As a man serving out a life sentence in The Shawshank Redemption, ‘Red’ Redding (Morgan Freeman) is far from your average inmate. Cautious and well-spoken, Red offers many on the inside what they lacked themselves: perspective. When he befriends a new prisoner serving back-to-back life sentences, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), the two form a lasting friendship. But while Andy’s intelligence and gumption defined him, it’s the thoughtful counsel of Red, backed by his years of experience, that helps him through his years of imprisonment. Every now and then, we all need a little perspective to help us carry on. For moments like those, let these Red quotes be your guide.
“It was outdoor detail — and May is one damn fine month to be working outdoors.”
It’s important to always try and make the most of your situation, and very few were better at that than Red. When it comes time to tar the prison roof, Red jumps at the chance to maneuver him and his buddies into some outdoor work, especially since it occurs during the month of May, one of the best months to be outside. Even if your situation doesn’t seem to be changing all that much, it’s important to take solace in the little things as they come. Like Red says, those few moments drinking icy-cold, Bohemian-style beer made him and his fellow inmates feel like they were “the lords of all creation.” A quaint reminder that whatever your circumstance, it’s only as good as you choose to see it.
“I tell you, those voices soared. Higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream.”
When Andy holes up in the Warden’s office and blasts an Italian opera through the prison loudspeaker, all the prisoners gather around, taking pause to appreciate the music. While Andy provides a brief escape to those stuck inside Shawshank State Penn, Red puts an absolutely poetic spin on the moment, speaking of the fleeting moment of hope it gives to the otherwise dull existence of life behind bars. Granted, once the music was silenced, life mostly continues on as normal. But as Andy later puts it, there’s something about music — and the feelings it can create — that simply can’t be silenced. When you truly savor those moments, they’ll stay with you forever — regardless of if the power’s turned off.
“Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes, really. Pressure and time. That, and a big goddamn poster.”
If you’re not happy with your lot in life, the right mindset, and a lot of patience, sure can go a long way. When Red first gets the rock hammer for Andy, he scoffs at the idea that he’d be able to make his way to the outside with it, thinking it would take him upwards of 600 years. Eventually, Andy proves him wrong (by about 580 years), and it serves as a reminder that there’s very little you can’t accomplish with a little determination and the right set of tools. A good-sized poster of a Hollywood starlet to cover things up in the meantime doesn’t hurt, either.
“I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright.”
With Andy having successfully broken free of his cell in Shawshank, no one feels the loss more than Red. Though he missed his friend and confidant of nearly two decades, Red understands why he had to leave better than anyone. It’s easy to get mired into your own self-serving thoughts when life transpires around (or without) you, for better or worse, but it’s important to understand why things happen the way that they do. When you can, take solace in the fact that others are willing to do everything they can to make the most of their lives in the meantime.
“All I want is to be back where things make sense. Where I won’t have to be afraid all the time. Only one thing stops me: a promise I made to Andy.”
It’s all too easy to go about things in a way that you’re used to. For Red, that was remaining behind bars, the only place he’d known most of his adult life. But after being pushed out into the real world, he has to leave the life he was used to at Shawshank behind. Despite his difficulty adjusting, there was only one thing that managed to keep Red going: the promise he kept to Andy. Sure, a good perspective can make you wise and respected, but keeping your word can prove to be invaluable.
“I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”
A good perspective can do wonders, but it’s best paired with a reliable sense of hope. When Red finds his opportunity for a better life abroad, buried under a volcanic rock next to an old oak tree, it’s hope that keeps him going through it all. While we might not all have friends on the outside leaving inspiring letters and envelopes full of cash for us, hope — like the beauty of music — is something that can only be extinguished if you let it.
“Get busy living or get busy dying. That’s goddamn right!”
This is perhaps the best perspective one can have about life in just about any situation. Regardless of your circumstance, life is only ever going to be as good as you’re able to make it. And if you’re not willing to try and make the best of your situation, life will amount to little more than running out the days on the calendar. Luckily, most of us (I assume) won’t have to violate parole in order to realize this.