Anatomy of a Scene – Suds on the Roof

“For Andy, getting three beers a piece and to have some suds as him and the guys work outdoors in the heat is worth the perilous personal risk that he put himself through to make it happen.”

Sometimes, it pays to speak up and be heard even if you’re a convicted felon. Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) is a few years into his prison stint at Shawshank State Prison in rural Maine. He proclaims his innocence to Red (played by Morgan Freeman, his good friend in the prison, who still has a hard time believing him even though the two have become close first as Andy’s provider of cigarettes and posters of centerfold actresses and models but has become more of a confidant despite being skeptical of Andy’s claims of innocence. He tells Andy “Everyone in Shawshank is innocent, don’t you know that?”

As Red also explains, prison is no fairytale world and Andy runs into a rough crowd of prisoners who sexually assault and physically beat him to a pulp. Prison becomes very routine in that Andy tries to fend off his attackers, does his duty at the massive laundry room, and collects rocks in the yard to shape and polish with his rock hammer as a hobby to pass the time. Red also exclaims in the film, “Prison time is slow time…and a man will do almost anything to keep himself occupied.”

It is through his budding friendship with Red and his connections to the outside world that they can finally break the monotony of prison life and to have a small taste of freedom by bribing a few of the prison guards with cigarettes and whiskey to win the job of tarring the license plate factory roof. While it is arduous, backbreaking, and tiresome; it’s also Summer in Maine, a “fine month to be working outside”, and comes with more outside time in the prison and other special privileges, according to Warden Norton. With a small bribe and maybe some extra names in the sorting hat, Andy, Red, and their associated group of inmates win the job with no other prisoners being suspicious of how they won the prized work outside.

This scene that I like to call ‘Suds on the Roof’ focuses on the men at work with the hot tar with the summer heat bearing down on them. The head of the Prison guards gets fleshed out as a character when we learned that his brother died as a rich man being worth over $1 million dollars, which in the early 1950s would be 20x the amount today in 2021. Byron Hadley, being the vindictive, petty, and cruel man that he is likes to play the victim on how he is only getting $35,000 from his brother despite calling him an ‘asshole’ to the other guards and complaining on how it’s not enough or how the government and others will take some of that money he didn’t earn but inherited. This is a brilliant detail at the beginning of the scene to show just how pathetic and small he could be as a character, which is great writing by the film’s writers, because you begin to grow to detest how vile a person that Byron Hadley is.

Andy Dusfresne, our main character in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ overhears Byron’s ‘tale of woe’ about inheriting money from his recently deceased brother and seeks to take advantage of the situation by knowing that his tax and finance knowledge as a banker may play to his advantage. The way he stops mopping the tar, walking over awkwardly, and coming up from behind with the guards’ backs turned away from him is terror-inducing when you first see this scene. Andy’s crew, including Red, implore and yell at Andy to keep ‘his eyes on the mop’ and not to antagonize a vicious man that Byron is because they know from experience how senselessly brutal and violent, he can be to the inmates for no reason at all.

Andy, in this scene, he is as cool as a cucumber and basically tunes out their pleas of him to keep mopping and ignore Hadley’s tale of woe. Andy goes up to Hadley and says a few choice words that almost get him killed within the next few seconds. “Mr. Hadley, do you trust your wife?” That simple sentence has a lot of implications such as that she may be cheating on Byron and has been unfaithful to him but it’s really about Andy asking about their financial relationship although his poor choice of words almost leads to Byron throwing him off the roof of the license plate factory and then calling it an ‘accident’ with the outside world beyond Shawshank none the wiser about his actual premeditated cause to murder Andy.

“Because if you do trust her…there’s no reason that you can’t keep that $35,000!” …In just a few seconds, Andy’s quick thinking and knowledge of one tax-free gift to your spouse or wife helps keep Byron from throwing Andy off the roof to certain death. Andy is trying to save Byron some money and exclaims quickly that he can give his money up to $60,000 in a tax-free gift hence why Andy awkwardly started to ask him if he trusts her implying if he would trust her with such a large sum of money and if she would take care of it properly for him. Byron knows Dufresne as all the guards do as a ‘smart banker’ who ‘killed his wife’ and is worried that what Andy is advising him to do would be illegal and get him in trouble with the IRS and the law.

Andy assures him that this tax-free gift is entirely legal and if he doesn’t believe Andy, Byron can ask the IRS to check and make sure. Byron still looks down on Andy and doesn’t need his help to get all the money, but Andy replies fast that unless he wants to pay lawyers or a financial advisor to do it, which would cost a lot of money, Andy exclaims while hanging from the edge of the rooftop that he would do it for Byron nearly free of charge! Andy only needs the forms to start preparing him and the only cost that he asks for in return are a few beers for him and each of his “co-workers”, which is a hilarious aside that Andy would refer to his convicted inmate friends as co-workers rather than fellow prisoners. Even though they are in prison for life, most of them, they still form bonds of friendship to survive in terrible conditions, with a sociopathic warden and a vicious head prison guard preparing to harm or even kill them if they step out of line.

