The first two cantos of The Purgatorio strongly remind me of the movie A River Runs Through It. I think the same sort of pastoral and wondering emotions inspired by one’s environment are prominent in Dante and the movie. The scene where Norman returns via train to Montana and the scene where Dante emerges from Hell are very similar. There is a scene where Norman has been away teaching in the city and takes a train back home to Montana. It’s the same effect as when Dante leaves Hell and then suddenly finds himself in some place calm and there’s clean water where he can wash the grime of the city away. The characters from both scenes are coming from a very industrial (cities, trains, etc.) and dirty place to a very natural place of peace and beauty. Their reactions are similar as well. Both Dante and Norman are filled with awe at the environmental contrast.
Another similarity that strikes me now is the presence of music. We’ve discussed in class how Purgatory is filled with beautiful chants and hymns. In A River Runs Through It there are several scenes where Norman is singing hymns in church. One such scene occurs shortly after his return home and you can see him looking around at the congregation united in song with a look of contentment on his face as if that type of music, or any type of music, had been lacking from his fast-paced city life.
While there are many similarities to The Purgatorio in this movie, there are also connections to The Inferno as well. Norman’s brother, Paul, destroys himself by his bad choices. The movie clearly demonstrates that Paul makes the choice to get caught up in gambling, drinking, and fighting. Norman repeatedly warns him and even goes with him one night to see if he can stop the excess, but Paul shrugs off the advice and continues the same behavior. We can see this allegorically as Norman representing good conscience and the voice of reason which Paul rejects in favor of his girlfriend and gambling buddies who represent overindulgence and sin.
This is significant because we can clearly see Paul making the choice of sin and Hell. Further, he rejects religion by refusing to attend the church his father pastors. According to Dante, it’s pretty clear that Paul would go to Hell after he dies, unless he chose God at the last moment. A River Runs Through It provides a classic contrast of the good, dutiful son and the sinful, irresponsible son which complements the lessons Dante-as-character is learning by seeing the contrasts between hell, purgatory, and later, heaven.