An Oscar winning movie, but is it worthy of that title? Or is it just another overrated dud? (Here’s looking at you, Black Panther)
Written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and directed by Gus Van Sant, Good Will Hunting tells the story of young genius Will Hunting (Damon) who struggles with the expectations thrust upon him after he is discovered by Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard). Will is young man torn between his old life of delinquency; achieving his promising potential; and love for a girl named Skylar (Minnie Driver). His past and current personal struggles are highlighted in sessions with Psychologist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams).
Good Will Hunting won two Oscars: Best Supporting Actor (Williams), and Best Original Screenplay (Damon and Affleck). After watching the movie and mulling over the performances, the dialogue and the story I have come to the conclusion that the film deserved the two Oscars they collected.
Robin Williams was a legendary actor, mostly known for his comedic performances, but oh boy did he know how to bang out an outstanding dramatic performance every now and again. There are many parallels drawn between Maguire and Hunting: they are both from South Boston, both of them suffered abuse from father figures, and both have high expectations for themselves due to their intelligence. Early on in the film it was established that Lambeau and Maguire had a shaky history. They were college roommates, which was revealed during their scene at the restaurant where, after the death of Maguire’s wife, Lambeau only sent a card. He was chasing career opportunities in Paris and didn’t have time to attend the funeral. It is also revealed that Maguire has distanced himself from his university days. Later on, when Lambeau and Maguire attack each other again, it is revealed that Maguire was more intelligent than Lambeau, but wasted his potential when he decided to teach in a community college and take care of his ill wife rather than pursuing a better career. That revelation draws a stark comparison to Maguire and Hunting, with Maguire being the personification of Hunting’s unfulfilled potential. Despite this, Maguire is a character with limited regrets, and considers his life with his wife as the most important thing, going as far as to physically threaten Hunting after he disrespects her.
Regarding father figures, the film has three characters who adopt this role for Will: Lambeau, Chuckie Sullivan (Ben Affleck) and Maguire. All three men want to push Will to reach his full potential, and they all do it in their own ways.
Lambeau discovered Will writing the correct answer to a very difficult question on a blackboard outside his lecture theatre. Astounded by the genius a janitor possesses, Lambeau speaks to the sentencing judge after Will is arrested for assaulting a police officer, who agrees he can be taught by Lambeau, but must also see a therapist. After taking him to two therapists, Lambeau discovers Will is very difficult to connect with. Lambeau is characterised as a narcissist, who is obsessed with academic achievement, and sees very little point in any other life pleasure. This is brought to the surface when he accuses Maguire of being jealous of him and wanting the success he has had. A man who is so openly committed to success and achievement is pushed to the limit when confronted by someone who seems to be hell bent on throwing it all away. He even admits that he wishes he never discovered Hunting and that he should waste sleepless nights on someone better than him, who is just throwing away their potential. Lambeau is blind to the fact that Will is a damaged person, and if he is pushed without the direction Maguire is trying to give him it could end up going disastrously (they referenced the Uni Bomber as an example). Lambeau is a character who narcissistically projects himself onto others, even when it is least welcome. Although he is a person with good intentions for Will, he deploys the wrong methods.
Chuckie is Will’s best friend of many years. They, along with two other friends, spend their lives working, drinking, picking up girl and fighting. Their way of living eventually catches up with them when Will is arrested for striking a police officer. Chuckie represents the danger of Will sinking back into his old life; he is envious of Will’s genius, and is angered by the fact that he almost threw it away to pursue the kind of blue-collar jobs that he will have to work for the rest of his life. He points out it will be an insult to him if Will had an opportunity to get out of that cycle and refrained from taking it. He foreshadows the end of the film in the demolition yard scene, hoping that he’d go and pick up Will one day and find that Will has left South Boston.
The final and most important father figure is Sean Maguire. He is the one who tries to give Will a choice to do what he wants. He is the only one who lets Will be Will. Their relationship gets off to a rocky start as Will immediately tries to push Maguire away to avoid emotional attachment, something Maguire notes as a defence mechanism that Will has developed over years of abuse. This ends in Maguire throttling Will, reminiscent of abuse Will suffered in younger years. Yet after the first session, realising that Will is just a scared kid, Maguire takes him to a park and tells him that he is all in on helping Will, but Will has to want to help himself. In the third session he talks about how he met his wife, in an effort to relate with Will. He missed out on a baseball game, in which there was a famous home run, just to “see about a girl”. Will is understandably shocked at this revelation, as he has never truly been in love with a girl before. The fourth session dealt with imperfections in people. He talked about how his wife farted when nervous and at one point farted herself awake. Maguire uses humour and relatability to break down Will’s defences. But progress is lost in the next session as Will’s love life has taken a hit, and his defences have returned. He tells Maguire he wanted to be a shepherd, and Maguire kicks him out. In the final session, he tells Will about how he used to antagonize his drunk father so he would beat him instead of his little brother or mother. The abuse Will suffered had always been the core to his strange behaviour, and the famous “It’s not your fault” scene relieves Will of all the guilt he has been carrying around with him his entire life.
The three father figures together add up to be a competent father. Lambeau tries to push him to his potential as hard as he can; Chuckie represents his social life and teaches him how to relax and have fun, and Maguire tries to teach him how to be himself. With combined mentoring they help Will, whereas individually they would have been ineffective.
Near the end of the first act, Will finds his love interest of the movie, Skylar, who he becomes heavily infatuated with. However, due to the aforementioned troubles with forming emotional attachments, Will also pushes her away in an attempt to not have himself hurt again. He ends up telling Skylar he doesn’t love her, even though she begs for him to let her help him. At the end of the film, he drives down to California to reunite with her after she left for Stanford, leaving a note for Maguire about how he turned down a job to “see about a girl”.
The films main themes are potential, abuse, father figures, love, regret and friendship. I think that Affleck and Damon’s dialogue and characters do these themes the justice and gravity they deserve. Even though the ending was foreseeable, the film is still quirky and humorous enough to make it a feel-good story. The film hits hard, as being a student currently, I also feel the pressure that Will feels to fulfill my potential; keep up with my social life, and also remember my roots of a boy from the Valleys. This film deserves both Oscars it received and gets a solid 8.5/10 from me.
By Sam Jones