A River Runs Through It: God, Fishing, and Montana A River Runs Through It is one of my personal favorite stories. I have read the book and watched the movie before in high school, and loved them then. I have also watched the movie with my grandmother several times. We both like the narration by Robert Redford and the story lines. It reflects our own family, and is a masterpiece in our opinions. While the film adaptation may be different than Maclean’s novella, the film shows the book in a different light that makes it come to life.
Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It explores many feelings and experiences of a very faithful family in Missoula, Montana. In both the movie, directed by Robert Redford, and the Norman Maclean’s novella we follow the Macleans through their joys and sorrows. These are the same people and places known by Norman as he was growing up. In a sense, A River Runs Through It is Maclean’s autobiography. Norman looks back at these events discovering their influences in later life as he copes with his life’s hardships. A River Runs Through It symbolized the excitement within the friendship of the two men.
The river was their own special and isolated place where time could be spent, relaxed, and stress could be relieved. The river and fly fishing kept the bond between Norman and Paul pungent and concentrated in a brotherly, and also a friendly fashion. The Blackfoot River, located in rural Montana, meant everything two Norman and Paul, especially when they grew older. Fly fishing and the river was a part of, and extremely critical, Norman and Paul’s life forever. They started fishing at a young age, and never actually stopped, aside from a few minor and inconsiderable breaks.
The river wasn’t just “used for” fly fishing. Fly fishing was just an activity that the boys persisted on doing, because it pushed for growth in their relationship. What fly fishing, and the river proposed to the boys was a place where all of life, past memories and future dreams, can be remarked upon, experienced, or deliberated about. When the boys were younger they sat by the river after fishing, speaking about how they dreamed about being fishermen. When they became older, they still enjoyed their time by the river, but only when they were alone, with no distractions.
The Big Blackfoot River was a world of memories that only Norman and Paul Maclean were included in. Even after Paul’s death, memories of the river containing Paul lived on with his older brother. Without this river, I believe that their relationship would have been eminently weak. If there was a problem in their relationship, it could have been solved by going fishing, and the stress of the problem would soon go away. The river was home to Paul and Norman, and will always remain their own special place. Religion is an ever present theme in A River Runs Through It.
A Presbyterian minister father meant strong guidelines for the Maclean boys as they were growing up, and for Norman in his adult life. God’s presence was always with their family, even when they didn’t want it. God was more of a watchful figure in A River Runs Through It. Just like their own father was always watching them so was God. I didn’t think their father ever let his judgment of his son’s actions show. In Paul’s death, the strength of a family is shown. I truly believe the only way the Maclean family could ever live with their beloved son and brother’s death, is through their faith.
Sure with a father as a Presbyterian minister, religion was extremely vital for the family, but it became so much more than that. A family can only get over a tragic death like that by relying on their inner strength that God gives them. It is disturbing to hear of the real life death of Paul Mclean, however it soothes their father to hear that Paul died fighting with all of the bones in his right hand broken. This line near the end of the story not only tells how their father must have felt, but it is a better way for the story to end, rather than have Paul die in the cold streets of Chicago.
This gives him the peace of mind knowing that Paul’s soul will rest peacefully. When the narrator refers to Christ’s disciples it is a reference to the bond between Reverend McLean and his two sons. The sons, Paul and Norman are Reverend McLean’s disciples. Just like in the Bible the disciples of Reverend McLean have their flaws too. In the Bible Judas betrays Christ while in the movie Paul lives recklessly and does not think about his consequences before he acts. Paul in a sense betrays his father’s teachings by taking part in acts that are not approved by the Bible.
Norman comes back from college to visit his family after completing his education and applying for a job in Chicago as a professor. Norman comes to realize that Paul is in a great deal of trouble and will not take help from Norman. The movie brings to life what is so vividly described in the book. Although some of the plot lines are changed, the story remains relatively the same. It was a young Paul and Norman growing up in the last American frontier. The film can be viewed as retrospective story. The adaptation works because it takes the book and looks at a certain time in the Maclean’s life.
Montana. In both the movie, directed by Robert Redford, and the original work of fiction we follow the Mcleans through their joys and sorrows. However, the names of the characters and places are not purely coincidental. These are the same people and places known by Norman Mclean as he was growing up. In a sense, A River Runs Through It is Maclean’s autobiography. Although these autobiographical influences are quite evident throughout the course of the story they have deeper roots in the later life of the author as he copes with his life’s hardships.
The characters in the movie and book are taken straight from Mclean’s life. From the hard working, soft centered, minister father, to the drunken, “down on his luck”, brother-in-law, Neil. The character of Paul appears to be the most true to life member of Norman’s family. The audience quickly becomes familiar with Paul and his quick-tempered, always ready for anything attitude. This is evident in the beginning of the story with Paul’s frequent phrase “… with a bet on to make things interesting…It was almost funny and sometimes not so funny to see a boy always wanting to bet on himself and almost sure to win. Unlike Norman who was rigorously home schooled every morning, while Paul seemed to escape this torment. The boys would spend their afternoons frolicking in the woods and fishing the Big Blackfoot River. The differences that developed between Paul’s and Norman’s fishing styles become evident in the published versions of Maclean’s life as well as his real life. Norman followed the traditional style taught by their preacher-father, ten and two in a four -count rhythm, like a metronome. The four-count rhythm, of course, is functional.
