A River Runs Through It (1992)

ARiverRunsThroughItPosterBy the time narrator Robert Redford solemnly intoned the final line of this film, “I am haunted by waters,” I could do no more than to sit for some several minutes and attempt to catch my breath. My two hour journey through the lives, loves, and fishing trips of the Maclean family had left me drained, my very soul touched and changed at least six times during this movie. I learned so much not only about the meaning of living a full life, but about what it is to be a man. And a son. And a brother. And a father. And the value of a really good hair conditioner.

I knew I had learned something about myself after watching this because I realized that the secret to healthy man-to-man relationships within your family is sharing a love of fly fishing, preferably in the sun-drenched, painterly-photographed outdoors of Montana as imagined by the Sundance Kid himself.

I thought to myself, “how much easier would it be to understand my own father and brother if we were all up at the crack of dawn at our favorite spot on the Blackfoot River communing with one another (but not talking – it scares off the fish) while perfecting our respective casting techniques?” It would probably also be easier if I had a brother, too.

The movie presents a couple of good life lessons for us guys who are working toward being emotionally bonded with our fathers, but not in a way that makes us have to talk about sissy stuff like feelings, hopes and fears. The examples you can glean from the film are all about deeds recognized by each man as being evocative of that whole “I am my father’s son and I have his respect” vibe that usually result in some hearty laughing and backslapping while posing in front of some fish that looks like it’s on steroids.


The first such event in the movie is of course when Brangelina Maclean invents his own type of fly fishing called “shadow casting.” Shadow casting involves Brangelina standing in the river by himself and whipping his fishing line around through the air just above the water and then doing it the opposite direction.

The effectiveness this had on catching fish is unknown, but it allowed Sundance to shoot one of those mythological-looking scenes with Brangelina where you may not have known what it was supposed to mean, but you knew it meant something important.

How can we shadow cast in our own life? That’s a good question to be sure, but an even better question is how can we get hair like Brangelina? I think once we have hair like Brangelina had in this film, the whole shadow casting business will just fall into place. Perhaps his hair is itself a form of shadow casting with its ability to remain perfect in the heat and the water, unaffected by the bugs buzzing around. (Only visible when Sundance determines that bugs would make the scene look more summery and iconic – and then only the flying kind – there aren’t any spiders or roaches in Sundance’s Big Sky Country.)

I think then that only when we allow our hair to find its own way – to allow it to shadow cast itself to its natural fullness and waviness can we then begin to shadow cast the rest of our life. Without self-actualized hair, are we really any more than apes with fishing poles?


Once you (and your hair) have mastered your own unique style of shadow casting, the river is yours, but only if you are willing to risk everything and allow it carry you wherever it will. This is especially true if you have hooked Mega-fish like Brangelina did in what passes for about the only thing to actually happen in the movie. (Remember, the bulk of the movie is either about guys standing around flicking their fishing poles around or talking about standing around flicking their fishing poles around.)

While his father and brother watch in awe, Brangelina hooks the Moby Dick of trout and begins his “Old Man and the Sea” moment that every man needs once in his life to prove his mettle.

Brangelina and his hair know that those who dare to shadow cast must be prepared to deal with the results and he quickly merges with his rod and reel, becoming one with the line, the river, the fish, and attaining total Brangelinaness as he allows himself to be swept down the river with his fish.

No matter how many sexy actresses he would later share his Brangelinaness with in the future, he would never be better than this day – never again would he be completely at one with life such that he allowed his hair to become soaked with river water without a second thought.


And if you weren’t yet enlightened enough by this movie to realize that on this day he was a god, but that the moment could not last, thankfully Sundance tells us all that in his narration. Why leave to chance what you can simply tell people, especially when it’s as complex as the meaning behind a movie about guys fishing?

Well, once you have the greatest single moment of a million lifetimes, in movies like this it always means your death warrant is signed. The fair-haired golden boy who shines brightest must meet with tragedy in the end. It’s what allows us losers to go on living.

If you didn’t know that Brangelina was going to die by the time this thing ended while the horse-faced brother played by Craig Sheffer would be around to put it all into perspective with a paragraph or two of purple-prose-Sundance-voiced narration, then you probably think this movie was actually more than a collection of picture postcard shots interspersed with faux-insightful blather about the connection between fishing and male bonding.

And in the end? I am haunted by hair.

© 2013 MonsterHunter

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