We may tend to think of Mentor characters as sage men and women, spouting off wisdom in memorable aphorisms. But there are all types of Mentors (as there are all archetypes). And in Brooks Hatlen in The Shawshank Redemption, we have a unique one: What I call a Dark Mentor.
Brooks has been a prisoner at Shawshank prison for over 50 years. Then for no apparent reason, the peaceful old man who feeds birds and tends to the library as his avocation puts a knife to a prisoner’s neck [Heywood]:
But it’s the only way they’ll let
Brooks bursts into tears. The storm is over. Heywood
staggers free, gasping for air. Andy takes the knife,
passes it to Red. Brooks dissolves into Andy’s arms
with great heaving sobs.
Take it easy. You’ll be all right.
Him? What about me? Crazy old
fool! Goddamn near slit my throat!
You’ve had worse from shaving.
What’d you do to set him off?
Nothin’! Just came in to say
(off their looks)
Ain’t you heard? His parole came through!
As it turns out, Brooks has been “institutionalized,” five decades of prison life changing the very soul of the man. And this is what happens upon his release from prison.
How is he a Dark Mentor? Because he cuts a trail for Red who when he is released, stays in the same boarding house as Brooks, the same bedroom as Brooks, even the same job as Brooks. And Brooks’ path leads toward suicide.
Red lies smoking in bed. Unable to sleep.
Terrible thing, to live in fear.
Brooks Hatlen knew it. Knew it all
too well. All I want is to be back
where things make sense. Where I
won’t have to be afraid all the time.
He glances up at the ceiling beam. “Brooks Hatlen was here.”
Only one thing stops me. A promise
I made to Andy.
Andy (who is Red’s Attractor) and his offer of hope trumps the dark wisdom of death provided by Brooks:
As Red puts it, the final dialogue of the movie:
I hope I can make it across the
border. I hope to see my friend
and shake his hand. I hope the
Pacific is as blue as it has been
in my dreams.
The impact of Red’s choice and the satisfaction of his reunion with Andy in Mexico would not mean nearly as much were it not for the Brooks Hatlen subplot, a Dark Mentor who challenges Red… and Red meets the test.
Brooks Hatlen: A great character.