Now, the most surprising thing about this scene is that the ‘nearly free of charge’ refers to a specific brand of beer, “Bohemia style” as Red puts it and for them to be “icy cold” especially to quench the thirst of the hard-working prison crew toiling to tar the roof day in and day out. Andy, in a sense, wants to feel like he is doing his banking job again and instead of receiving a salary for just himself as he did before, he instead wagers his life to get beers not only for himself but for his crew of friends he recently established. He is selfless in this way in that he does not think only of himself but thinks of those others who deserve that small moment of freedom by drinking “cold ones” on the roof at “ten o’clock in the morning.” For Andy, getting three beers a piece and to have some suds as him and the guys work outdoors in the heat is worth the perilous personal risk that he put himself through to make it happen. For Andy, it was to help him feel a bit less like a convict in a prison on a life sentence and a little more like a free man, if only for a short while.

I believe Andy wanted to feel a bit more normal such as like him and his friends were tarring the roof of their own houses and to sit with the sun on their shoulders and feel free and have a bit of happiness in grim circumstances that they find themselves in day in and day out with little hope to their chances of getting out of prison. As Red indicates towards the end of the scene, they can make Byron, the guard, seem magnanimous or even ignored altogether because they have sun and they have cold beers and they have each other, which is more than the convict crew has had all together in years probably.

Andy is selfless to the end in this scene showing his true character as not of a cruel murderer but someone who even if unclear yet to the audience was wrongfully convicted, whose intentions were pure, and who missed his previous life as a banker and wanted to “feel normal again, if only for a short while” as Red so eloquently puts it. In this scene, we begin to see Andy’s true nature as a human being: awkward and clumsy at first but very brave, empathetic, and a kind heart that not only Red’s friends realize from his selfless act but that the guards also see even if they have to follow Hadley’s orders in dealing with him. Andy was offered a ‘cold one’ at the end of the scene but tells one of the convict tarring crew that he gave up drinking.

Red speculates to the audience watching as to why Andy would refuse the beers that he almost died to get but then realizes in the narration that it wasn’t about getting the beers at all or helping Hadley get wealthier, it was to have that freedom to choose again, to have a choice without asking for permission all the time from the guards, and to feel a bit of life again within the drab and gray walls of Shawshank. The freedom of choice is directly related to having free will, which was taken away completely from Andy and other prisoners. He wanted to restore it again briefly to have a bit of normalcy and break up the sheer monotony and harshness of prison life.

Andy would like to think and have again for a moment where he is not a mere convict but a human being worthy of some simple dignity, choice, and a small taste of freedom for some brief moments asking for those cold beers and if he must almost die for that freedom, it was worth it to him in the end. That feeling of ‘normalcy’ to Andy as Red puts it was the real driver for him to put himself at risk and to feel good about it after, to smile and feel some small sense of happiness that had been missing for so long. Lastly, Andy did not just do it for himself but to help his friends who had sustained his spirit in the drab prison even after being beaten, abused, and almost worked to death in the laundry room. It is not he who deserves to feel somewhat normal again alone but his crew as well who worked tirelessly to mop hot tar in the summer without any prospect of real rewards or gratitude. The beers were not just for him but for Red and for the others to feel like ‘free men’ and to be the ‘lords of all creation’ in their minds and in their hearts, if only for a short while.

‘The Shawshank Redemption’ – Film Review and Analysis

Few other modern films capture the power of the human spirit more than The Shawshank Redemption. Directed by Frank Darabont, released originally in 1994, and starring Morgan Freeman as Ellis ‘Boyd’ Redding, Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne; this film was not originally successful in movie theaters when it was released to the general public.

However, since then, The Shawshank Redemption has become a cult classic which has skyrocketed in popularity even after its’ release twenty years later. It is often considered by film critics to be one of the best Hollywood movies of the 20th century. Personally, I have watched this film multiple times and consider it to be my all-time favorite movie. If I’m channel surfing late at night and I see that The Shawshank Redemption is on AMC, HBO, or another movie network, I’ll often stop what I’m doing to watch the film already in progress. It’s that good of a movie and is timeless in its’ themes and its’ overall message.

More so than just the brilliant acting by Mr. Freeman and Mr. Robbins, along with the great directing by Frank Darabont, the cinematography is quite flawless and the film has a consistent flow to it. It also has an engaging plot and setting that suits the overall themes quite well. The Shawshank Redemption is a very human story with a lot of powerful, and emotional scenes that have captivated millions of viewers. It’s rare to come across a film today that can tug at your heartstrings and make you really feel deep emotions about a fictional story and characters. The Shawshank Redemption is able to pass that test and remind you of what it means to be human. The film highlights the triumphs, the tragedies, and the deeper meaning that we seek within our own lives.

