Is it just me, or is Andy Dufresne guilty as hell?

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is given two life sentences for murdering his wife and her lover, but escapes prison after a gruelling 19 years behind bars. 

Though he self-styles as the only innocent man in Shawshank, where’s the evidence? Exhibit A: he says he didn’t do it. Exhibit B: gobshite Tommy (Gil Bellows) says someone else did. In other words, pretty weak.

The case against, however, is cast-iron. Firstly, Andy was at the scene of the crime, drunk, with a loaded gun intending to “scare them”. Just FYI, scaring your ex with a gun is a terrible thing to do in itself, and carries a lengthy jail sentence, so the man ishardly Mother Teresa. 

Next, the story is narrated – and rather unreliably so – by Red (Morgan Freeman) who continually underestimates Andy, describes scenes he couldn’t possibly have been present at (Tommy’s murder for one), and has a massive soft spot for him – “Yes, I think it would be fair to say I liked Andy from the start,” he gushes. Later he imagines Andy, topless and Christ-like, sploshing to freedom – hardly the work of an unbiased, objective witness.

(Image credit: Columbia)

Whichever way you cut it, Andy is a tricksy customer, described as both “cold-blooded” and “icy” by people in authority. Despite being a bank VP on the outside, he immediately starts setting up tax dodges for the prison guards, graduating to fraud for Warden Norton (Bob Gunton) and his Inside-Out programme. “Behind every shady deal, behind every dollar earned, there was Andy keeping the books,” marvels Red.

Shawshank is a film all about misdirection – Andy does all kinds of goody-goody stuff to hide the fact he’s digging a tunnel to freedom – so what if the whole thing is just a (very) long con by an unrepentant criminal? Also, if Andy really is such a great guy, why does he steal $370,000 of Warden Norton’s ill-gotten gains? And how, exactly, can an 'innocent' man be redeemed? 

Nope, the simple fact is he killed his wife and her lover, took all of Shawshank for a ride, crawled through a river of shit to somehow ‘redeem’ himself, then ran off to Mexico with Red as his boat buddy. Or is it just me?

Each month our sister publication Total Film magazine argues a polarising movie opinion and gives you the opportunity to agree or disagree. Let us know what you think about this one in the comments below and read on for more.

Freelance Writer

Matt Glasby is a freelance film and TV journalist. You can find his work on Total Film - in print and online - as well as at publications like the Radio Times, Channel 4, DVD REview, Flicks, GQ, Hotdog, Little White Lies, and SFX, among others. He is also the author of several novels, including The Book of Horror: The Anatomy of Fear in Film and Britpop Cinema: From Trainspotting To This Is England.