The Shawshank Redemption stars Morgan Freeman as a convict but leaves out the details of his crime, creating much speculation about who Red murdered and why he’s in prison. Morgan Freeman’s Shawshank character Red narrates the 1994 film, and mostly displays good behavior throughout. However, writer-director and frequent Stephen King collaborator Frank Darabont cut a relevant piece of information from Stephen King’s 1982 source material, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, in order to make Red a more likable character.

In The Shawshank Redemption, Red initially takes a liking to Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a convicted killer with a reputation among inmates for being slightly pretentious. Red honors the former banker’s request for a rock hammer but also schools him about the unofficial codes of conduct within Shawshank State Penitentiary. During their first conversation in The Shawshank Redemption, Andy claims his innocence. In response, Red laughs and snarkily states that every other inmate is innocent, too. The two men become good friends over the years, and they rarely speak about their past. At one point, though, Red does admit to Andy that he’s the only guilty man in Shawshank.

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The Shawshank Redemption Book Reveals Why Red Is In Prison

Morgan Freeman as Red playing baseball in Shawshank Redemption.

While the movie keeps Red’s crimes a mystery, the source material does not. The Stephen King novella reveals the truth about why Red is in prison. Before the events of The Shawshank Redemption, Red grew up without a father and then married a woman who came from a rich family. Knowing that his wife had a sizable life insurance policy in place, Red planned her murder by cutting the brakes on her vehicle. In a dark twist, Red’s wife had picked up her neighbor who brought along an infant. What The Shawshank Redemption doesn’t reveal is Red killed more people (three) than Andy (two) was accused of.

Darabont changed a lot about Red other than just omitting the reason why Red is in prison. For one thing, no one who read the book would ever consider Morgan Freeman in the role. In Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Red is a white Irish man. This is noted in a sly Easter egg in the movie, though, when they joke about Red having an Irish heritage. His fate also didn’t hinge on Brooks, who never took his own life when he got out of prison, making Red’s transition to joining Andy feel a little different from the book.

How The Shawshank Redemption Movie Changed Red

Andy and Red talking in the prison yard in The Shawshank Redemption.

In the movie, Red becomes a less hardened individual over time. He theoretically lost all hope after serving multiple decades at Shawshank, especially after the suicide of his “institutionalized” friend Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore), but it’s Andy who restores Red’s humanity in The Shawshank Redemption. During a crucial moment, Andy returns from solitary confinement and explains that Mozart’s music helped him pass the time, giving him hope. Andy later acquires a harmonica for his friend Red. However, Red rejects the concept of redemption, at least for now, when he acknowledges that he’s not ready to play it. Whereas Andy can’t change the past and Brooks couldn’t imagine a future outside Shawshank, Red is firmly rooted in the present. That’s his comfort zone.

Just as Darabont erased part of why Red is in prison in The Shawshank Redemption, the thematic concept of Zihuatanejo, Mexico similarly does the same. According to Andy, his preferred landing spot has no memory, which makes it the ideal place for a convict like him. When Andy finally escapes, he leaves a letter for Red with a message of hope. Red spends the majority of IMDB favorite The Shawshank Redemption pushing against the past, pushing against the concept that life can indeed get better. However, by accepting his guilt and embracing Andy’s goodwill, Red can once again envision the future. “I hope…,” he says as the film comes to a close, “I hope.”

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Morgan Freeman’s Thoughts On Playing Red In Shawshank

Red and Andy watching a movie in Shawshank Redemption.

Morgan Freeman might not be the first person Stephen King had in mind when writing Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, but it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing Red in the movie. While the character is markedly different to his literary counterpart, Freeman was able to slide into the role and deliver a performance that made Red a deep and memorable. However, Freeman almost didn’t play Red in the Frank Darabont movie. Red’s crimes didn’t factor into his doubts though — it was because Morgan Freeman he didn’t think he could play an Irishman (a concern story amendments quickly rectified). In an interview on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Freeman admitted that the script is what pushed him to look past his misgivings.

“I read the script. It was so well done. Such a good script. So, I said to my agent, ‘okay, I’ll do anything in here. What do they want me to do?’ He said, ‘they want you to be Red.’ Hell, that’s the movie. Yeah, I’ll do it.”

When looking back, Freeman also noted that he feels the movie was not a big success when released because of the title. He said he argued against calling it The Shawshank Redemption, but the studio said the other title was too long. Freeman believes that was what caused people to pass it by when it was in theaters. Luckily, Freeman also noted that it stood the test of time and picked up fans over the years. Freeman said the same thing to Charlie Rose when he was interviewed along with Frank Darabont and Tim Robbins on the movie’s legacy.

Both Freeman and Robbins called The Shawshank Redemption script one of the best they ever read. Robbins even pointed out that the best thing about the script was that it left out things that needed to be left out, including not answering the question of why Red is in Prison. Freeman said Red was someone who “took life as it came” but made “one serious error” that changed everything. However, he also noted a difference with the book. For Freeman, it wasn’t about the life insurance policy. He said Red married the wrong woman, and this pushed him over the edge. This makes Red in The Shawshank Redemption someone who deserved a little more redemption than in the book.

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