Robert Redford chose the Norman Maclean autobiographical novella A River Runs Through It as his third project as director, because he considered it an appropriate vehicle to tell a story about the American West, at a time–the 1920s–when a way of living close to nature still informed the country’s unique character and values. “There were enough elements that merged together to make this piece something I really wanted to do. It dealt with the environment, in a time and place that I believe was very special, because it helped form a way of life that embodies the strength of our country. This film represents a period of American history in our beginning, the end of a time when things were done by horse and by hand, before machines took over, before radio and television. It was unquestionably a different lifestyle, and yet it was then that the image of the West, that’s supposedly the backbone of our strength, was formed.”
In Maclean’s book the sport of fly-fishing, the state of grace one can achieve while catching the silvery trout that swim in the mountain rivers, is equated with being connected with God and the sacredness of nature. The narration over the opening sentence says: “In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.” Redford believes in this idea as well, “When you’re fly-fishing–and you really have to do it in order to know exactly what it is–there’s something very powerful and deep about the experience, particularly when you do it well, some real communion with nature that goes on, that’s totally peaceful and really ancient.” In the film as in the book, the physical and spiritual grace necessary to fish well is compared with the creative work of an artist.
(To read more) Buy the book, Robert Redford and the American West.