Andy Dufresne is a young, smart, and ambitious banker in Portland, Maine who is accused and later convicted of murdering his wife and her extramarital lover. At first, he appears to the audience as a cold, detached, and remorseless person who very well could have committed that awful crime. The other main character, Ellis ‘Boyd’ Redding, a long-time prisoner at Shawshank state prison is unimpressed by Andy’s appearance at first sight and remarks how “a stiff breeze would blow him over.” As the saying goes though, “Don’t judge a book by its’ cover.”

Throughout the film, we learn through the eyes of Red more about Andy and what he’s like in terms of his true personality and character. We don’t know whether he killed his wife or not because he pronounces his innocence to Red and the other prisoners. Red is resigned to his life in prison and tries to make the best of it by being ‘the guy who can get you things.’ His friendship with Andy blossoms due to a simple, haphazard moment when Andy asks Red for a rock hammer to carve chess pieces. It’s an unusual request but it gets the two men to talk to each other and to break down the stereotypes that Red has of Andy, and Andy has of Red.

Andy must deal as best as he can with his new life as a prisoner whom may in fact be innocent of the crime that he was convicted of. As Red states knowingly in the film, “Prison is no fairy tale world.” Andy has to cope with the vindictive warden of Shawshank prison, played by Bob Gunton as well as the malicious head prison guard, Captain Byron Hadley, who is played by Clancy Brown. He also must fend off some sadistic fellow prisoners who wish him physical harm and sexual violence. It is clear to the viewer that Andy, despite the injustices he has encountered in Shawshank and outside of Shawshank prison, maintains the ‘hope’ that he’ll survive his ordeal and eventually win his freedom. Despite his friend, Red, warning him about the dangers of seeking hope in a place where none can be found, Andy reminds Red that “Hope is a good thing, maybe even the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

The most memorable scenes of this film still stick out to me after all of these years. My favorite is the famous ‘Suds on the Roof’ scene when Andy risks his life to give his fellow prisoners a one-time allowance of beers while they tar the roof of a factory by giving the prison guard, Hadley, some financial advice on how to deal with the IRS. Andy knew how much it would means to his fellow prisoners if they could enjoy a beer or two while doing hard work in the hot Maine summer sun. In that scene, he also showed a lot of bravery by confronting Hadley about if “he trusts his wife with money or not.”

Another notable scene that stands out to me is how Andy continuously asks the state of Maine for extra money to give to the Shawshank prison in order to build a memorial library in honor of another prisoner, Brooks Hatlen, who committed suicide regrettably after finishing up his sentence. Andy keeps writing letters for months on end but finally receives the funds he needs after a few years to build the memorial library. Because of this library, many prisoners like young Tommy Williams, who Andy takes a liking to, end up reading books and even receiving their High School GEDs (General Equivalency Degree).

Lastly, there is an extremely beautiful scene where Andy is collecting records for the prison library and ends up putting an Italian opera record over the loudspeakers for all of the prisoners to hear. He locks himself in the room so the guards and the warden can’t get to him. For a few minutes, the opera music flows openly through the walls and the bars of the prison. As Red puts it succinctly in the movie, “For the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free…”

After nineteen years in prison and many tumultuous events, Andy knows that his destiny no longer is meant just for the walls and bars of Shawshank prison. He dreams of a coastal city in Mexico known as Zihuatanejo, where he can run a hotel and begin his life anew. Andy implores Red to join him one day and help him out with his business since he’s a man who “knows how to get things.” While Andy remains hopeful and optimistic even when his future seems grim, Red is skeptical and dismissive of Andy’s “pipe dream.”

Despite the long odds, Andy doesn’t let the negativity get him down and puts effort toward realizing his dream of getting out of Shawshank and making his way to Mexico. This courage and perseverance shown by Andy has a lasting effect on Red by the end of the movie as they have become close friends who have known each other for almost twenty years. Red realizes the innate truth behind Andy’s belief in everlasting hope and to “get busy livin’ or get busy dyin.’”

Some people who have not taken the time to watch The Shawshank Redemption regard it naively as just another prison movie. However, this summarization is far from the truth. Similar to The Green Mile, it’s a story about finding hope in the least hopeful of places and never giving up on life when it seems rather cruel or unjust. It also has a constant theme about the power of male friendship and how Andy and Red have bonded together over the years despite their initial differences.

The Shawshank Redemption was never a summer blockbuster or a critically acclaimed behemoth of a film but it is widely regarded now as one of the best American films of all-time. Many people have cited this movie as having changed their lives for the better when they were going through difficult times in their personal or professional lives. Above all else, The Shawshank Redemption is a story about one man’s ability to remain hopeful during the most difficult and harsh circumstances. As Red states at the end of the film, “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin.’ That’s goddamn right.”