Pumpkin Person rating 10/10
Based on the novella by the brilliant Stephen King and written and directed by Frank Árpád Darabont, The Shawshank Redemption is an utterly perfect movie. The film reminds me of one of those great American novels that we’d pretend to read in high school like The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird and it spans huge swaths of American history, from the end of WWII to the middle of the Vietnam war, or as IQ aficionados like to say, the Wechsler Bellevue era, to the original WAIS era.
Like this movie, David Wechsler’s original tests were deeply rich in Americana, and all about what it meant to be an intelligent adult in the 1940s to the 1960s, and so my mind wandered into images of each character being administered the ancient WBI by a prison psychologist just as the Nazis were during the Nuremberg trials.
Andy Dufresne IQ 160 (U.S. white norms)
Played by Tim Robbins, Andy is a successful banker sentenced to jail in the mid 1940s for shooting his wife and her golf pro lover after seeing them in bed together. Like almost everyone at the Shawshank prison, he claims to be innocent, and while this character is sometimes too smart for his own good (calling the prison warden “obtuse” and getting severely punished for it) he also displays sophisticated understanding of tax law and a superhuman ability to adapt his impossible situation to his advantage and outsmarts the warden at his own game. His best friend “Red” says he’s “as smart as they come.” He was certainly the smartest at the Shawshank prison, or virtually any other U.S. prison. Assuming about a million Americans were incarcerated from the mid 1940s to the mid 1960s, and assuming that on a scale where white American average an IQ of 100 with a standard deviation of 15, criminals average about 90 with an SD also about 15, we’d expect the smartest U.S. prison inmate to be about 160.
Red IQ 119
Whenever I read IQ books written in the 1920s or 30s, I come across the term the American Negro. This is highly offensive by today’s standards because it sounds like you’re describing some kind of animal (The Canadian Grizzly, the Alaska Salmon). And yet whenever I think of the American Negro, I think of Morgan Freeman. Freeman plays Andy’s best friend Red, the guy in prison who knows how to get stuff for people, whether it’s smuggling cigarettes or a poster of Rita Hayworth. While some might complain that Freeman is cast as the token black best friend, this film was made before the era of wokeness and Freeman is absolutely perfect for the part. One mystery is why he is virtually the only black in the entire prison.
On a scale where white Americans average about IQ 100, black Americans have historically averaged 85, but criminals of all races are probably about 10 points lower, and Red, a convicted murderer, might thus be expected to average IQ 75. On the other hand, he’s extremely tall which is a sign of high IQ that roughly cancels out his criminality, making him likely 85.
More importantly his best friend Andy has an IQ of 160. The IQ correlation between best friends is not known but 0.45 is a good estimate since that’s the correlation between spouses. So in the typical case one’s IQ is 45% of the distance between one’s population mean, and the IQ of one’s best friend. This would put Red at about 119, which sounds about right. Red is about as smart as a person can be while still being below 120.
Samuel Norton (the Prison warden) IQ 113
Played by Bob Gunton, Samuel is the corrupt, sadistic Bible thumping warden of the Shawshank prison. There seems to be a pattern in Stephen King films of religious people being evil (the psychotic mother in Carrie, the child cult in Children of the Corn). To have risen to a position of power indicates some intelligence, but to be so corrupt and religious indicates some stupidity too. I’d say he has the IQ of the average Republican congressman. According to Duke professor Jonathan Wai, about 11% of Republican congressman attended schools indicative of top 1% ability. This suggests Republican congressman are, on average, about 1 standard deviation above the U.S. mean of 98 (during the era of this film), so 113.
Brooks IQ 90
Played by James Whitmore, Brooks has one of the saddest story arcs in the film. After 50 years of good behavior, he’s released from prison and doesn’t want to leave. He simply can’t adapt to the high tech modern World of the 1950s, full of automobiles and television sets. He seems a bit dumber than the average criminal (IQ 90) but this can be explained by his old age, and since IQ is normed for age, he’s not penalized for this.
Tommy Williams IQ 90
Played by Gill Belows, on paper Tommy Williams seems dumber than the average criminal. In the system since age 12, can hardly read, etc, however given that he finds the wherewithal to get his high school equivalency, the comic timing to make his friends laugh, and the memory to solve an important murder case, I’d put him at at least 90.