The film A River Runs Through It, directed by Robert Redford, contains many elements which make it a great movie. The secluded landscape of central Montana where it is set brings a sense of life into the environment of the film. During the course of the movie a recurring theme ties the mental, spiritual and emotional aspects of the characters to the physical setting of the plot. This theme is the Big Blackfoot River, which flows through the Macleans land, ands serves as a reference point for everything happening in the movie. During the movie the Maclean brothers go their separate ways, as does the branches of a river, but both the brothers and the rivers end up back in the same place, by one way or another. Norman Maclean writes this in the original text of the novel when he says, “Eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it”.
The setting of a majority of the movie is the rugged terrain of Central Montana. A varied landscape, which changes from rolling hills to deep crevasses, gouged by mountainous glaciers moving slowly over the terrain. The environment that the plot unfolds in is very important as it shapes the lives of the characters themselves. The Maclean brothers grew up with a river running through their land, and so the river directly influenced what the boys become. Their father to relates his own belief that the
Earth was not created in six days, but in half a billion years, and on some of the rocks in the river lie raindrops from the dawn of time.
The Big Blackfoot River also helps the characters develop deeper relationships with each other. The obvious example of this is the reverend taking his sons fishing and teaching them geology and moral lessons along the way. However a subtler example is the bonding of the two brothers. While fishing they build a mutual respect for each other, as well as admiration and value. Norman Maclean in particular notices how much his brothers fishing style differs from his father and in this sees his brothers own uniqueness and individuality. The river never stops being a part of Norman’s life. He continues to fish the deep holes of the Big Blackfoot, and later writes, “I am haunted by waters.”
Another crucial piece of the setting is the rugged terrain outside of the river valley. When the movie first begins the viewer sees an overview of the Montana highlands, a landscape comprised of hills that are studded with great boulders left behind by glaciers. This represents the turmoil and hardships faced by the characters, and their struggle to overcome them, living in the rugged Montana countryside. The town the novel and movie are set in is also representative of the relative isolation the Maclean boys had to grow up in. In fact the entire town’s isolation from a large majority of society has crafted a unique culture all its own, which also shapes the characters into what they are.
Overall the film was well made, including both good rising and falling action, and a well-laid plot. There was a sufficient mix of action and drama, which kept the viewer interested in the lives of the characters as the story progressed. Redford’s choice of actors I found unique, but also predictable. For example, the selecting of Brad Pitt to play Paul Maclean, who usually plays the roles of dynamic characters and does so in this film. If there was a fault in the movie itself it would be the development of Norman’s relationship with Jessie. This particular aspect of the film could have been better written. Other than that it was an excellent movie, tying moral values into a plot set in one of the most varying landscapes imaginable.