Psychology In The MediaCampbell Anderson and Duncan Clark
AP Psychology VI
Analysis of The Shawshank Redemption
Within The Shawshank Redemption, many accurate psychological concepts are present in compelling and captivating ways. Frank Darabont, the director, connects each character in The Shawshank Redemption to multiple psychological stages and theories. Throughout the movie, characters are put through the various and sundry tests of a state penitentiary and subsequently exhibit traits that can be psychologically analyzed. In a holistic sense, this film certainly possesses the power to maintain a viewer’s attention, as it contains a riveting and heartwarming redemptive storyline through its caricature of Andy Dufresne’s perserverance.
The Shawshank Redemption is a story about the falsely-accused Andy Dufresne’s life during and escape from prison. After being sentenced to two life-terms, Andy arrives at Shawshank Prison where he undergoes one of the most brutal experiences imaginable. Enduring perpetual bullying and harassment from other inmates, Andy tends toward isolation throughout the onset of his sentence. However, as time progresses, Andy opens up to Red, another main character which spawns an endearing friendship. Over time, Andy becomes popular among both the inmates and the guards, eventually becoming the tax manager for everyone - including the warden. Unfortunately, popularity does not result in release from prison. Andy reforms the prison’s library and begins to tutor Tommy Williams a character who has evidence that Andy is actually innocent. In an act of extreme malice, the warden has Tommy killed to prevent Andy’s release. This is another example of the terrible fortune of Andy, who has been imprisoned –as the viewer knows by this point in the film- unjustly. In the flash of a tower guard’s gunshot, the only man in the world who can spring Andy from his state of incarceration is dead. Or so it seems. Unbeknownst to the viewer, the most important scene of the movie takes place at the beginning of Andy’s time in prison where he receives a small hammer for rock polishing. Over the course of twenty years, also unknown to the viewer, Andy had been tunneling a hole which he used to escape Shawshank. The most satisfying part of the story is revealed after Andy escapes from Shawshank.. Andy leaves with over $300,000 and begins his journey down to Mexico. The film then shows how Andy managed to escape during a raging thunderstorm, through his tunnel and then out through half a mile of sewage pipe into an open river. The police never found him but we see how Andy visited various banks after his escape and withdrew a large amount of the money he had laundered for the warden’s corrupt schemes. The last scene in the movie is the most compelling where Andy and Red meet up on a beach in Mexico after Red’s release from prison. By this point, the viewer is amazed, because there is still a man alive who can spring Andy from his state of incarceration. That man is Andy himself.
There are many psychological concepts within The Shawshank Redemption. The first major psychological concept is regression, whereas one reverts to a more infantile psychosexual stage for comfort. This is evident when one of the prisoners cries out in desperation, “I want to go home. I want my mom.” When asked what he did to get put into Shawshank, Andy displays a self-serving bias, the immediate favorable perception of himself, when he answers, “I didn’t do anything.” When Red pokes fun at Andy’s response, Andy exhibits denial, a defense mechanism where one simply denies an allegation. Andy becomes very defensive and refutes Red’s claim. In the same scene, Red points out that a group of men has taken a liking to Andy. When pressed about this issue Andy says, “I’m not homosexual.” Red says, “Neither are they” which displays the environmental influence on sexual orientation. The concept of self-esteem or one’s feeling of self-worth is evident in the character of Red who has an almost cocky perception of himself because of his ability to smuggle things into prison. The feel-good do-good phenomenon, or one’s tendency to do good when in a good mood, is shown when Andy opens a trust fund for a guard and in return the guard rewards Andy and his friends with ice cold beer. As Andy becomes more and more popular for his banking skills, the warden turns to him for assistance. We see the foot-in-the-door phenomenon, “the tendency for people who have first agreed to a small request to comply later with a larger request” (Myers 646), with the progressively increasing freedoms that Andy receives from the warden. The frustration-aggression principle, the principle that frustration generates aggression, is evident when Andy picks up a film canister and beats the homosexuals when he is about to be raped. “Frustration is the underlying cause of Andy’s violence toward the sisters.” (Wood) Post-traumatic stress disorder, stress that lingers after a traumatic experience, is seen after Brooks is released from prison. Combined with role playing, the adaptation to norms in a social position or setting, we see how fifty years in prison can change a man. He became “institutionalized” and had developed a “role” within the prison. Brooks eventually killed himself after being released because of the stress he had after his release and his inability to function in a non-prison setting. When I saw this, I immediately thought of the Zimbardo prison experiment which yielded cruel and aggressive results because of the role-playing concept.
