Character: Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding
Actor: Morgan Freeman
Film: The Shawshank Redemption
Role: A convicted murderer sent to prison in Shawshank in 1927 and paroled 40 years later, he is known for his ability to smuggle things into the jail.
“Red” is the narrator of The Shawshank Redemption and we follow the story through his eyes as he recounts the twenty year friendship he had with fellow inmate, and wrongly convicted killer, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins). He is well-liked in the prison yard and takes a liking to Dufresne’s quiet but determined way. Over the years, they become close as “Red” keeps Andy in possession of certain things that unwittingly become tools for Andy’s escape.
The Moment: Throughout the film, there are a few instances when “Red” goes before the parole board to plead his case and ask for clemency, hoping to be released. It begins early and periodically occurs over the next twenty years in the story, with “Red” trying to please the members, saying things that he thinks will win his freedom but only earn a “declined” stamp. After forty years of the same tactics he essentially stops playing their game and declares to the board that the word “rehabilitated” has no meaning for him, that it’s a made-up word for politicians to use about men like him. He dreams of speaking to the young, stupid kid he once was and to tell him how things really are. But he can’t. He goes on to say that all he is now is an old man who must live with who has become. The honesty earns him his freedom.
Why It Matters: “Red” is a gentle character that serves as the voice of the story, keeping us, the viewer invested as we all try to figure out just who and what Dufresne is. Through “Red,” we discover the diligence, creativity, courage, and endurance that Andy possesses. But we can’t trust the narrator if we don’t know the person. By steering the story in his direction every once in a while, he becomes humanized and a figure we empathize with. This moment, in front of the parole board, as he finally resolves himself to a life enterally behind bars, is the end of the character’s arch and while it might seem like he gives up, it is entirely the opposite, calling back to a scene earlier where Andy tells his friend that it all comes down to a simple choice: Get busy living or get busy dying. This is exactly what “Red” does in that office, accepting his fate and making a choice. It’s a great character moment.