The film starts with an elder Norman fishing in the “Big Blackfoot” river. Written by Mark Isham (who won the Academy Award for his work on River), the score is soft and sad. The camera focuses on the elder Norman’s aged hands, tying a fly to his fishing line, and he lyrically describes his past through voiceover (Spoken by Redford himself). These devices tell the viewer that Maclean’s past is something to be longed for, something great and not fully understood that has been lost forever.
Paul and Norman Maclean grew up in a rural, early twentieth century Montana wilderness. Their father, the Reverend Maclean (Tom Skerritt), ran the house with complete yet loving authority. The Reverend home-schooled the two in three subjects: reading, writing, and fly-fishing. Being a very strict enforcer of religious and moral law, the Reverend tried with all his might to instill his Presbyterian beliefs into his children. The difference between Paul and Norman is quickly obvious in the film. Norman, albeit unhappily, embraces his fathers code and standards, while Paul unremittingly combats them. In one symbolic scene, the boys discuss their ambiti...
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...l’s legs and forearms, and the river’s rapids colliding with rocks. The viewer is shown that this is a battle between two giants; two entities that Norman has, and will, never fully understand. In the end, Paul is swept underwater, and reappears in a calm part of the river, holding the fish high in celebration. The river is tamed, and Paul is finally victorious in his rebellion. This is the final scene of Paul in the film, and he dies in a bar fight of which the details are not fully disclosed.
A River Runs Through It is a film about brotherhood, the connection between all things, and the idea that one can never fully understand another. Norman and Paul Maclean’s story is one that is not unheard of before, but using Mise-En-Scene techniques such as score, lighting, and distance of subject, Robert Redford turns a seemingly common story into a very meaningful one.
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