A River Runs Through It: Novel and Movie Comparison

A comparative analysis of the novel, “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean, and its subsequent movie version.

This paper discusses how the movie version of Norman Maclean’s 1976 novella, A River Runs Through It, stays faithful to the original text in many respects. It looks at how Robert Redford keeps Maclean’s voice in the film, which he narrates himself, with an understated economy that reflects the spare beauty of the storytelling. It examines how this allows some of the movie’s finest and most memorable passages to illuminate the film.
Norman is a studious, dark-haired man who longs to escape Montana, and teach literature. As the movie begins he has just returned home from Dartmouth. His younger, golden-haired brother Paul is perfectly happy to stay in his hometown, and has become a reporter there. Paul is beautiful: Norman says, If you push me far enough, all I really know is that he was a fine fisherman. His father says, You know more than that, he was beautiful. He was also a natural at fly fishing, a genius of the art. The movie portrays this beauty in part through the sheer physical beauty of the actor himself. His simple presence conveys Paul’s grace and torment. It also uses the conceit of Paul calling Norman The Professor several times, especially while eating breakfast with their parents. The book never does this.