Rated PG. Running Time: 2 hours 3 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 3; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 5
There is a river whose streams shall make
glad the city of God…
After seeing this lyrical film I am thankful that writer Norman Maclean refused so many Hollywood offers to film his novella. Robert Redford has proved that he is the right filmmaker for the difficult task of translating the author’s beautiful, literate prose into the image-based medium of film. The Montana scenery is glorious, especially the scenes of the three men fishing in the Blackfoot River.
The story gleaned by scriptwriter Richard Friedenberg from the author’s collection of three stories is very simple, that of a minister (Presbyterian, no less) raising his two sons amidst the visual splendors of early 20th century Montana. Norman is studious and Paul (Brad Pitt) is rebellious. The elder Maclean ((Tom Skerritt), a Presbyterian minister, seeks to pass on his faith and values, but it is not the outward forms of religion that unite the three–it is the father’s passion for fly fishing which becomes the lasting tie binding them together long after they are grown and following very separate ways.
Norman follows closest in his father’s footsteps by going off East to study literature and eventually accepting an offer to teach at the University of Chicago. Paul, as a boy wishing to always stay in Montana and become a professional fly fisherman, finds work as a newspaper reporter. When the two are reunited after Norman’s graduation, the latter senses the darker side of Paul’s life. As he learns more about his brother, he tries to reach out to him but without success. Paul’s drinking has become an addiction. Along with his gambling. Keeping company with a rough crowd, this proves to be a bad combination.
It is only when they are fishing in the river, where their father claims “God can be heard beneath the stones,” that they are at one with each other and the world. The Rev. MacLean confesses in a sermon, ” Each one of here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.” The above words come from the pastor’s heart, from the heart of a father who, like that of the prodigal’s in the parable, would gladly have run out to welcome back his errant son, but the son would not or could not “come to himself” and head back home.
I love the narration (by the older Norman) about the father, “My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things – trout as well as eternal salvation – came by grace; and grace comes by art; and art does not come easy.” Those theologically inclined will find much food for thought in the imagery of water that, like a river, runs through the film, including the last line of the narration: “I am haunted by waters.”