Overall, all of the major psychological examples were displayed beautifully and very accurately. All of the examples in the movie corresponded with the definitions of the terms and contextually resembled plausible real-life situations. Honestly, The Shawshank Redemption was very entertaining and interesting. However, once an A.P psychology student intermingles the many accurately displayed psychological concepts with the storyline of the movie, a different meaning of the movie is taken whereas one can truly appreciate the implementations of these psychological concepts and grasp a different perspective of the movie
Holistically, this film is one of the most entertaining films I have ever seen. From the magnificently constructed plot to the deep spiritual ties, this movie is well rounded and an instant classic. Also, through the many precisely presented psychological concepts, a viewer can take hold of a deeper meaning and understanding of the movie along with the harshness and difficulties that the characters of the movie endure.
Wood, Joanna. "Shawshank Redemption." Damaris: An Educational Charity with a Christian Foundation Working with People of All Faiths and None. Damaris, 2001. Web. 18 Feb. 2012. <http://www.damaris.org>.
Myers, David G. Myers' Psychology for AP. New York, NY: Worth, 2011. Print.
Psychology in the Media
1.) In Pink’s hit song “So what,” the speaker exemplifies the frustration-aggression principle. In the Psychology textbook, David G. Myers defines this as “the principle that frustration- the blocking of an attempt to achieve some goal- creates anger, which can generate aggression.” The song essentially follows the storyline of a post-breakup situation, and the speaker is clearly fraught with frustration toward her ex-husband. After initially venting frustration for the absence of her husband (“I don’t know where he went...I’m not gonna pay his rent”), Pink proclaims the following “I wanna start a fight!” Then, she insults her ex by calling him “a tool.” Perhaps the most telling portion of what is a truly fascinating song through and through is when Pink triumphantly declares that “We’re all gonna get in a fight!” (She declares this almost as if it is her primary purpose in life.) This concept of the frustration-aggression is also found in The Shawshank Redemption when Andy Dufresne attacks the homosexuals when they surround him.
2.) In a recent CNN article entitled “Ugandan Lawmaker Revives Anti-Gay Bill,” the issue of sexual orientation is very closely studied. The psychology textbook defines sexual orientation as “an enduring sexual attraction toward members of either one’s own sex or the other sex.” This issue is seen quite clearly in The Shawshank Redemption when the group of homosexuals constantly hound Andy Dufresne, wishing to have intercourse with him. In the CNN article, the anti-gay Ugandans possess a vicious countenance toward homosexuals. The controversial legislation in question would make some acts of homosexuality “punishable by death.”
3.) On the website maketheconnection.com, there are many stories of army veterans who are afflicted by post-traumatic stress disorder. They interact in an effort to cope with the affliction. The psychology textbook defines this issue as “an anxiety disorder characterized by haunting memories, nightmares, social withdrawal, jumpy anxiety, and/or insomnia that lingers for four weeks or more after a traumatic experience.” In The Shawshank Redemption, P.T.S.D. is visible in the case of Brooks, a longtime prisoner in Shawshank state penitentiary who cannot cope with the trauma of a release from prison into the outside world. Brooks ultimately commits suicide by hanging himself because he cannot adjust to a world he has been away from for over half a century.
4.) On an article posted on the truly riveting website that is scentoffaith.com, a homeless Chicago man gave money to a homeless woman. This man, after being given 50$ on the side of the road, gave some money to a homeless friend of his. Upon being asked why he did this, he stated that he was “feelin’ pretty good.” This is an excellent example of the feel-good, do good phenomenon. The psychology textbook defines this concept as the tendency “to do good when in a good mood.” This issue is present in the film when the especially strict and ruthless guard gives Andy’s work detail beers after Andy sets up a trust fund for him. When the guard is in a good mood, he does a favor for Andy.
5.) On CNN, there is a very interesting article about a woman who ran over a deer in her car. (Why is it not surprising that it was a WOMAN??) When she was asked by law enforcement officials what happened, she stated that “the deer ran into me.” Such a statement is a clear example of the self-serving bias. The psychology textbook defines self-serving bias as “a readiness to perceive oneself favorably.” This concept is easily found in The Shawshank Redemption when Red says to Andy that “everyone in here is innocent.” All the prisoners believe that they are innocent of any crimes because they hold the self-serving bias- this tendency to perceive themselves in a favorable light when in reality, almost all of them are really guilty of the charges they were accused of.
6.) Following the New York Giants’ incredible Super Bowl victory over the hated New England Patriots, Patriot running back Danny Woodhead cried incessantly. This is an example of the Freudian concept of regression. Regression is a defense mechanism that is defined by the psychology textbook as a case in which “an individual faced with anxiety retreats to a more infantile psychosexual stage, where some psychic energy remains fixated.” In the example of Woodhead, he retreated to a more infantile stage in which he shed tears to cope with stress and anxiety in his life. In The Shawshank Redemption, this psychoanalytic defense mechanism is seen when the fat prisoner cries during his first night in prison, and is subsequently beaten to death by a guard.