A structural overview of
The Shawshank Redemption
(Frank Darabont, 1994).
It was nominated for seven Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Morgan Freeman), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Sound – but it failed to win a single Oscar.
This film has an interesting structure because of its unusual treatment of the protagonist. The POV character ‘Red’ is not the one with the clearest objective. Andy drives most of the story, although he is not entirely ‘honest’ to the audience. Only at the end of the story we find out about his real agenda.
One might argue that prisoners by definition have a strong desire for freedom. This is not the case for Red. He considers himself ‘an institutional man’ without hope of ever getting out. Despite the lack of a strong outer objective, Red is the character with the strongest transformation.
While the theme of the film is about ‘hope’ and Red’s arc is just about that, there is some sort of a weaker arc for Andy, too. After the death of Tommy and Andy’s two months in the ‘hole’ (a text book example of an Ordeal sequence), Andy has a redemptive moment when he says about his wife “She died. Because of me, the way I am.”
Because of the lack of a clear ‘outer objective’ for either character, the end of Act One is not really signposted. The end of Act Two however is very clear.
Have a look and see how you see the story structure of The Shawshank Redemption. Of course, there is no ‘right way’ of doing this. Depending on which criteria you use, you may have a completely different outcome and I would be very keen to hear about it.
Sequence A: “Fresh Fish”: New arrivals at Shawshank.
00.00 Andy Dufresne in car with gun.
02.00 D.A. quotes: “See you in hell before I see you in Reno.”
04.30 Eight bullets, two victims. He reloaded.
06.00 Verdict: Two life sentences for Andy.
06.30 Shawshank: Red’s parole hearing: rejected.
07.30 Red: I’m the man who can get anything for you.
09.00 1949: Andy Dufresne arrives. Inmates look on.
10.00 Red bets on Andy, he will crack tonight.
12.00 Norton: Your ass belongs to me. Welcome to SS.
13.30 Shower, clothes, bible. Red has his bet on Andy.
15.30 Lights out. “Fat ass by a nose.” Andy holds up.
Sequence B: Andy takes initiative.
19.00 Lunch: fat man dead. Andy: “What was his name?”
22.30 Shower: Andy taken by The Sisters.
23.30 Andy orders rock hammer. Red: “Grow eyes on back.”
27.30 Rock hammer comes in. “Book delivery for Dufresne.”
28.30 Sisters take him again. “He always fought.”
31.30 Roofing. Andy’s offer Hadley: taxes for three beers each.
Sequence C: Andy fights to improve conditions
37.00 Playing checkers. Getting to be friends.
38.30 Andy asks for Rita Hayworth. Red: I’ll get her.
40.30 Sisters take Andy in projection room.
43.00 Hadley beats up Bogs. To min. security hospital.
43.30 Rita Hayworth poster for Andy. No charge.
46.00 Norton sizes Andy up; cell checked, bible found.
49.00 Andy library assistant; wants funding.
52.00 Report over lunch; asks for pool table, organise funds.
Sequence D: Brooks and being Institutionalised
53.00 Sends a letter a week for funding; no answers.
54.00 Andy does all tax returns; Red assists.
55.30 Brooks goes crazy; 50ys in jail. Institutionalised.
57.30 Brooks lets Jake free; in halfway house. Bagging job.
61.00 Thinks of going back. Shoot boss? Suicide letter.
62.30 Andy reads letter. Red: “He should’a died in here.”
Sequence D: Hope and how Andy’s efforts start to pay off
63.00 Response to letters: $200 and lots of books donated.
64.30 Andy plays Norton’s record for inmates: 2 weeks in the hole.
68.00 Andy: “a place called hope.” Red: dangerous thing: Brooks.
70.00 Red: 30 years anniversary and parole rejected.
71.00 Andy’s parole rejection present to Red: harmonica.
71.30 Red’s ten years Shawshank present to Andy: Monroe.
73.00 $500 annual payment to library. Extension and music.
75.00 Inside – Out program and shady deals bringing in money.
77.30 Paper leaves a trail. No: Randall Stevens. A phantom.
Sequence E: Tommy offers a sparkle of hope.
80.00 New young Boy Tommy. Andy teaches him.
82.00 Tommy is sick of learning, loses interest and hope.
85.30 Red tells Tommy about Andy, Tommy realises who he is.
86.00 Tommy tells Andy and Red about Andy’s wife’s real killer
88.00 Norton wouldn’t let him go. Andy 1 month in the hole.
90.00 Red: Andy is innocent. 19 years.
90.30 Tommy passed his test: news brought to the hole.
91.30 Norton wants to see Tommy; Hadley shoots him.
Sequence F: Every man’s got a breaking point.
94.00 Norton lies: Tommy shot escaping. Andy refuses further work.
96.00 Another month in the hole.
97.30 “I killed her, Red. Because of me, the way I am.”
98.30 Andy about Mexico. Red: I’m an institutional man now.
101.0 Andy: get busy living or get busy dying.
102.0 Andy: go to Buxton. Something I want you to have.
103.0 Andy asked for a piece of rope for Andy. Breaking point?
103.3 Andy gives Norton three deposits. Norton wants shoes shined.
105.0 In cell: lights out.
Sequence G: Andy’s Resurrection
105.3 Red: That was the longest night of my life.
106.0 Man missing: Dufresne.
108.3 Red called into cell, questioned by Norton.
109.3 Hole in cell behind Racquel Welch: escaped.
110.0 Andy tunneled through wall in less than 20ys.
111.3 FB of night: shoes, climbing out, 500yds sewers.
115.0 Out. Bank, cashing in. Posts envelope from bank.
116.0 Press: “Corruption and Murder at Shawshank.”
118.3 Police raid on Shawshank. Norton suicides
119.0 Andy driving in convertible.
120.3 Parole board for Red. “I don’t give a shit.” Approved.
Sequence H: Living with Hope
123.3 In halfway house: “Brooks was here.”
124.0 Bagging. Asking “permission to piss.”
125.0 What to do? Break parole? Go back? Live in fear.
125.3 Fulfill the promise: Red goes to Buxton.
127.0 Finds box with letter: I’ll keep an eye out for you.
132.0 Red travels to Andy. “I hope”.
The Shawshank Redemption – Screenplay (Early draft by Frank Darabont)
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.
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6 thoughts on “Structure: Shawshank Redemption”
i am wanting to purchase a copy of book. where can i get a copy?
Thank you for your comment.
The book is available from Amazon here:
Hi Karl – Like your breakdown. Would love to hear more about your process of pinpointing key beats…
Ha! Good question.
I would say that while the outcome is very much ‘Campbellian’, my process is rather more ‘Aristotlean’. :)
I first ask what the main action in the movie is, then work from there.
this is soo good but would you please make some points i.e like
where are these elements started
2. story arc
4. inciting incident
it would help like upcoming film makers like me.
Your question goes a little beyond the scope of this particular article. If you go elsewhere on this website, you may find solutions to your question.
All in all, if you’re a beginning screenwriter, I would recommend you discover these principles for yourself by reading lots of screenplays.
I can help with this, as I’m running a screenwriting course that guides you by making you read and write the right materials to learn as fast as possible.