35 A River Runs Through It Quotes by Norman Maclean

Read the best collection of A River Runs Through It quotes, sayings and lines (with images and pictures) from the classic novella and film.

A River Runs Through It is a 1992 American drama film directed by Robert Redford and starring Craig Sheffer, Brad Pitt, Tom Skerritt, Brenda Blethyn, and Emily Lloyd.

It is based on the 1976 semi-autobiographical novella A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean, adapted for the screen by Richard Friedenberg.

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The film won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography and was also nominated for Best Music, Original Score, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The film grossed over $66 million and received positive reviews from critics.

The story follows Norman and his brother Paul through the experiences of life and growing up, and how their love of fly fishing keeps them together despite varying life circumstances.

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This is a stirring tale of two brothers and the complex relationship they share with their minister father who treats the artful sport of fly fishing as both metaphor and meeting ground.

The river unites the three men, making it possible for them to overcome their differences and love one another.

Top 10 A River Runs Through It Quotes

  1. “At sunrise everything is luminous but not clear.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  2. “We can love completely what we cannot completely understand.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It                                                                                                                       
    a river runs through it quote
    a river runs through it quote

  3. “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It                                                                                                                       
    a river runs through it quotes
    a river runs through it quotes

  4. “It is not fly fishing if you are not looking for answers to questions.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  5. “Slowly we became silent, and silence itself is an enemy to friendship.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It                                                                                                         
    quotes from a river runs through it
    quotes from a river runs through it

  6. “One great thing about fly fishing is that after a while nothing exists of the world but thoughts about fly fishing.” – Norman Maclean,  A River Runs Through It

  7. “That’s how you know when you have thought too much – when you become a dialogue between ‘You’ll probably lose’ and ‘You’re sure to lose’.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  8. “Each one of us 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 to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed?” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Best A River Runs Through It Quotes

The drama is a true classic. The beauty and cruelty of life interspersed with the author’s poetic accounts of his early life. All set within a stunning Montana landscape.

  1. “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  2. “Nearly all those I loved and did not understand … are dead, but I still reach out to them.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  3. “The nearest anyone can come to finding himself at any given age is to find a story that somehow tells him about himself.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  4. “Dear Jesse, as the moon lingers a moment over the bitterroots, before its descent into the invisible, my mind is filled with song.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  5. “When [bait fishermen] come back home they don’t even kiss their mothers on the front porch before they’re in the back garden with a red Hills Bros. coffee can digging for angleworms.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  6. “The fisherman even has a phrase to describe what he does when he studies the patterns of a river. He says he is ‘reading the water’, and perhaps to tell his stories he has to do much the same thing.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  7. “My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things—trout as well as eternal salvation—come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  8. “Poets talk about “spots of time,” but it is really fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment. No one can tell what a spot of time is until suddenly the whole world is a fish and the fish is gone.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  9. “After you have finished your true stories sometime, why don’t you make up a story and the people that go with it? Only then will you understand what happened and why. It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  10. “On the river the heat mirages danced with each other and then they danced through each other and then they joined hands and danced around each other. Eventually the watcher joined the river, and there was only one of us. I believe it was the river.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  11. “So it is that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  12. “The cast is so soft and slow that it can be followed like an ash settling from a fireplace chimney. One of life’s quiet excitements is to stand somewhat apart from yourself and watch yourself softly becoming the author of something beautiful, even if it is only a floating ash.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  13. “I asked, “Do you think you should help him?” “Yes,” he said, “I thought we were going to.” “How?” I asked. “By taking him fishing with us.” “I’ve just told you,” I said, “he doesn’t like to fish.” “Maybe so,” my brother replied. “But maybe what he likes is somebody trying to help him.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  14. “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a 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.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  15. “She was one of the most beautiful dancers I’ve ever seen. She made her partner feel as if he were about to be left behind, or already had been. It is a strange and wonderful and somewhat embarrassing feeling to hold someone in your arms who is trying to detach you from the earth and you aren’t good enough to follow her.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  16. “Even the anatomy of a river was laid bare. Not far downstream was a dry channel where the river had run once, and part of the way to come to know a thing is through its death. But years ago I had known the river when it flowed through this now dry channel, so I could enliven its stony remains with the waters of memory.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  17. “Yet even in the loneliness of the canyon I knew there were others like me who had brothers they did not understand but wanted to help. We are probably those referred to as “our brothers’ keepers,” possessed of one of the oldest and possibly one of the most futile and certainly one of the most haunting of instincts. It will not let us go.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  18. “It is very important to a lot of people to make unmistakably clear to themselves and to the universe that they love the universe but are not intimidated by it and will not be shaken by it, no matter what it has in store. Moreover, they demand something from themselves early in life that can be taken ever after as a demonstration of this abiding feeling.” – Norman Maclean,  A River Runs Through It

