OBJECTIVE: Watch a popular or critically acclaimed film we’ve never seen to the halfway point. Pause it. Work together to predict the ending.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)

THE LAST THING WE SAW: We paused at 1:11:00, just after Andy plays the record over the PA system. He’s about to sit down for lunch and tell the other prisoners what his punishment was.

And now… discuss!

Phil: Genuinely, I have little to no idea where the film is going. It seems to be a pastiche of prison life, with a focus in particular on one man’s experience, all the while to some degree looking at some of the flaws or problems with prison life (such as Brooks’s difficulties returning to the outside world). If the film continues in this vein, I am guessing that we will see Andy grow old in this place, see a few more of the trials and tribulations he experiences (although he is continually more and more liked as the film progresses, in spite of the stunt he pulled right before we pressed pause). Being older, I am also assuming that Red, for all intents and purposes his aide, his guide, and, perhaps most importantly, his friend, will die before Andy. This will be a terrible blow to everyone, but especially Andy; he does not necessarily rely on Red, but his absence will be felt. I have a feeling that this is where a large turning point will be. In the end, because a small portion of the flick is concerned with the flaws in the prison system, I think we will see Andy either going through something so horrific that it takes most of him with it, or that he will die happily in the prison, but with some sinister aspect surrounding it. One final thought for now is that we still do not know if he is guilty or not– a lot of signs point to this, and I wonder whether or not this ambiguity will come into play.

I’ll leave it at that for now, but I am also wondering whether there is not going to be some enormous bend in the plotline, one that makes us all go, “Oh boy, now this just became a trip.”

Ben: The film certainly contains vignettes that could occur in any prison at any time. The themes that emerge are almost as universal. However, the film would be doing itself a disservice if Dufresne was not a man on a mission, or at least a good improviser. But he has been showing the signs of a plan. He, multiple times, makes sure Red can get anything for him. He explains his reasoning for each “purchase.” So far, he wants/gets a rock hammer, some alabaster and soapstone, “Rita Hayworth” (a poster of her), and we later see that he has obtained “rock blankets” to smooth over his rocks. (Jesus, Dufresne, they’re minerals!) He’s making friends or allies in very strategic places, and is almost silent to everyone else. Dufresne is on a mission to get out. If he doesn’t, it’s a commentary on man’s inhumanity to man, deserved or otherwise. If he does, it’s a slow-building triumphant caper.

What do you think of Dufresne’s alleged innocence, my point-five pal? I’ll say this: he’s shifty when he faces the prosecuting attorney in court, and he’s always reluctant to speak, even sounding painfully constipated when doing so.

Phil: First of all, one of the things that is true for me is that, in general, I am the type of viewer that is easily led down the garden path its creator is hoping for. Thus, when they make it out to be a generic prison-life movie, it is a prison-life movie in this man’s noggin. I think you may be right that there is more going on, and this “plan” could easily be the plot-bending reveal I mentioned above. However, do you think it really is just about getting out? This also seems like pretty well-worn territory in the genre.

As for his innocence, I also noted the shiftiness in his demeanor. However, I really can’t say. If I had to guess, I think it’ll come out that he is innocent, but that the events make a much more complicated story. Perhaps this is part of the “plan,” that he is breaking out of the prison to straighten out what happened (e.g. seek revenge on someone who framed him, etc.).

Either that, or all of this is in his head.

Ben: I definitely don’t think it’s just about getting out; I think it is the end (or not), and that the means and/or circumstances are largely what we’ve been seeing. I see it coming as less of a bend and more of a very gradual arc, with a careful hand on the protractor of plot. I don’t want to believe that he is guilty, it’s just that we’re given little else to go on at this point. Frankly, I hope it’s as you’ve described: a complicated, twisty, regretful innocence. What did you think about the foreshadowing, of this or anything else? It opens with sad music and drunken gun contemplation. Hell, there’s a prison with the word “shank” in the name!

Phil: I will admit I hadn’t noticed the foreshadowing you mentioned, but I am convinced you’re right that this will all come into play. Let’s add it up: rock hammer (how did this get unnoticed in the raid?), rocks (ostensibly for chess pieces), rock blankets, Rita Hayworth poster. Perhaps hiding his body amongst the rocks in the rock blankets and… hiding his way out?! Either that or some serious prolonged “gazing” (onanism) with Rita, and making sure everything is spic and span for the next inspection. Beh.

