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The Ending Of The Shawshank Redemption Explained

"The Shawshank Redemption" is a classic film about the enduring power of hope in the face of adversity. Directed by Frank Darabont and starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, the film chronicles the daily struggle for survival in Maine's Shawshank State Prison. Banker Andy Dufresne (Robbins) is convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. He's befriended by Ellis "Red" Redding (Freeman), another inmate and a prison contraband smuggler. As the years go by, their friendship deepens and proves to be their mutual salvation.

By the film's ending, Andy Dufresne has engineered a remarkable escape involving a poster of Rita Hayworth, stealing the warden's suit, the transfer of illicit funds from the corrupt warden's coffers, and the mailing of a newspaper with evidence of the corruption in Shawshank State Prison. Then Andy effectively disappears. A year after Andy's escape, Red is finally released from Shawshank on parole.

A favor for a friend

Red spent most of his life in Shawshank State Prison, and, free for the first time since he was a teenager, he's uncertain of his place in the world. Upon his release, he ends up staying at a halfway house where a fellow inmate, a man named Brooks, had taken his own life. The parallels aren't lost on Red, who feels he has no place to call his own anymore. As he settles into the halfway house, he ponders what to do next.  Remembering a previous conversation with Andy, he journeys to a field. There, he finds a tin box concealed in a stone fence and, upon opening it, discovers a letter from Andy and an envelope containing some of the stolen money. In the letter, Andy asks Red to come to Zihuatanejo, a town on the Mexican coast which he'd previously discussed with Red.

Red reflects on the words of his friend, who said the only thing to do was either "get busy living, or get busy dying." Brooks chose to get busy dying, but, invigorated by Andy's words, Red uses the money to journey to Mexico to see his friend, hopeful for the first time since his release that there's something to look forward to beyond the walls of Shawshank. "The Shawshank Redemption" ends with the reunion of Andy and Red, both free men and beyond the reach of the law.

Get busy living, or get busy dying

Over the course of "The Shawshank Redemption," we see how the prison system grinds down the humanity of the inmates and can hollow them out until there is nothing left. But the film also provides examples of the sustaining power of hope and how one can choose to embrace it or reject it in the face of overwhelming despair.

Andy Dufresne's indomitable spirit allowed him to escape Shawshank, but beyond that, we see the ripple effect his sense of hope and quiet optimism brought to Red in the face of the near-overwhelming despair in his life. Andy's spirit and quiet kindness gave something to Red that his smuggling skills couldn't obtain in prison: hope. The hope that things could get better, a hope that Red ultimately embraces. Their reunion on the beach is a pitch-perfect ending to a powerful film about hope and its power to sustain and uplift.