A Second Look: Good Will Hunting
In 1997, Gus Van Sant released Good Will Hunting which starred Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck, Stellan Skarsgard, Minnie Driver, Casey Affleck, Cole Hauser, Colleen McCauley, John Mighton, Rachel Majorowski, Richard Fitzpatrick, Scott William Winters, Rob Lyons, Steven Kozlowski, Jimmy Flynn, and George Plimpton. The film grossed $225.9 million at the box office and was nominated for multiple awards including the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Original Song, Best Music, Original Dramatic Score, the Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture, the Empire Award for Best Film, and the MTV Movie Awards for Best Movie, Best Male Performance, Best On-Screen Duo, and Best Kiss. The film won many other awards such as the Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay – Motion Picture, the Golden Trailer Award for Best Drama, and the Satellite Award for Best Screenplay, Original.
Young Will Hunting is gifted with extraordinary mathematical skills but instead choose to work in a janitorial job at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Loyal to his friends, Will pushes away anyone else who tries to get close to him. However, after solving a complex mathematical equation, Will is discovered by Professor Lambeau who sees potential in him and sends him to psychiatrist Sean Maguire.
The film that made stars out of Affleck and Damon, Good Will Hunting is a great film that presents the inner conflict of a troubled young adult with past full of abuse. However, that’s really what made Will into such an interesting character. Throughout the film he’s shown as having trust issues due to what happened to him in the past, but those experiences also gave him a sense of not wanting to show anybody getting to him. This can be seen when he states that he always chose to be beaten with a wrench by his father out of his desire to prove he was the better man. At the same time, he is also shown to possess brainpower that many of the other characters in the film envy. While the film doesn’t display a lot of his genius in action, rather showing him putting the final touch on some equations, the audience does see his mind work in other situations, such as how he cleverly works to get various psychiatrists to drop him as a client as well as how he’s able to demonstrate his understanding of geopolitical conflicts and all of their ramifications when he’s interviewed by the director of the NSA. It’s fascinating to see that one of the biggest challenges in the film comes in him being convinced to use his abilities for long-term benefits rather than the short term.
That convincing is what makes the difference between Maguire and Lambeau’s methods in getting him to succeed, namely how they believe he should use his potential. On one hand, there’s Maguire who believes that Will doesn’t want to use his gifts and works to get the boy to trust him, understand his mind is something special, and make him want to have the desire to make something of himself. On the other hand, Lambeau sees Will as just being lazy and intentionally squandering his gift. As such, Lambeau decides the best course of action is to oversee Will’s instruction and force him to make something of himself whether or not he wants to.
Notably, the film also presents one of Will’s friends, Chuckie, pointing out that Will has something that he would kill to have. As such, while Will wants to stay in South Boston and spend his time doing manual labor with his friends and using his mind for short term benefits, Chuckie wants him to be the one to use his gifts and leave the area so Will doesn’t just wind up the guy he lives next to and watches football games with for the next 50 years. In fact, Chuckie feels so strongly about that that he straight up tells Will that he’ll kill the guy if he does that, prefacing it with that he’s his best friend, showing that Chuckie really does want what’s best for Will.