A River Runs Through It

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A novel which became a bestseller, and which was successfully adapted to film. It is about the life of ordinary people. The father of two brothers, living in the majestic mountains of Montana on the eve of the First World War, raised both sons in the spirit of biblical commandments. But the brothers grew up quite different from each other. The elder Norman dreams of seeing the world and becoming a professor of literature. The younger Paul prefers to go to bars, play cards and is ready to spend his whole life in his native Montana. The only thing that unites the brothers is a passion for fishing. Ironically, however, the windy Paul is far superior to his serious older brother.

The Story of The Novel

Having retired in 1973, already at a respectable age, Norman Maclean followed the advice of his then adult children and focused on writing. No commercial publishers were interested in his stories, however, and only old university connections made it possible to publish a collection (Maclean xi). The success of the book exceeded expectations and did not go unnoticed by filmmakers.

Robert Redford is said to have besieged the aged writer for several years with requests to sell the film rights. Unfortunately, the long-awaited premiere of the film took place after Mr. Maclean left our mortal world. It is not surprising that Redford personally (without credits) read the author's voice-over text, and in general, the film confirmed his interest, as a director, in the simple fate of people, in their relationship with each other and with nature, in isolation from which man himself, whatever you say, does not think (Thompson). The story largely owes its success to its philosophical and highly relatable nature as well as a wonderfully crafted movie.

Plot and Interpretation

The film was screened at the 1992 Toronto Film Festival, and in 2017 a restored version of the film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. The production of the film was from the British film company Allied Filmmakers, Wildwood Enterprises is the film company of Robert Redford. Robert Redford tried for many years to get the film rights to the book (“A River Runs Through It”). Given the idea of the story and how it was adapted, Redford’s efforts were worthy enough.

Just like the original novel, the film adaptation tells a story about the family of the Presbyterian pastor Maclean, who lives in the mountains of Montana. The eldest of the sons in this family is Norman Maclean. The film begins with the words of Reverend Maclean: "One day, when you mature, you will write the history of our family - and only then will you understand what happened and why." A wonderful family saga about growing up, learning, love, and more. And also, in the center of the story is fishing, the passionate admirers of which were the father and both of his sons. The film is shot in a warm, cozy way. This is a slow, detailed movie that makes you remember the "voice of childhood" (Redford). These characteristics made the film and its original novella popular. Watching or reading about someone’s recollection and personal inner journeys evokes many nostalgic memories and put the viewer or reader into an unforgettable trans-like state.

Just like the original novella, the film adaptation is largely biographic, depicting various stances and positions of Norman Maclean and his family. Despite the movie, just like the story gets extremely personal at times, it still maintains the intimacy with the audience and is highly relatable. While not everyone could have the opportunity exactly the same things Maclean did, similar memories will likely come to mind while watching the movie.


It is safe to conclude that the novel itself and its film adaptation did not leave anyone indifferent. The plot in which Norman Maclean returns after six years of study at Dartmouth College to his native place, in the town of Missoula, Montana. Norman will have to decide on the choice of profession. And he also meets a wonderful girl at the dance, Jessie Burns. This love and family story won the hearts of many critics. The intimate sense that is present within the story and the movie is another aspect that made the movie so popular with the audiences.

Works Cited

"A River Runs Through It". The Internet Movie Database, 2022, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105265/.

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.

Thompson, Toby. "A River Runs Through It". The Washington Post, 1992, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/ariverrunsthroughitpgthompson_a09e82.htm.

May 12, 2022



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