Why Did Andy Dufresne Escape from Shawshank?

If I were to skip straight to the part in The Shawshank Redemption when Andy Durfesne climbs out of the pipe of poo (and put it on mute), someone who never saw the movie might see an escaped convict who steals money from a warden and fleas to some random place in Mexico called Zihuatanejo. Out of grief, the warden kills himself and Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding eventually teams up with Andy to commit more crimes.

Those of us who have seen the movie though know this isn’t the case. Why? Because we saw the whole movie and have context.

Context Matters

As Andrew, a FlowingData reader, put it, “For statistics to be useful, it needs to be explained in a context.” When I get my hands on some data, whether I’m analyzing or visualizing, I want to know the context of data first. I want to know who collected the data, how it was collected, when it was collected, and what was done to it before it arrived in my hands. Without that meta-information, I could easily make an incorrect assumption about the data or misrepresent it somehow in a visualization – which is very bad.

Simply put, we use visualization and statistics to tell stories with data. If we don’t have all the information, then we can’t tell a complete story.


  • If you haven’t seen the movie, watch it tonight! This movie is probably one of the best of all time in my list.

    Nathan, good points about context, but also the question that isn’t often asked is, Compared to What? Maybe this is intuitive, but it’s worth noting.

  • I’ve probably said it in a hundred meetings: “information is data placed into context.”

    It’s really easy for people to become obsessed with data, never realizing that they’re not actually getting coherent, useful information.

  • @Tony: Absolutely. I would still put the “compared to what” question in the context category. Pretty much and meta-information I’d say is context worth knowing about.

    @whitneymcn: i’ve had the same experiences. it’s often the feeling that more data is better, but then no one has a clue about what to do with it, because they don’t know what a single value means.

  • You are absolutely right, and, unfortunately, the medias knows this all too well. When you hear an interview or a comment, or sometimes even just a phrase on the news, often you have no context supporting it, or they can even give you a totally different context than the actual one, and can be led to believing it the way they want you to.

  • I stumbled on this while doing a search so perhaps I am reading this article about the context of Andy’s escape, out of context, however; who is this world questioned Andy and Red’s intentions, methods, and morales? Did someone imply that Andy’s actions and the consequences were anything less than for the greater/common good? I would think that anyone, nut case or not, that started watching this movie at the moment Andy’s escape is revealed, would, by the end of the movie, realize that the consequences of the story up to that point were for vendication of Andy, Red, and the other victoms of the atrocious prison management.

  • I don’t think Nathan intended to go into to much details about that particular movie itself. The article is not a critic on the movie, just a decent example of the point that he wanted to make.