A scene from a film – The Shawshank Redemption – Get busy living or get busy dying

Welcome

Hello and welcome to Learn English Vocabulary. My name is Jack and I’m making this podcast for you to learn or revise English vocabulary. You can find a transcript of this podcast on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. There’s a page for this podcast with the transcript, an activity and a task for you to complete in the comments section.

Introduction

Today, I’m looking at the advanced language from another scene from a film. The scene I’m going to look at today is from the film The Shawshank Redemption which is a film set in a prison and follows the experiences of two inmates, Andy, a banker who was falsely convicted of the murder of his wife and Red who did kill his wife. The film is the highest-rated film on IMDB.com, beating The Godfather, The Godfather part 2 and well, every other film. So, I think it’s a good film to look at and an excellent film to watch again if you are an advanced learner.

I’m going to play some short excerpts from the film and then I’ll explain the interesting or important vocabulary. 

In the first clip, I want you to listen out for the word marbles.

ANDY: Think you’ll ever get out of here?

RED: Me? Yeah … One day, when I got a long white beard and two or three marbles rolling around upstairs, they’ll let me out 

Marbles

Your marbles are your mental health and ability to think and remember things. The most common use of this expression is to lose your marbles. He’s lost his marbles! This is not a kind way to describe someone who is suffering from mental problems. Red said that he would be let out when he had two or three marbles rolling around upstairs. This means when he’s old and is losing his ability to think, but has not lost it completely. 

In the next clip, Andy is talking about moving to a place in Mexico on the Pacific Ocean. Listen for the phrases open up, fix it up and charter fishing.

ANDY: That’s where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory. Open up a little hotel right on the beach. Buy some worthless old boat and fix it up new. Take my guests out charter fishing. 

Open up

Andy wants to open up a little hotel. This just means to start a new hotel and is very similar in meaning to open, but it is used more often to mean create or start a new venture or business. 

Fix it up

To fix means to repair. That is to take something that is broken and make it work again. To fix something up, means to take something old and broken and not only make it work, but make it nice, and like new. Or nice at least. Sometimes you will hear people describe houses as fixer-uppers – that is, places that are run down and need repairs and decorating.Fixer-uppers are usually cheap so if you can fix them up without spending much money, you can get a bargain. 

To charter

To charter something means to rent something. This is most commonly used to talk about flights. Sometimes, when people go on holiday, the holiday company rents the plane for their own holiday and other times, people can go on scheduled flights which are operated by airlines. You can also charter a boat and if you go charter fishing, it means you are renting a boat to go fishing. A charter fishing company is a company that owns a boat and takes people out on the sea to go fishing.

In the next clip, I want you to listen for the phrases make it, institutional man and underestimate

ANDY: You know, a place like that, I could use a man who knows how to get things.

RED: I don’t think I could make it on the outside Andy. I’ve been in here most of my life I’m an institutional man now Just like Brooks was 

ANDY: Well … You underestimate yourself. 

RED: I don’t think so. 

Make it

To make it means to survive or overcome an obstacle. It’s usually used in the negative and in questions. In hospital dramas on TV, people say things like, the gunshot victim didn’t make it, which means he died. Red says that he doesn’t think he could make it on the outside which means survive and be successful outside of prison. If you use make it and a place, it means arrive at the place. What time did you make it home last night? I was stuck in traffic so I didn’t make it home till 9.

An institutional man

Red says I’m an institutional man. This is not a phrase that is used outside the film really. You could say that a person has become institutionalised, which means they can’t survive outside of an institution, meaning a prison or possibly a mental hospital. Red thinks that he’s been institutionalised when he describes himself as an institutional man. As I say, this is not very important vocabulary out of the film, but it’s very important in the story.

Estimate

To estimate something means to guess how big or long or difficult something is. It’s not quite the same as guess; it implies that you have some experience and so your estimate should be better than anybody’s guess.

