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Darabont knew what to leave in, what to leave out, what to add and what to alter. Stephen King depicted Red as an Irishman. Andy was a World War II vet who wore gold-rimmed spectacles and was smart enough to sneak five hundred dollars cash in small bills up his ass into Shawshank (how did you think he was able to buy all that stuff from Red). Did you notice the film chooses to not reveal Red’s crime? King lets us know on page one:
I came to Shawshank when I was just twenty, and I am one of the few people in our happy little family who is willing to own up to what he did. I committed murder. I put a large insurance policy on my wife, who was three years older than I was, and then I fixed the brakes of the Chevrolet coupe her father had given us as a wedding present. It worked out exactly as I had planned, except I hadn’t planned on her stopping to pick up the neighbour woman and the neighbour woman’s infant son on the way down Castle Hill and into town. The brakes let go and the car crashed through the bushes at the edge of the town common, gathering speed. Bystanders said it must have been doing fifty or better when it hit the base of the Civil War statue and burst into flames. 1
Audiences would have had a hard time liking a character who committed such a crime. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but more a risk they weren’t willing to take. Sometimes less is more. Red admits his guilt, he’s spent the majority of his life behind bars and there’s not a day that goes by he doesn’t feel regret. If you ask me, that’s all the audience needs.
King described Brooks Hatlen as “a tough old con” with a college education who happened to murder his wife and daughter. King’s Jake was a pigeon (not a crow) and he didn’t have a thing to do with Brooks. Jake belonged to a fella by the name of Sherwood Bolton. Upon his release, Sherwood let Jake go, and a week later, Red found the bird dead in the exercise yard. But back to Brooks…he’s mentioned in just a few paragraphs, mainly to setup Andy’s job as Shawshank’s librarian. King doesn’t follow Brooks outside. Brooks never writes to the boys. Brooks never chisels his name or commits suicide. In the novella, Red says about Brooks, “they trained him to like it inside the shithouse and then they threw him out.” The idea was there and Darabont molded it into one of the film’s most memorable characters.
Finally, the scene where Andy broadcasts Mozart over the prison’s P.A. was Darabont’s creation. It’s the midpoint of the film, where Andy faces off against the Warden, not accepting his rules anymore. The transition not only represents Andy’s defiance toward the establishment, but also a bold step at breaking out, not physically, but in his mind. Just like Andy’s accomplishments with Shawshank’s library, the music is also a gift to his fellow inmates. He discovers something deep in his being that the Warden and Hadley can’t touch: hope.
Other key differences:
- The poster covering the hole at the time of Andy’s escape was of Linda Rondstadt, not Raquel Welch.
- There were three wardens during Andy’s time at Shawshank.
- Warden Norton has Tommy transferred to a minimum security prison, not killed.
- Warden Norton does not kill himself. He quietly resigns after Andy’s escape.
- Andy escapes to Mexico with his money, not the Warden’s (after his appeal was turned down, one of Andy’s close friends from the war created a false identity for him under the name Peter Stevens. He took over three hundred thousand dollars of Andy’s money and setup a bank account in Stevens’ name).
It’s not uncommon for films to differ from their source material. I highly recommend checking out King’s novella and Shawshank‘s shooting script. They’re both worth studying. For detailed analysis on The Shawshank Redemption, check out my Shawshank Redemption Screenplay Analysis.