*NOTE: The following post is my contribution the Lovesick Blog-a-thon. that is now being hosted by Lucas over at 100 Films. Be warned that it contains SPOILERS to the film The Shawshank Redemption, so if you haven't seen it you probably shouldn't read on. Instead, you should run out and rent the film to watch as soon as you possibly can. For the rest of you, I hope you enjoy it. Happy Valentine's Day!
There is a moment in The Shawshank Redemption that never fails to move me to tears every time I watch it. It comes in the film's final sequence. When Red (Morgan Freeman) has finally been released from prison and is walking along a beach which joins the Pacific Ocean. His friend Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is hard at work sanding his boat when he turns and sees Red walking toward him. Red smiles bigger than we have ever seen him smile. Andy also smiles as he stands up. Now at this point, just when the film looks like it is about to "overplay its hand" and slip into what could almost become "melodrama" with a close-up of these two good friends embracing and the music swelling, the filmmakers employ (as they have throughout the entire film) remarkable restraint that makes the moment even more powerful. It cuts to a helicoptor shot that is pulling away from the two men!
That's right! It is not moving towards them in order to fill every inch of the frame with their highly emotional reunion. It is going in the OTHER direction. It is giving them their "privacy." Allowing this moment to be shared by them alone. And yet, though they are very small, if you look carefully you can see Andy jumping down from the boat and walking towards his friend as Red does the same. Neither man runs, though their speeds do increase slightly. We see Red drop his luggage on the sand and, in a moment that is for me one of the most touching ever committed to celluloid, they meet. The two little dots on the screen unite and become one dot. I remember when I first saw the film, I wanted these two characters to hug more than I had ever wanted any two people to hug in a movie before. People can debate all they want about "the greatest kiss in movie history." In my mind, this is without a doubt the single greatest embrace in movie history... not in spite of the fact that it is seen from a distance but because it is (and it is capped off by an on-screen dedication to Frank Darabont's agent and close personal friend who died just before the completion of the movie due to AIDS complications).
The Shawshank Redemption is, among other things (including one of my all-time favorite films) an incredibly deep and profound love story. People might find it odd to refer to it in this manner since it is primarily a dark, dramatic prison movie and that the relationship between the two main characters is not really depicted as "love" in the conventional sense. In fact, the closest we ever get to seeing these two characters be vulnerable/emotional with each other (save for the final scene) is when Red softly asks, as the they play checkers together, "Andy, we getting to be kind of... friends, ain't we?" To which Andy replies, "Yeah, I guess." Has there ever been a more undertstated classification of a relationship than this?
And yet a love story is precisely what I say it is, for is not friendship, after all, a type of love? Can two men who are "just friends" be said to love each other? I think they can and I am sure most people would say they agree. So, why do we not we actually say it more often?
I think that "man love" gets somewhat a bad rap in our culture nowadays. It is something that we hardly ever see depicted in movies, TV, etc. Heterosexual love we see all the time. Homosexual love we're seeing more and more and casual friendships we see a lot too, but a profoundly deep and abiding love between two men that is not romantic/sexual in nature is pretty hard to find (though such a relationship between two women seems more common). For some reason it often seems to be mistaken for a sexual love. In fact, it is almost more acceptable nowadays to depict the "love that dare not speak its name" because at least with homosexuality there is no ambiguity. However, when two men display a genuinely warm regard and affection for one another, it is often mocked as being "gay" or "queer." I mean, how many countless jokes did we have to endure being made about Sam and Frodo's "relationship" in The lord of the Rings films? Too many as far as I'm concerned. Again, I think it's because such a love between two males is so rarely seen that it is difficult for a lot of people (particularly very "macho" or "masculine" males) to accept. And yet I can't help but wonder whether it is, in fact, rarely seen because it's harder to accept or whether it's harder to accept because we rarely see it. Even Tim Robbins himself has admitted that it is extremely rare in movies nowadays that you can get away with depicting such a relationship "without there being a car chase."
Perhaps it is because friendship itself is not valued as highly as it ought to be. Maybe, for some weird reason, it is just not considered as "special" as eros (i.e. "erotic love"). Perhaps we have devalued real friendship to the point where it has lost quite a lot of its meaning. We use the term "friends" to refer to people that are really just our acquaintances. We would rarely use the term "love" to describe a friendship and yet it was the belief of the ancients that it was the most admirable of loves. C.S. Lewis writes about this is in his book The Four Loves, where he defines friendship as being more than mere companionship, he describes it as the least "natural" of the loves because it is not biologically necessary to progeny like either affection (e.g., rearing a child), eros (e.g., creating a child), or charity (e.g., providing for a child). It has the least association with impulse or emotion. The saying may be that "love is blind" (lovers may often see no flaws in their beloved), but, as Ebert Hubbard wrote, "A Friend is someone who knows all about you and loves you anyway." There is wisdom in friendship. There is truth and honesty in friendship. There is trust and respect in friendship. There is, (I'm just gonna say it) redemption in friendship. Quite apart from what the "conventional wisdom" might be, the love of a friend is no less "special" or meaningful than erotic/romantic/sexual love. I am not necessarily saying it is superior, but it is definitely not inferior.
I debated for a long time on what to write about for this blog-a-thon (as I often do). At one point I considered writing about several movies that contain what are, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful love stories ever told: Breakfast at Tiffany's, When Harry Met Sally and Manhattan, (which, in particular, I am really glad I didn't write about as Dan Eisenberg did an admirable job in his post Not Everybody gets Corrupted). I was even about to compile a list of quotes from movies on love ("Love means never having to say you're sorry," etc) but at the last minute, and completely by accident, I was reminded of what is for me the most compelling love story of all and it is one that a lot of people wouldn't even recognize as such. The next time (or perhaps for some of you the first time) you watch The Shawshank Redemption, pay attention not only to how fantastic a film it is but also how marvelous a love story it is.