreamer in all of us. He’s a man, Red tells us, “who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.” Anyone who’s ever felt trapped by their circumstances, anyone who’s ever hoped for a better life, can relate to Andy’s decades-long struggle in Shawshank State Prison. As The Shawshank Redemption turns 25, it remains essential fuel for the film-lover’s soul: inspirational and heart-aching, but also perhaps richer and more multi-layered than you remember.

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