The one count takes the line, leader, and fly off the water; the two count tosses them seemingly straight into the sky; the three count was my father’s way of saying that at the top the leader and fly have to be given a little beat of time to get behind the line as it is starting forward; the four count means put on the power and throw the line into the rod until you reach ten o’clock-then check-cast, let the fly and leader get ahead of the line, and coast to a soft and perfect landing . Paul, on the other hand, was less controlled by their father.
Therefore he was able to develop his own style of casting. This new technique in which he dubbed “shadow casting” was able to draw the fish to the surface using only the shadow of the fly. “… That the fish are alerted by the shadows of flies passing over the water by the first casts, so hit the fly the moment it touches the water. ” Among other things, Paul was also grown up with a bit of gambling and drinking streak in him. Paul’s habits did not just exist in the book; these characteristics of Paul were carried over from Norman’s real life experiences with his brother.
Paul’s tendencies of to get into the high stakes poker games without a clear head and then try to fight his way out of debt was what eventually leads to his demise; both in real life and in A River Runs Through it. Although the book and the film are very closely related, there are some major differences. In the film version of A River Runs Through It, the majority of the movie is taken up with Norman’s courting Jessie. This is different from the book because as the book progresses, Norman is already married to Jessie.
One other difference between the movie and the author’s real life is a small scene in which the Maclean boys borrow a rowboat and run the rapids of a nearby river. This never occurred in the book, but it was probably added to increase the adventure element of the story. Another difference between the documented versions of A River Runs Through It is in the movie version, Paul spends all his entire life in Montana, but in reality Paul had followed Norman to Chicago. Norman helped Paul get a job in Chicago. Paul’s death even differed in the book and film adaptation.
Instead of dying while fighting in his own home territory, Paul died in the unfamiliar streets of Chicago, a victim of several severe blows to the head. Something that really sticks out to me every time I read this book is how Paul seems to be the Prodigal son. Paul is no angel, and his father and mother can see that as plain as day. Paul drinks, gambles, swears, and sleeps with a variety of women. I’m sure his parents looked with disapproving eyes at Paul’s behavior, but they never said anything. Paul was the baby of the family, and the fun one.
He may skip family dinners and make up excuses to leave early, but his parents genuinely enjoyed his company. Norman on the other hand was the oldest and responsible son. Yes he drank and swore, but he never slept with a variety of women gambled. We can’t really know what happened at Dartmouth, but if he did have vices such as those, his parents would never find out. So, Norman was the upstanding son that any parent could be proud of, but Paul was the rebellious son that should have caused his parents distress.
They admired Paul, instead of scalding him. Paul could go see a world neither of his parents would ever see, and they could live vicariously through him. That left poor Norman to pick up the broken pieces his brother left behind, even after Paul’s death. My favorite line from the book is the very first one. “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. ” This line explains the whole story because there was no difference to the Maclean family. The movie brings to life what is so vividly described in the book.
Although some of the plot lines are changed, the story remains relatively the same. It was a young Paul and Norman growing up in the last American frontier. The film can be viewed as retrospective story. The adaptation works because it takes the book and looks at a certain time in the Maclean’s life. The last lines of the movie always get me. “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.
On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters. ” The river means more to the Macleans than just a fishing hole. It encompasses how our lives are just like the river. We go along picking up the information from life, or the rocks. It is easy to relate these beautiful lines to the Bible and God’s beauty. Perhaps I can’t do justice to the beauty of how nature, religion, and our lives all become one, but thankfully Norman did that with his words.
God’s beauty in nature is shown so beautifully in this book. The river, the trees, and mountains were a country that spanned as far as one could see. It was a wilderness full of untouched beauty, but I’m sure not all of it has survived to this day. It is a shame we don’t have the same beautiful country the Macleans fished, but it lives on in Norman’s words. A landscape perfected by God’s paintbrush forever lives on in one novella. As humans we will keep on destroying and reducing the little we have left of the Northwestern wilderness.
We can’t help because it is in our nature to capture new lands and make it our own, but a book that is just over 200 pages has actually captured the essence of the dying frontier. It wasn’t dying then though, the Montana wilderness was thriving. One little piece of country untouched by logging machines and pollution managed to keep a father close to his two sons. While the Macleans might have never truly understood each other, the river kept them together a family.
After reading the last few lines of the book, it is evident why Robert Redford chose to present the book differently in the movie. It shows the beauty and focuses more on what Montana and the Big Black Foot River meant to the Maclean family. It was everything.