Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Subtext – The Shawshank Redemption

Friends, say “hello” to Bob Thielke, a great writer.

Bob’s an “Environmental Scientist by day, father of two beautiful daughters and husband to my mahvelous wife by night, and aspiring screenwriter during lunch hours and late nights.”

His writing has improved dramatically since joining TriggerStreet and his
Father Max spec is now sitting on the Top Ten Favorites List. (I just recently reviewed it and loved it very much. His story also sparked a debate about character arcs, which I had hoped my review would put to rest.) In any case, it's impossible to NOT be moved by this story and by Father Max’s great sacrifice of love in the end while he and the Jews were holed-up in Auschwitz during WWII. Great story.

Every story Bob has written has become a Top Ten Favorite:

Trinity about Robert Oppenheimer.

Sunshine Studio Presents about “Les Sunshine” who tries to save his studio by making a movie for kids and by kids. In the process he might just save more than his studio.

Double Vision about Father Tom who “has been assigned to investigate two opposing visions. His choice on which one to believe will either save the world or bring about the apocalypse.”

- And, of course,
Frat Boys From Outer Space. Bob said that this was his “summer project,” which was “to write something based on the stupidest possible logline I could think of.” Hehehe

Bob’s submission – Frank Darabont’s
The Shawshank Redemption. (The link takes you to the script.) Here’s Bob’s scene:


Andy and Red play checkers. Red makes his move.

King me.

Chess. Now there's a game of kings.

...and totally fuckin'
inexplicable. Hate that game.

Maybe you'll let me teach you
someday. I've been thinking of
getting a board together.

You come to the right place. I'm
the man who can get things.

We might do business on a board. But
the pieces, I'd like to carve those
myself. One side done in quartz...
the opposing side in limestone.

As you recall, Red procured a rock hammer for Andy and in his own civilized and strategic way Andy worked towards his escape by scraping a pocketful of cell wall away from those pinup posters on his wall. He can do business with Red to get things he needs but his ultimate escape will be something that he wants to do himself. In a way he was laying out his whole strategy to Red using subtext.


MaryAn Batchellor said...

I have studied the Shawshank and Green Mile screenlays backward and forward. I am a huge fan of Frank Darabont. But, I gotta tell ya, I am totally missing subtext in this scene. I have no doubt that Andy is calculating and patient like he would need to be to play chess, but I think the chess is used more as a metaphor here than subtext. But then, what do I know?

Mystery Man said...

You know A LOT, MaryAn, and it shows on your blog. Thanks so much for this comment, by the way.

I almost included my thoughts in the post because I thought this scene needed more explanation, but then I decided to save my thoughts for the comments section.

Hey, correct me if you think I'm wrong...

Anytime we see in a movie two characters playing a game against each other, whether it be Checkers or Chess or a game called "World Domination" like in James Bond's "Never Say Never Again," it is always an allusion to something else. And the games they play and talk about playing here has a HUGE significance.

Red says, "King me." In the simple game of Checkers RED is KING, just as Red is the guy who is best at playing the game of getting stuff at Shawshank. And Red is content at being the master of this simple game. However, Andy is not. He is interested in another bigger, more complex game that is beyond Red's understanding. In fact, Andy wants to SHOW Red how to play and elevate Red's game, which Red doesn't want to do. It's practically an invitation to break out of Shawshank with him, but Red made it very clear here and on a couple of other occassions that he's not interested.

And so Red plays his simple game while Andy plays his more complex game that no one including Red comprehends, and... of course, Andy escapes without him. But the fact that they both played games at Shawshank made them friends and is one of many reasons they wound up together on that beach in the end.

Mystery Man said...

Ya know, after rereading my post, I'm thinking I may have only reiterated what you said, MaryAn... I don't know... Maybe the invitation to break out with him is more subtle than I first thought?

Anyone have any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I love Bob's SPs but I, too, am a little puzzled here. From my recollection of the movie, Andy didn't discover the crumbling wall until long after he ordered the rock hammer.


I can see different subtext in this scene. I might interpret it as Andy (the innocent man) telling Red (the guilty man) that nobility and civility are ways to retain dignity (some semblance of a civilized society) in a world of brutality. He's inviting Red out of prison via the chess board.

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong (thanks, Dennis Miller).

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Yeah, MM, I see the analogy. I just still don't see subtext. But, then that's the beauty of artistic interpretation, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Gimme --

He discovered the crumbling wall the first night he was in jail, if I remember correctly. They revealed this in a flashback at the end.


