In a time of fear, horror, and humility, where everything is lost and nothing is to gain, there remains one element that keeps a person alive. Hope. Two timeless films that are critically acclaimed for encompassing this theme of hope, racking in millions of box office dollars around the world, include ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ and ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. Both films not only embody the power of hope in achieving their final destination, but they also draw upon many film techniques to portray the purity of this theme perfectly. But what film does this better? In this essay I am going to give my opinion on these films and offer an in-depth comparison as to what film best portrays hope.
In the late 1990’s, director Frank Darabont created an absolute masterpiece that has withstood the test of time, ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. The film follows the lives of Ellis ‘Red’ Redding, Andy Dufranse and their twenty-year stint at the Shawshank State Penitentiary. Red (a guilty man) is serving a life sentence for murder, Andy (an innocent man) is serving consecutive life sentences for the murder of his wife and her lover. Throughout the film, Red and Andy form an unlikely friendship that transcends age, race, class boundaries and most importantly hope, ultimately leading to Red’s spiritual redemption and freedom.
25 years is a long time to chisel away at a prison wall using a tool hardly bigger than a fork, but it’s a hobby that keeps Andy sane. Most people with a life sentence tend to become comfortable with prison life but Andy is different, a concept supported through a variety of characters and touched upon countless time throughout the film. Demonstrated in a crucial scene of the film, Red observes, “These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized”. But Andy remains hopeful. Andy tells his friend, “Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies”. Hope is what distinguishes him from his fellow inmates. It’s the thing that keeps him focused and prevents his lapsing into depression.
Not only demonstrated through countless dialogue scenes, Darabont draws upon his very unique style of cinematography in order to capture the audience, with each film technique having a purpose to fulfil. The camera angles used by Darabont allow the audience to see the status of the characters instantly. Depicted at a low angle, corrupt prison warden Norton is demonstrated as having high authority and status in the prison. The prisoners, however, are frequently shown from a high angle portraying the insignificance they have whilst locked up. While Andy is inside Shawshank, we do not see many variations of color, mainly just shades of grey. These dull, lifeless colors highlight the prisoners lack of power and for most of the prisoners, their lack of hope. The grey tones are used in a way that symbolizes how the prisoners are supposed to act… dull, lifeless and without opinion, showing how institutionalized the prisoners become. Shown in a scene later in the film when Brookes is released, the dark color tones of the sky further support how prison life has and will always hold their inner freedom captive never to be truly free. This is in vast contrast when Andy reunites with Red, on an everlasting white sandy beach with the picturesque Pacific Ocean in the backdrop. The now vibrant, warm colors show how hope and perseverance aided Andy into being one of few that hasn’t become institutionalized because of his wrongful sentence.
‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is a powerful drama that reminds us that hope is a precious and buoyant emotion that can give our lives substance and meaning. The film takes on a more realistic but exaggerated approach of the theme of ‘hope’ and through countless, purposeful shot types and scenes achieves an iconic film for the ages.
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In contrast, ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ is a film that takes a more improbable approach on this ever-common theme. Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), an employee at Life magazine, spends day after monotonous day developing photos for the publication. To escape the tedium, Walter inhabits a world of exciting daydreams in which he is the undeniable hero. When given a life changing chance to obtain the perfect photo for the final print of the magazine, Walter is forced into an unbeknown world where hope is integral in achieving his final destination.
The film is about a man who constantly ‘zones out’ by daydreaming exciting adventures. Walter is a negative asset manager for a magazine company soon to become fully online. For the final print image, Sean O’Connell, a well-regarded freelance photographer, assigns negative #25 to be the last ever image called the ‘Quintessence of life’ but the images location is unknown. Walter is then thrust into a journey of many ‘real’ adventures in his search for the image and discovers more about life than he expected.
Walter follows the clues to Greenland in search of the wandering photographer. Walter begins to experience real adventures like a last second leap onto a drunk pilot’s helicopter, punching a shark, and surviving a volcanic eruption. All scenes of which are filmed at a bird’s eye view showing the inferiority Walter has and the shear hope he has in continuing his journey. However, Walters biggest challenge to be faced arrives when he returns home without the desired photograph. After breaking the news to his boss, Walter is fired and thrown into a world where his self-worth and confidence diminishes drastically. Walter is forced to move home with his mother and after a heart-to-heart dialogue scene, he discovers that hope has brought him to where he is now. Walter sets off again to find the photographer and finish what he started.
When Walter finally finds Sean on top of a mountain in the Himalayas, Sean explains he is trying to photograph the Snow Leopard. They spot the animal and view it through the camera. Walter asks Sean when he will take the picture. Sean’s response is a lesson for all to hear. “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it”. The quote, similar to ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, relates to the theme of hope majorly as it tells viewers that getting to the final destination will be a hard road, but when you get to it, be sure to cherish the effort and perseverance you’ve made because nothing in life will be easy.
In conclusion, as can be seen from this essay, both fantastically innovative films in their own way touch on the common theme of hope.