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A River Runs Through It by Norman McLean looks at the numerous experiences and feelings of the Maclean’s family in Missoula (Montana). The movie, whose director is Robert Redford and the book take the reader/viewer through the sorrows and joys of the Maclean’s family, and how they deal with the hardships they experience. In both the book and the movie, the characters are taken straight from the life of Maclean, from the soft-spoken hardworking minister father all the way to Neil, the drunken brother-in-law. Paul is presented as the quick-tempered person, who is ready for any kind of attitude. His common phrase, “...with a bet to make things interesting (Maclean 6)”, at the commencement of the story, is evidence of Paul’s readiness to do anything to get what he wants. This paper compares and contrasts the book and the movieof A River Runs Through It. First we will look at the similarities between the book and the movie.

The major characters in both the movie and the book are genuine and clearly drawn. Just like moths are drawn to a flame, every character has a unique kind of luminosity that draws readers to the story. They are cordial, gentle, and intelligent. The characters are related, but not necessarily connected; they are close yet remarkably distant. For instance, while the family of Maclean knows that Paul is in trouble, they feel helpless to assist him. Help as a theme is evident in the book more than in the movie and is summarized by Rev Maclean, “... Help, is giving part of yourself to somebody who comes to accept it willingly and needs it badly” (81).

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It is crucial also to note that the occurrences surrounding the death of Paul, recited by Robert Redford within the film, are taken directly from the book (102-104). Rev. Maclean’s question regarding which of Paul’s hands had broken bones is more sensible in the print version, since the author discusses the hand strength and casting technique at length than in the film. Maclean offers further details in print regarding casting and fly-fishing, which enables even people to have a better understanding of the art and fully appreciate it. He said,

“It was a beautiful stretch of water, either to a fisherman or a photographer, although each would have focused his equipment at a different point. It was a barely submerged waterfall. The reef of rock was about two feet under the water, so the whole river rose into one wave, shook itself into spray, then fell back on itself and turned blue. After it recovered from the shock, it came back to see how it had fallen” (16-17).

Another similarity between the book and the movie is the musings of Rev. Maclean regarding how to assist people who do not accept help, which appears in the book (81), and is recited by Tom Skerritt in the movie nearly word by word. Also, the teaching techniques for casting by Rev. Maclean in the movie are taken directly from the book (2-4). The clipped version of Norman, with the Irish sergeant, following Paul’s jailing for a fist-fight (23-23), which appears in the movie, is a shortened but exact version of what is in the text.

Additionally, the comment by Rev. Maclean regarding Paul’s decision to alter the spelling of the name of the family appears both in the book and the film. The famous phrase by Paul in the book that church, fishing and work are the three things they are never late for within Montana (34) is also delivered in the movie by Brad Pitt. In both media, Paul makes use of his hat band, while Neal keeps his flies within a fly box. Neal drinks at the bar in both the movie and the book. The movie indicates that he sleeps together with Old Rawhide after picking her up from the bar, which is not the case in the book; Neal wakes up with a hangover at his mother’s house. Let us now look at the differences between the book and the movie below.

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The chronology of occurrences in the book and movie differ slightly. For instance, Jessie, the wife of Norman is introduced relatively soon inside the book as compared to the movie. Actually, the marriage between Norman and Jessie takes place by page 9, and by page 29, Norman already meets Neal, his brother-in-law at the train after Jessie turns into Mrs. Norman Maclean. On the other hand, Norman’s meeting with Neal, in the movie, takes place prior to his marriage to Jessie. Additionally in the book, the mother of Norman is comparatively a full-bodied character, who prepares chokecherry jelly for her children, together with Paul becomes the centre of focus in their family reunions (78). Also, the fishing disaster with Neal and the way Neal got burnt in the sun receives much attention in the book. Conversely, in the movie, how Paul pursues and eventually succeeds in catching unbelievable fish, takes place at the end of the movie. In the book, it is Norman who seizes the gigantic fish within the Big Blackfoot River; an act that occurs so early as compared to the movie (22).

Also, there is a slight alteration of timeline between the book and the movie. For instance, the opening lines, where old Norman remembers his father’s advice to put in writing his stories, takes place far back within the book. It is worth mentioning that Norman’s attendance of Dartmouth or his provision of a university professorship is not mentioned in the book; they are plot devices that are invented only for the film. Another difference is the courtship between Norman and Jessie, which forms a vital movement in the film, but lacks in the book. The initial time Jessie is introduced in the book, she is already a married woman.

The fly-fishing mastery of the two brothers, Paul and Norman also differ in the movie and the book. In the book, Paul is presented as a master in fly-fishing when compared to Norman (42-43). On the other hand, the fly-fishing skills of both brothers are presented as equal in the film. Additionally, the offer by Norman in the movie to assist Paul, while he is driving him together with his female friend home from a night out, is clumsily mentioned, while Norman and Paul are fishing in the book. It is also worth mentioning that Rev. Maclean’s comment to Norman in the book, “you can love completely without complete understanding” (103), is not included in the church sermon the way it appears within the film. Besides, the sandpaper humor and sardonic wit of Maclean are entirely lacking in the movie, maybe because of the time constraints and thematic focus. In the book, his humor is flavorful and fresh.

In conclusion, A River Runs Through It is an enjoyable print story, which has been presented in video form successfully. I have sometimes been disappointed by movies which are based on books, but A River Runs Through It movie is different. The screenplay accurately and deliciously reflects the content of the print version. Both the book and the movie have several similarities and differences as mentioned above, and connect with the audience well, enabling the author’s message to be conveyed effectively. I recommend both the book and the movie to everyone to read and watch for entertainment and education.

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