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Friendship, The Shawshank Redemption, And A Strange Case Of Cinematic Stubbornness

By TK Burton | Think Pieces | March 13, 2013 |

By TK Burton | Think Pieces | March 13, 2013 |

It started in college.

Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption, based on Stephen King’s short story “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” was released in 1994. I never caught it in the theater. A year or two later, during a summer vacation, one of my very good friends mentioned it in passing. I told him I’d never seen it.

“You’ve never seen Shawshank?”
“You gotta see it. Really good movie.”

And then we went about our lives.

Another couple of years passed. We graduated, we both moved back to Massachusetts, where we continued our friendship. One day, at a video store, it came up again.

“Aw, man. Shawshank Redemption. So good. I almost feel like watching it again.”
“Yeah? I’ve never seen it.”
(incredulous) “WHAT? Still? You gotta see it.”
“Yeah, I’m not really in the mood right now. How about Big Trouble In Little China for the 53,000th time?”

Time passes. We eventually became roommates. One day, he comes home from work, videotape in hand.

“I rented Shawshank! You’re absolutely going to watch it this weekend.”
“Sounds good. Let’s get blind stinking drunk.” (Not my exact words, but definitely my intent)

We go on a weekend-long bender, and the movie is never watched.

But now, the die has been cast. One of my many, many flaws is my unreasonable, frustrating, and inexplicable stubbornness on really random issues. It drives my wife crazy. There are some things that I just despise with no good reason, or with reasons that only make sense in the dark, buzzing corners of my brain. One of those things is being told that I have to do something, or that I absolutely will like something. I dig my heels in and squinch my eyes shut and that’s the end of it.

And so here we are, 19 years after the release of The Shawshank Redemption. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and two Golden Globes. It made the (revised) AFI’s 100 Movies… 100 Years list. This very week, it was mentioned on this very site on one of our great Seriously Random Lists. It is near-universally beloved. It is available to rent for $1.99 on Amazon Instant, a far cry from the days of renting it for $5.00 from Blockbuster. It is a mere click away, the cost of a candy bar or a bottle of water. I wouldn’t even need to rise from my seat, from the very seat I sit in as I type this.

But no. It is 2013, and I still haven’t seen The Shawshank Redemption. It feels foolish now. An irrational, childish bullheadedness. It’s embarrassing. When I tell people nowadays, they look at me like I told them I that I like to expose myself in front of nuns — disgust, with a touch of bafflement. And yet… I still haven’t seen it. Watching it now feels like it would be caving in, capitulating, almost as silly as not watching it all these years. I know, OK? I know. There’s no logic or reason to this. It is almost certainly a wonderful film that I would doubtless appreciate. But this refusal to bend, to break, to overcome my own obstinacy has become a part of me now, a strange and enduring piece of me that I for some odd reason simply cannot change. This is made all the more ridiculous given who I am… someone who loves — honestly and truly loves — movies. Yet this peculiar hobgoblin, this particularly foolish consistency, refuses to leave me. So perhaps that’s who I am now. A comic book geek, a movie buff, a lover of books and music and games and the outdoors, a husband, a father, and a friend. Who has reluctantly, shamefully, come to admit that he is missing out on one of the great cinematic achievements, for no good reason other than a 20 year-long vendetta against being told what to do.

I don’t even have a good reason for writing this, other than the cathartic release of finally trying to put it out there for all to see. We all have these foibles, I suspect. My wife has never seen “Firefly,” despite my insistence that she’d love it (she totally would, you guys). We started watching it once together, three years ago. She fell asleep, and that was the end of it. I’m sure many of you are scoffing and harrumphing and judging, and that’s fine. But I’m willing to bet that each and every one of you has something like this, some version of The Shawshank Redemption that has been with you for so long, regardless of thought or logic or reason, that it’s now simply a part of you, even as you acknowledge that you might be all the better without that part. Maybe it’s not just the movies we’ve seen that forge common bonds. It’s OK. Feel free to talk about it in the comments, if you like. Others might judge you. For once, I will not.

That friend who recommended it? He’s still around. We hang out, we go camping, we have the occasional adventure/mishap. He came to South Africa to be the best man in my wedding, and I went to Mississippi to be the best man in his. He had his first child six weeks after I had mine, guaranteeing that our friendship will continue into the next generation. We still talk about music and movies and comic books and video games. Every now and then he shakes his head at me, bemused by my stubbornness. And I’ll be honest — that’s part of who we are now. And I guess I’m OK with that.

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TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.