Underestimate

To underestimate means to not recognise or see the real value or cost or difficulty of something. You could use it to talk about a project at work. You might say, it’s important that we don’t underestimate the cost of this project. It’s often used in competitive sport, the young boxer underestimated the strength of his opponent. Andy tells Red that he underestimates himself. That means that Andy thinks Red would do better than Red thinks himself. It’s a nice compliment. Don’t underestimate yourself – you are better than you think you are.

There’s just one phrase I want you to listen out for in the next clip: and then some.

ANDY: I didn’t shoot my wife and I didn’t shoot her lover. Whatever mistakes I made I paid for them and then some. That hotel, that boat, I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

And then some

And then some is an informal way of saying and even more. I think it’s most often used to tell people that you think their estimate of something is too low. I think it will cost £400 to replace the window. … And then some. 

In the final clip from this scene are the two most important phrases. This is really what the film is all about so listen carefully. The phrases are pipe dreams and get busy

RED: I don’t think you ought to be doing this to yourself, Andy. It’s just shitty pipe dreams. I mean, Mexico is way the hell down there, and you’re in here, and that’s the way it is.

ANDY: Yeah. Right. That’s the way it is. It’s down there and I’m in here. I guess it comes down to a simple choice really. Get busy living or get busy dying.

Red suggests Andy’s plan to move to Mexico is a pipe dream. This means it’s a plan that is really unlikely. The phrase pipe dream comes from the 1800s and refers to the dreams that people would have when smoking the drug opium. The phrase is still quite commonly used, but only as a metaphor. I don’t think smoking opium is that common these days. 

The last line from the scene is one of the most famous quotes from the film. Andy says it comes down to a choice: Get busy living or get busy dying. 

Get busy

To get busy is an unusual phrase that means to start work or start the jobs that you need to do to complete something. So in the context of the quote, Andy means that you need to have a plan to work towards – that you need a goal. If you don’t get busy living, then you are just working towards your own death. To Red, the pipe dream of a hotel in Mexico was dangerous because it wasn’t possible and the fantasy would drive Andy mad. However, for Andy, to give up on the fantasy would mean accepting defeat and that would be death for Andy. 

Conclusion

OK – so there you have some advanced vocabulary from one of the most famous scenes from one of the most popular films of all time. I hope you have found it useful. Please do look up the speech on youtube to listen to the whole thing. I’m going to embed the clip on Learn English Vocabulary and I’ll include the whole transcript so you can read along at the same time.

If you have enjoyed this podcast, please leave me a comment or a review and don’t forget that you can read the transcript for this podcast and complete some language activities on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. 

Thanks for listening.

Watch the scene

ANDY: Think you’ll ever get out of here?

RED: Me? Yeah … One day, when I got a long white beard and two or three marbles rolling around upstairs, they’ll let me out 

ANDY: Tell you where I’d go. Zihuatanejo.

RED: Zoo … what?

ANDY:  Zihuatanejo. It’s in Mexico. Little place right on the Pacific Ocean. You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? 

RED: No

Andy: They say it has no memory. That’s where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory. Open up a little hotel right on the beach. Buy some worthless old boat and fix it up new. Take my guests out charter fishing

RED: Zihuatanejo

ANDY: You know, a place like that, I could use a man who knows how to get things.

RED: I don’t think I could make it on the outside Andy. I’ve been in here most of my life I’m an institutional man now Just like Brooks was 

ANDY: Well … You underestimate yourself. 

RED: I don’t think so. Here, I’m the guy who can get things for you, sure. Outside, all you need is the Yellow Pages. Hell, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. The Pacific Ocean? Shit, about scare me to death, something that big.

Andy: Not me. I didn’t shoot my wife and I didn’t shoot her lover. Whatever mistakes I made I paid for them and then some. That hotel, that boat, I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

RED: I don’t think you ought to be doing this to yourself, Andy. It’s just shitty pipe dreams. I mean, Mexico is way the hell down there, and you’re in here, and that’s the way it is.

ANDY: Yeah. Right. That’s the way it is. It’s down there and I’m in here. I guess it comes down to a simple choice really. Get busy living or get busy dying.

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