A River Runs Through It Comparative Analysis

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Autobiographical literary works are often extremely hard to turn into a motion picture. The inner world of the author that unfolds throughout the narrative in the book or story is impossible to show in its entirety. However, the author’s reflection of the outside world can be plainly demonstrated by well-crafted scenes and dialogue. One of the best autobiographical works that were effectively scripted into the film is Norman Maclean’s semi-autobiographical novella A River Runs Through It. Both the original 1976 story and 1992 film manage to capture the beauty of the American wild as well as the philosophy of fishing quite precisely and effectively.
Comparative Analysis
The task to convert Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It would be extremely challenging to accomplish. Firstly, the story is largely autobiographical, hence, primarily reflecting the author’s internal thoughts, emotions, and worldviews. This is made in order to put the reader “in the author’s shoes,” which is virtually impossible in any film at all. Secondly, much of the story is told through narration. While the voiceover is present in the 1992 film, it misses out on certain details because the motion picture is supposed to show stories, not tell them in the first place (Mueller). Due to the nature of the narrative of A River Runs Through It, the director Robert Redford and screenwriter Richard Friedenberg managed to mitigate both issues and handle the production effectively enough.
The narrative of Maclean’s story was handled with the use of rather simple and obvious, yet reasonable and effective methods. As such, the majority of voiceovers that talk about the background of Maclean and his brother Paul are used in the beginning and the end of the movie. These are some of the most important narrative parts as Maclean thinks about the philosophical meaning of life and death as well as how humans can affect both (Maclean 3-5; 118-120; Redford). Thus, the major part of philosophizing is moderated and used in the film’s most important parts that, at the same time, either prepare the views for the narrative or sum up the film.
The majority of the film and story show the events in a period of Norman Maclean’s life, and most of them are delivered in the film quite precisely. For example, the episode when Norman goes to bail out his brother Paul from jail happens at the exact same point in both the novella and the film (Maclean 28-29; Redford). At the same time, the film includes similar scenes and dialogues of the brothers fishing and thinking about life and the people around them (Redford). This part of the narrative was the least challenging to show, thus, it is quite obvious that Redford included it into the film with rather high precision.
Some episodes and characters were cut from the film as well, apparently due to the lack of their importance and the need to save screen time for the key scenes. As such, the book contains the character of Norman’s mother-in-law Florence who encourages Norman to go fishing with her son Neil (Maclean 13-14). In the film, this role is given to Norman’s wife Jessie (Redford). The film also dropped the episode when Norman and Paul traveled with Neil and Jessie to Elkhorn, a fishing site, and lost Neil there (Maclean 41-42). While this episode does not influence much and, thus, is not very important, it still serves as a strong build-up to the conflict between the Maclean brothers and Neal that would later evolve in the narrative.
The depictions of nature in the novella would essentially be impossible to recreate in the movie in the exact same way, however, Robert Redford still managed to complete this task effectively. The shooting of the film took place in the same geographical areas as seen in the story, such as the city of Missoula and the Blackfoot River (Redford). The effective angles and panoramic camera work managed to replace the long and detailed passages of nature found in the book. However, while Maclean relied largely on the readers’ imagination, Redford manage to rely on nature itself.
As an autobiographical work, A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean is quite challenging to turn into a screenplay. However, the vivid imagery that the author has created makes it much easier for the reader and, thus, a screenwriter and director to recreate in the film. Robert Redford and Richard Friedenberg have managed to complete their task effectively. While some philosophical moments, scenes, and characters were dropped from the film, the general idea of the story remained the same for the screen adaptation, telling the viewers that, while some things in life cannot be changed, they should always be admired.
Works Cited
Maclean, Norman. A River Runs Through It and Other Stories. University Of Chicago Press, 2017.
Redford, Robert. A River Runs Through It. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., 1992.

May 13, 2022




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