I may have watched this movie a thousand times in my lifetime. If I live long enough, I may watch it a thousand times more. And every time I watch it, I find new wisdom in the words of Norman Maclean.
If there’s ever been anything as close to cinematic perfection as the ending of “A River Runs Through It” (clip above), I have yet to find it.
Besides the poetic, melodic words of Maclean, and the excellent job Robert Redford did of adapting them to the screen, I’m struck by how much the Big Blackfoot River reminds me of the Big South Fork here in Tennessee. They’re completely different, of course, and yet there are many similarities between the northern Cumberland Plateau and the American West.
Then there’s the score. I’m a fan of well-composed movie scores, and there are several epic ones on my iPod. But none of them come close to the hauntingly beautiful music from the score of “A River Runs Through It.” In many ways, I think, the movie would not have been the same without the score. Which is ironic, because I listened to a podcast recently where Mark Isham — the composer behind the score — said he was brought onboard late in the production process, after his predecessor simply wasn’t getting the job done. He wrote the score quickly, in a matter of a couple of weeks. And it perfectly complimented the film.
Ultimately, though, it always goes back to Maclean’s words. Because they remind me of my own thought processes as I stand in our own canyon, here in Tennessee, along the Clear Fork River: “When I am alone in the half-light of the canyon, all existence seems to fade to a being with my soul in memories. And the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River, and a four-count rhythm, and the hope that a fish will rise.
“Eventually, all things merge into one. And the river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words. And some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”