"Never Say Never Again" is NOT a Bond film. That movie makes me angry just thinking about it. I mean, yes, technically it is a Bond film, but so is the 1967 "Casino Royale" starring Woody Allen and David Niven.

If you want the scoop on the "Thunderball"/"Never Say Never Again" controversy, read this: http://www.answers.com/topic/thunderball-game, then scroll down to "The Controversy Over The Novel"

Mystery Man said...

MaryAn / GimmeABreak - you guys may be right. I throw my hands up here. I'm not seeing as much as I thought I did.

Bob - you out there? Have any thoughts?

Mickey - Hehehe... Your comment made me laugh out loud. I had no idea anyone could feel that way about "Never Say Never Again." I always loved that movie. It's been years since I've seen "Thunderball." I'll email you...

wcdixon said...

it's happening again - a scene promising subtext when there doesn't seem to be any...or its in fact a metaphor...or maybe Andy just wants to make a board and play some chess with someone?

I tell you MM, I'm afraid...very afraid...of submitting some scene and being so off the mark I get laughed out of the sidebar...(shiver).

Mystery Man said...

Hey, I know very well this isn't easy. It's damn hard! But to consider a scene that perhaps, after some thought, may not work is better than having no discussion at all. Nobody will think less of you for it.

However, Dix, I will defend you, buddy... to the very end.


Come on, give me a great scene!

wcdixon said...

Okay - I succumbed to pressure... but no obligation to use if it don't fit your bill.


Anonymous said...

Maybe it's both subtext and metaphor.

It seems to me that we, the audience, are being told things about both Red and Andy's personalities.

At the same time, Red and Andy are both communicating indirectly with one another.

What more do you want out of a simple exchange early in the film?

Anonymous said...

Lemme tell you a little story. Way back in Jr. College, I did some writing for the school paper. I mostly wrote little tiny stories, less than 500 words, that they'd publish on the op/ed pages(Dave Barry was my idol at the time). I wanted to get some feedback on a story before submitting it so my creative writing instructor passed it out to class without attributing it and said the writer wanted to get reader reactions. I sat in the back of the room and just listened. I was amazed at the number of people who saw subtext and the depth of what they saw. What was even more amazing is that it came from nowhere - I intended no subtextual meanings at all. No metaphors, either. It was simply a retelling of a humorous incident.

Each of us brings personal history to our reading and that history certainly affects our interpretation of the writer's words.

MM, why don't you give Frank a call and ask him what he meant here? hehe

Anonymous said...

Mickey Lee -

I just pulled up the Shawshank SP. It's interesting that Bob T. stopped his scene where he did. This is a continuation of it...
How's that rock-hammer workin' out
anyway? Scratch your name on your
wall yet?

Not yet. I suppose I should.
The above is part of scene 61. This is scene 62.
Andy lies in his bunk after lights out, polishing a fragment of quartz by the light of the moon. He pauses, glancing at all the names scratched in the wall. He rises, makes sure the coast is clear, and starts scratching his name into the cement with his rock-hammer, adding to the record.
It was right after that he asks Red for the poster.

So.... when he asked for the rock hammer and when he was playing chess with Red, he had no intention of escaping. He didn't discover the crumbling wall until that night.

Mystery Man said...

Gimme - First of all, that was a good point about Shawshank. It's been some time for me since I've seen, but I thought he had always intended to break out when he asked for that hammer, but I guess not. I guess this scene is more-or-less a metaphor. MaryAn's right. Although, on a first glance of any scene in which characters are playing a game against each other, I would be looking for some subtext in their words... But, ya know, even though this is a metaphor and revelation of character, you still have to admire Darabont's impeccable craftsmanship here.

And yeah, I'll give Frank a call for ya, Pat. I have the whole night planned out. We'll talk subtext, and then I'll get him drunk and convince him to let me read his Indy IV script. Hehehe...

BTW - that's a great story too. That reminds me of a review eons ago for an early draft of the Toy-Maker. A lady went on and on about how it's really a metaphor about Hitler and WWII and the Jews in concentration camps and I should really develop that theme. Hehehe... That still makes me smile.

Anonymous said...

Gimme --

I stand corrected. Thanks for checking into that.

It's been awhile since I last saw Shawshank. I guess I kinda liked the idea better that he was determined to break out as soon as he landed in jail.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

WC, no worries. A lot of it is subject to interpretation. And nobody is laughing.

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