  19. “It was here, while waiting for my brother, that I started this story, although, of course, at the time I did not know that stories of life are often more like rivers than books. But I knew a story had begun, perhaps long ago near the sound of water. And I sensed that ahead I would meet something that would never erode so there would be a sharp turn, deep circles, a deposit, and quietness.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  20. “Something within fishermen tries to make fishing into a world perfect and apart—I don’t know what it is or where, because sometimes it is in my arms and sometimes in my throat and sometimes nowhere in particular except somewhere deep. Many of us would probably be better fishermen if we did not spend so much time watching and waiting for the world to become perfect.” – Norman Maclean Author A River Runs Through It

  21. “Rhythm was just as important as color and just as complicated. It was one rhythm superimposed upon another, our father’s four-count rhythm of the line and wrist being still the base rhythm. But superimposed upon it was the piston two count of his arm and the long overriding four count of the completed figure eight of his reversed loop. The canyon was glorified by rhythms and colors.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  22. “As a Scot and a Presbyterian, my father believed that man by nature was a mess and had fallen from an original state of grace. […] As for my father, I never knew whether he believed God was a mathematician but he certainly believed God could count and that only by picking up God’s rhythms were we able to regain power and beauty. Unlike many Presbyterians, he often used the word ‘beautiful.‘” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  23. “Help,” he said, “is giving part of yourself to somebody who comes to accept it willingly and needs it badly.” “So it is,” he said, using an old homiletic transition, “that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  24. “Then he told me, “In the part I was reading it says the Word was in the beginning, and that’s right. I used to think water was first, but if you listen carefully you will hear that the words are underneath the water.” “That’s because you are a preacher first and then a fisherman,” I told him. “If you ask Paul, he will tell you that the words are formed out of water.” “No,” my father said, “you are not listening carefully. The water runs over the words. Paul will tell you the same thing.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

  25. “Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn’t. Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are the almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Summary Of A River Runs Through It

The film tells the autobiographical story about two boys, Norman (Craig Sheffer) and Paul (Brad Pitt), growing up in 1920s Missoula, Montana under the watchful eye of their father, a Presbyterian minister.

Eldest brother Norman eventually leaves home and becomes a disciplined, grounded professor, while younger brother Paul becomes a rebellious journalist and descends into gambling and liquor.

In the final chapter with little narrative transition, Norman reveals that Paul was murdered the following spring, perhaps a victim of his out-of-control lifestyle.

Heartbroken, Rev. Maclean preaches about being unable to help loved ones who are destroying themselves and who will not accept help.

All that those who truly care for such a self-destructive person can do, Rev. Maclean concludes, is to give unconditional love, even without understanding the reasons why.

Norman and his father are left to wonder how they might have helped him. The question haunts Norman into his old age as he is left fishing the big river all alone.

The closing scene shows an elderly Norman Maclean fishing on the same river, as director Robert Redford narrates the final lines from his original novella.

Did these thought-provoking A River Runs Through It  lines help you to look at life differently? Do you have any other inspirational quotes to add? Tell us in the comment section below.

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