Imagination is the ability to form ideas and images in the mind which have not been experienced before. It is about being able to think outside the confines of reality and let your mind wander where it has never been before.
Andy Dufresne, the innocent convict, is given two life sentences back to back. No one really knows that he wasn’t the murderer of his wife and her lover, not even Andy himself. However, due to the scenes beforehand and the way Andy doesn’t deny it with great strength, we assume that he is guilty and that he deserves the time he received.
He is unable to deny the allegations as he was very drunk on the night of the crime and therefore he couldn’t remember much and the court did not believe him.
When we first see the prison, we see the sheer scale of the gloomy edifice which gives a menacing effect. The surroundings are beautiful but they are contained with the sombre walls, forbidden to enter the outside world.
Inside the walls, we the meet the callous prison guards and the warden, Norton, who couldn’t care less about the well-being of the prisoners. This scene gives us a sense of the brutality of being in a prison and how hopeless the situation seems. It brings fear to whoever arrives at its gates knowing they are going to spend a lifetime within its walls. The surroundings are beautiful but the prisoners are contained with the sombre walls, forbidden to enter the outside world.
Andy first shows the prisoners and guards his expertise in banking when he and a few other prisoners are tarring a roof instead of their usual work indoors. He overhears Hadley discussing a problem he had with money left for him by his brother and Andy goes forward to tell him how he can solve his problem. He tells him the resolution and offers to do the paper work himself instead of a lawyer, which would save Hadley even more.
He asks for one thing in return; beer for his co-workers up on the roof. On the second-to-last day, his friends sit on the roof drinking cold beer. They imagine that they are free men, and that it is their own roof they are tarring. Their imagination sets them free, even though it’s only for a moment. Moments like these, when they forget where they are or imagine that they are someone else is what keeps them hopeful. Without these bursts of freedom, the prisoners would be extremely unhappy and have nothing to remind them about the good things in life. They may forget what the outside world is like, like Brooks, and not want to go back.
In the first two years of Andy’s time at Shawshank, he had many encounters with “The Sisters”, Boggs being their “leader”. He suffered many beatings and bruises and the Sisters never gave up. What finally freed him from their hold was his very own imagination. He made up lies about a “bite reflex” and although he gets beaten up worse than he ever has been, he never sees Boggs again. After a week in the “hole” Boggs is beaten up by Hadley and is sent to a low security hospital. Andy never sees Boggs again and it’s due to the fact he imagined up a story to scare him.
The main thing that Andy brought to the prison which helped his as well as the other men was his hope and persistence. When the records arrive in reply to his letters for an improved library, he decides to play “The Marriage of Figaro” by Mozart. He plays it over the speaker system so all the prisoners hear the magnificent music. Darabont makes music a major aspect of this scene and doesn’t use music much in the rest of the movie. They all imagine that they are free at that point, because the music lifts them up. They feel the same way they did when they were on the roof and Darabont shows this by making the sick rise from their infirmary beds and the workers stop and gaze in awe at the speakers.
Andy gets time in the hole for this stunt, and he says it was a breeze because he had Mozart up in his head. He imagined music in his head, and the time passed by. He says that the guards can’t touch what’s in their heads and hearts, and that’s what will set them free.
Andy imagines what he could do if he perseveres and doesn’t give up. He does this in various situations and always comes out on top. The first instance is his request for a better library. He writes a letter every week without fail requesting for more funding. After receiving donations and a cheque two years later, he writes two letters a week. He gets what he wants and a brand new library is built with annual funds to help maintain it. The library benefits all the prisoners and inspires them to change. Many of the men leave with a high school standard education which they didn’t have before. This allows them to move forward in their life after leaving the prison.
The next case is with Tommy. He is put in jail for breaking and entering and until he met Andy, didn’t really think to change. He was illiterate until Andy started tutoring him and eventually he took the exam. Tommy doesn’t have confidence in himself, but Andy sends his script off. However, while Andy is serving time in the hole, he finds out that his hard work paid off and Tommy did indeed pass his exam.
Zihuatanejo is on the coast of Mexico looking out onto the Pacific Ocean. Andy imagines life in this paradise, free from worry and work. He thinks about the sea, and the way that “it has no memories”. He finally decides to leave after nearly serving 20 years in prison. He is imaginative with is departure, dressing up in Norton’s clothes. He also exchanges the record book of banking detail for a bible. In that Bible, he keeps his rock hammer so the guards wouldn’t find it in their routine searches of the cells. This is very creative and keeps him undercover while he works on his wall.
The most important part of the movie is when Andy Dufresne finally escapes from the prison. He spent 19 years gnawing away at a concrete wall several feet thick with a rock hammer merely six inches in size. His imagination of what lies beyond the wall brings him preservation and determination which is what got him through that wall. The wall wasn’t the only obstruction from the outside world; he has to crawl 50m through a sewage pipe filled with human waste.
Darabont makes it seem to us that without Andy’s imagination, he would not have escaped Shawshank prison. This message, that imagination sets you free, can be seen throughout the whole movie. Darabont makes and issue of it when the men drink beer on the roof, when Andy fights off the Sisters, and when Andy escapes the prison.