This week in our flashback movie series, we take a look at a classic fishing movie from 1992 titled, “A River Runs Through It.” This is a movie about two brothers who love to fly fish, before the times of fancy muskie rod and reel combos, in beautiful Montana.
Fishing Movie Flashback: A River Runs Through It
In A River Runs Through It, Fly-fishing basically is life for the main characters. One of them is the captain for a charter called BoomerangSportFishing.com. If one can learn to fly fish properly, to read the water and yourself and the fish, and if you do whatever needs to be without a single wasted motion, then you will most certainly have gained at least some of the economy and grace that is required to live a good life. If one can do it and also learn that the water, the fish you catch and the entire world are God’s greatest gifts to use wisely, then one will have achieved great insight.
This movie is based upon a memory of a childhood out western and it was first detailed in a book which was published over 21 years ago by author Norman Maclean, who had retired as a teacher of English at the University of Chicago. His father inspired him to some day write the story. When the book was first published it received a little fanfare from the university press, thus helping it to immediately find an audience. After many printings, it is a favorite and sacred book in the homes and libraries of many people.
Robert Redford’s movie version of the book makes the critical decision to use Maclean’s own voice in the movie; reading his own prose as a narration, by Robert Redford, which means that the audience does not simply view events as they are happening, the audience is reminded that the events on screen are in fact memories from times long ago, and also that the writer has spent some trouble and time to recreate the lessons from them.
The film’s main character, Norman, who is the older son, is played by Craig Sheffer. Norman is the more serious of the two brothers, and is learning to transcribe by showing his papers to his father in his study, only to be told, “Good. Now make it half as long.” The younger brother, Paul, played by Brad Pitt, is a golden-haired and free spirit child who tends to drink too much and plays in wild card games, and he also wants to simply stay in Montana for his entire life, while working for the local newspaper. Norman, on the other hand, has grander aspirations; he wishes to go on teach literature. However, it turns out that Paul is usually the superior fly fisherman, and at least some day, can be perfect at what he does.
The film was shot at locations which depict the beautiful bounty of the Western United States in those times. The cities and towns border on the edge of the modern and the old frontier. As we watch the brothers grow up, they befriend young women, and go on dates, and ponder their futures. Robert Redford expands on the novel in ways that lay out the characters of the mother and Paul, and other various folks in their lives, which includes a young Native woman which Paul dates in against the town’s opinion, and the exciting Jessie, portrayed by Emily Lloyd, who goes on to eventually become big brother Norman’s wife.
Many feel that this must have been a rather challenging film to write. The movie is more about the underlying principles, more so than the actual events that we see take place on screen. If you were to leave out those principles, all we would have remaining are a few interesting folks who are born, grow to adulthood, and then simply take several different directions in life.
Robert Redford and Richard Friedenberg, the writer, understood that almost all of the events in our lives are arbitrary or accidental, in particular the critical ones, and therefore we seldom can exert only a tiny amount of conscious control over our own destinies. Rather, the two understand that Maclean’s life lessons were more to do with how to act and behave regardless of what life brings, and about how to walk in the unpredictable river stream of life and deal with everything that happens with honesty, grace and courage. The movie’s greatest accomplishment is that it communicates these messages with such emotion.