Shawshank Redemption: Micro-Analysis (Cinematography and Sound)
Scene:‘Brooks was here’.
The director’s powerful use of cinematography and editing create a powerful and emotive scene as Brooks; now an elderly convict, so used to a life of confinement, to then not being able to cope with liberation as well as being unable to exist in an entirely different society to that when he was first sentenced.
The scene begins with Brooks leaving Shawshank State Prison through the large black gates, with the prison officers kindly acknowledging him, wishing him well for the future. The framing of this shot allows Brooks to walk towards us as we see his vacant/hopeless facial expression, signifying that he does not know where to go, even though he has just been released. The camera zooms slowly towards him as he walks, creating a slow and sympathy for the character. A simple cut to the next shot sees Brooks, through a medium close up, on a public bus clenching on to the seat hand rail, a slow zoom into his hands, is used to portray how frail and helpless this man is. The next shot again reinforces this sense of sadness from the previous shot, where we then see that he is tight lipped through a mid-shot, staring off into the distance towards his hometown, wondering how the society he left behind has now rapidly changed.
With a soft piano score playing throughout this sequence, we feel immense sympathy for Brooks, because of the entire scenario we see onscreen surrounding him. The next scene, we see Brooks, walking down a random street, still in smart attire, suitcase in hand, however he looking lost as he crosses a public road. The dilapidated area anchors the sadness for the character and mirrors the melancholy from the minor key chords we are hearing from within the music. From this point on, Brooks is narrating his new life through the letter he is sends to his ‘fellas’ (friends) back at Shawshank Prison. He begins with, “I can’t believe how fast things are on the outside.” where we then see him abruptly stop as a car nearly hits him as he is crossing the road. The medium shot allows us to identify how the use of tracking of Brooks crossing the road corresponds with what Brooks is narrating, showing how narration and moving image work effectively to create sympathy for Brooks’ character. He then goes on to say that he “once saw an automobile as a kid, but now they are everywhere!” again signifying the longevity of his prison sentence. The medium shot of Brooks, with the cars driving by the foreground helps to convey his confusion at the speed of the world.
“The world got itself into a big damn hurry.” continues Brooks, where we cut to him, receiving a key to a new apartment looking up to a foreboding building through another medium close up, allowing us to gain the sense of how intimidating he finds the world on the outside. The director, throughout this sequence, always cuts back to Brooks on a mid-shot, so that we can see his eyes moving frantically as he comes to terms with his new way of life. He fills the frame, making this quite an uncomfortable shot, of which this creates the same sense of discomfort amongst the audience, so we mirror his feelings. Brooks then states that he was lucky enough to get a job, bagging groceries at a local supermarket. Again, we cut and pan across to a shot which we see Brooks doing his job, but getting criticised by a customer for not ‘double-bagging’. The framing of this shot is significant, as the store supervisor in the background, is behind Brooks, presented as being quite powerful through a slight low angle shot as he looms over him. This connotes the idea that Brooks is no longer the man he once was, he is elderly and is vulnerable to criticism by the modern yet younger businessman. Brooks himself, through his narration, states that “the store manager doesn’t like me very much.”
We cut to the next shot where we see a close up of pigeons on the ground; again, the director’s choice of panning slowly across then enables us to establish that Brooks is feeding the birds. The camera pauses, while we see crumbs falling out of Brooks’ hand, connoting the idea that time is slowing slipping away from his grasp or it could signify the crumbs as him, slowly drifting away from this new society.
The fact that we see Brooks feeding the pigeons, links to his love for the bird he owned in prison, hoping that one day he will show up, but he never does. The slow rise of the camera creates a heart wrenching effect because of the fact we are seeing an elderly man’s face showing no signs of hope and motivation, this is tragic for us to see onscreen. From the park scene, we then cut to a lower angle shot which is quite uncomfortable, Brooks being agitated in bed, not being able to sleep. Through the mid-shot, we see Brooks engulfed by darkness, scared of his nightmares of which he is falling. He is wearing a white vest in a bed with white sheets, this portrays how innocent and pure this man is, an enlightening person for those in prison, he was the librarian, to someone now so full of fear, of the one thing you’d think a convict would want; freedom.
We cut to back to a medium close up of Brooks working in the supermarket with his younger manager observing him. At the same time, we hear Brooks narrating, stating that “maybe I should get a gun and rob the food store…maybe shoot the manager while I was at it.”
The piece of dialogue shows Brooks has lost some form of his self-control and is saddened by his own predicament
At this point we cut to a close up of Brooks’ hands packing his clothes back into his suitcase, stating, “I don’t like it here, I’m tired of being afraid all the time…”. The close up shows his frail old hands as well as his poor ‘inadequate’ possessions, again this entire shot evokes sympathy. The camera pans around the open suitcase to show Brooks in a medium long shot in his shabby apartment. As he delivers the line, the camera zooms in and he walks into the frame. Brooks is fixing his tie in front of a mirror, which could connote the sense that Brooks is living within a fragmented life; what he sees in the mirror, could be the convict imprisoned within Shawshank, compared to him now living on the outside where he regards the evolving society as a worse form of incarceration. He then states, “I’ve decided, not to stay.” turning his back on the mirror, in a symbolic sense.
We cut to an Extreme Close up of Brooks brandishing a pocket knife, so we can see the threat it may hold; the camera pans upwards, where we hear Brooks narrate, “I’ll doubt they’ll kick up any fuss…not over an old crook like me.” Through a medium close up, he looks up towards the ceiling, where we cut to him climbing on the top of a chair through a medium long shot. Through this shot, we see the tidiness of his surroundings which again evokes sadness amongst the audience. We see an extreme close up of his feet as he steps on to the table. We cut to a close up of Brooks scratching a message into the ceiling arc. We see dust from the ceiling fall on to the desk top through another close up. As he scores the message, the dust falling connotes the sense of death, linking to soil on coffins of we are familiar with within film. This shot conveys a similar negative emotion.
Once Brooks has finished etching his message, the Close up of Brooks folding his knife behind the ceiling arc spindles, is reminiscent of his prison cell bars of Shawshank. As he takes his own life, we get a close up of his feet as they push the table away – allowing a brief focus on the focus of the jerking of his feet. The camera slowly zooms out revealing, Brooks’ scratched message in the ceiling woodwork, “Brooks was here” as well as the knot and noose of his lifeless body. The effect of slowly zooming out within the shot, softly establishes the horrific reality of an elderly man taking his own life, a statement so horrific to make, however onscreen, it is visually compelling.
Here, we could say that Brooke’s is finally at peace. It could be controversial to state that Brooks sees himself as being liberated even more from what he was afraid of in the first place…freedom within society not freedom from imprisonment.
The entire sequence ends with a cross dissolve transition, connoting the idea that the end of Brook’s life was peaceful end, a matter he took into his own hands. Also the fact that we are met with Andy Dufrense reading Brooks’ letter to Red, relates to our sadness and sympathy, with Andy repeating the final pieces of narration we heard from Brooks himself. Having the films two main characters, yet Brooks closest friends within Shawshank State Prison, read out the final part of his life, again portrays how powerful cinematography can be. Frank Darabont, the film’s director, through the uses of his engaging Cinematography, simple Editing techniques, between scenes that correspond with the dialogue but also the beautiful score playing throughout.