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50 A River Runs Through It Quotes From Novella & Film

The novella, A River Runs Through It, was published in 1976 and is a semi-autobiographical coming of age story. Norman Maclean recounts the tale of two brothers with differing views on life.

Their father is a Presbyterian minister, and one brother follows in his religious footsteps while the other is more studious. The story takes place in the Rocky Mountain region and spans from World War I to the Great Depression.

If you haven’t read the book, you might have seen the film which premiered in 1992. It had a noteworthy cast including Craig Sheffer, Brad Pitt, Tom Skerritt, Brenda Blethyn, and Emily Lloyd, and was directed by Robert Redford. These A River Runs Through It quotes include those from the movie and the book.

There are several A River Runs Through It quotes about Montana, and the beautiful sunsets, which makes sense as the story is set in and around Missoula, Montana. Fly fishing, which is a popular pastime of Montanans, has several significant scenes and contributes to some of the themes of the book and movie.

a river runs through it quotes

The film was moving and sad, but audiences loved it, as evidenced by the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. It was also nominated for Best Music, Original Score, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It also grossed over $66 million dollars.

Keep reading these A River Runs Through It quotes to learn some interesting movie tidbits, like which poem was quoted in the film

A River Runs Through It quotes from the movie

1. “And I knew just as surely, just as clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last.” Norman Maclean (Craig Sheffer)

2. “For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us.” Reverend MacLean (Tom Skerritt)

3. “Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted.” Reverend MacLean (Tom Skerritt)

4. “Each one of 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 help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed?” Reverend MacLean (Tom Skerritt)

5. “Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are 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.” Narrator (Robert Redford)

6. “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.” Narrator (Robert Redford)

7. “My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things – trout as well as eternal salvation – came by grace; and grace comes by art; and art does not come easy.” Narrator (Robert Redford)

8. “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 (Craig Sheffer)

9. “I find I am humming softly; not to the music, but something else; some place else; a place remembered; a field of grass where no one seemed to have been; except a deer; and the memory is strengthened by the feeling of you, dancing in my awkward arms.” Norman Maclean (Craig Sheffer)

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10. “Oh, I’ll never leave Montana, brother.” Reverend MacLean (Tom Skerritt)

A River Runs Through It quotes about love, life, and helping others

11. “We can love completely what we cannot completely understand.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

12. “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

13. “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

14. “I did not know that stories of life are often more like rivers than books.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

15. “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

16. “Slowly we became silent, and silence itself is an enemy to friendship.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

17. “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

18. “Maybe so,” my brother replied. “But maybe what he likes is somebody trying to help him.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

19. “Help,” he said, “is giving part of yourself to somebody who comes to accept it willingly and needs it badly.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

20. “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

21. “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.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

A River Runs Through It quotes about fishing and being a fisherman

22. “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

23. “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.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

24. “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, A River Runs Through It

25. “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

26. “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

27. “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

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

29. “I asked, “Do you think you should help him?”

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“Yes,” he said, “I thought we were going to.”

“How?” I asked.

“By taking him fishing with us.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

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

31. “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

A River Runs Through It quotes about the river and water

32. “On the Big Blackfoot River above the mouth of Belmont Creek the banks are fringed by large Ponderosa pines. In the slanting sun of late afternoon the shadows of great branches reached from across the river, and the trees took the river in their arms. The shadows continued up the bank, until they included us” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

33. “I am haunted by waters.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

34. “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

35. “On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

36. “But I knew a story had begun, perhaps long ago near the sound of water.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

37. “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.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

38. “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

39. “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.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

40. “I used to think water was first, but if you listen carefully you will hear that the words are underneath the water.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

41. “If you listen carefully you will hear that the words are underneath the water.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Other great A River Runs Through It quotes including those about Montana and sunrises

42. “I’ll never leave Montana … and I like the trouble that goes with it.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

43. “The world is full of bastards, the number increasing rapidly the further one gets from Missoula, Montana.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

44. “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

45. “The hardest thing usually to leave behind, as was the case now, can loosely be called the conscience.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

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

47. “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

48. “All there is to thinking, he said, is seeing something noticeable which makes you see something you weren’t noticing which makes you see something that isn’t even visible.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

49. “Sunrise is the time to feel that you will be able to find out how to help somebody close to you, who you think needs help even if he doesn’t think so.” ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

50. “My father believed … man by nature was a mess and had fallen from an original state of grace. “ ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

The film spends a great deal of time on relationships, delving into romantic relationships as well as the relationship between brothers and fathers and sons. Leaving childhood and being drug into adulthood is another central theme, so It seems fitting that the poem quoted would be Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, by William Wordsworth.

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The final words of A River Runs Through It sum up the idea of family and life perfectly. The scene features an Elderly Norman Maclean, played by Montanan Arnold Richardson, fishing in the river.

The iconic image is often associated with the film, as are these words he speaks:

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and ran over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

You might have recognized these words from the quotes above, but there is something powerful about seeing them all together in one place while visualizing the end of the film. If you haven’t seen A River Runs Through It yet, you can do so on Hulu, Apple Tv, VUDU, and several other streaming services!

Danielle Dahl, Lead Contributor
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