(As for his innocence, the song was “If I Didn’t Care” by the Ink Spots– props to the music department. This would, in turn, imply that he cares a lot about the outcome of the events. Also, lest we forget, he did drop his gun before approaching the house.)

Ben: Hmm, I noticed that he dropped some bullets before entering, but didn’t see the gun on the ground. I do think Dufresne cares about the sequence of events, past and present. The song title reminds me of If I Did It, the *ahem* hypothetical O.J. murder story. If Dufresne did it, how do you think shit would have gone down?

Phil: Ah, ’twere the bullets he dropped? Then the fucker’s guilty. Kidding. If he did do it, I think he came in and went all Bogart on them, reloaded and aimed between the eyes. But then again, I’m still deliriously wandering down their garden path. I’m more curious what you think about this: if he didn’t do it, what exactly happened? Furthermore, what do you think his in-prison plan is if it isn’t longing for Rita Hayworth while trussed up in a rock-infested blanket? Huh?

Ben: I think his in-prison plan is not to be in prison. If he didn’t do it (and, bluntly, why is there a movie if he did?), I think the golf pro’s para-more-or-less caught them together, and he/she, with an accomplice, plugged them silly. Either that, or a super-hyper-overdrive murder/suicide. He’s the thing: Captain Prosecutor said the couple died in each other’s arms. If you start shooting one of them, especially three times at revolver speed as Cap’n proposes, the other one is going. To. Move. There’s more going on than we’re being told, agree or wron– I mean, disagree?

Phil: Wait. Now, I’m no physics student, but if they died in each other’s arms, could a couple of the bullets have gone through their bodies and created two holes per bullet, allowing for only five or six to have been fired? Actually, not quite sure how that helps, but there you are. However, I agree with you that there is more to that story, and I like the idea that Arnold Palmer’s moll had something to do with it. Perhaps this is the reason Andy is trying to pull a Count of Monte Cristo and enact some revenge. Also, I’d still like to know specifically how you think rocks, hammer, blankets, and Hayworth (unfortunately not the name of an ’80s metal band) add up to escape.

Ben: First in, last out: I don’t know how he’s gonna do it, and I think a good movie should surprise me in that aspect. I also thought you would have used “gunsel” instead of “moll,” especially if it turns out to be a guy. Ballistically speaking, if you get the angle right and depending upon the type of bullet used, post-penetration penetration might be possible. But if someone went through all that trouble, I don’t think more than six rounds needed to be fired. My theories stand. Speaking of death, what did you think of Red’s line, “He shoulda died in here?” I think it speaks to Red’s (and likely Brooks’s) notion that Shaw-shank-or-be-shanked was his true home.

Phil: Totally agree. For fifty years that was the only world Brooks knew, and in turn the only world that could make sense to him. I found that quite moving to see not only how hard it was to adjust, but how desperately he wanted to stay. This is why at first I thought that perhaps the rest of the film could be Andy’s adjustment to being okay while living in Shawshank. However, I do feel that there is going to be a bit of a twist coming up: the one and only thing I had coming into this movie was that I had heard years ago that different characters’ disparate “perspectives” or “points-of-view” has something to do with the story, so perhaps the focus will switch to Andy’s narration, and from there we learn about the murder, as well as his perspective on Shawshank and his role within it.

Ben: Given not much more time, Andy could all but take over Shawshank, especially if he were to forgo the operatic antics. But does he want to? I foresee the opposite. Andy hates it there. If he doesn’t get out, or if the film doesn’t have some kind of twist, I’ll be peeved. I’ll leave with this: a picture of Dufresne in the middle of a large field is on the cover of the effing DVD case. Almost every Batman comic book shows that he wins. The fun is in seeing the how.

Ben Katz works in acting and politics. You can catch him in The Eighteenth Hour (now on DVD) and talk to him on Twitter. Phil Hobby is an actor, writer, and director. Check him out onstage in the MTWTFSS Theater Company‘s production of The Brown Clouds of Courage: The Musical, running until February 2nd at the Portland Stage Company, and tweet at him.