Good Will Hunting
sounding are the students unsure of where their future might take them — with most loaded with otherworldly brain function, the world is an oyster encrusted with a monolith of a pearl. They could be a doctor or a chemist or a lawyer or an engineer, few what-ifs implemented within the scenery. Part of me would love to meet them with an eye-roll and an edged-out scoff, but another, too undoubtedly impressed, would be too in awe to put forth such disdain. How nice it would be to be boundless in everything you do.
But imagine if the person embodying such versatility had no drive, had no plans to utilize their cerebral capability, and preferred custodial work to achieving a degree. You wouldn’t want to stand alongside them and let them throw away their unfathomable aptitud. You’d want to knock some sense into them, turning their apathy into determination and getting them out of their standstill of a current life.
One such unmotivated figurehead is Good Will Hunting’s titular protagonist (portrayed by Matt Damon), a twenty-year-old slacker who holds great intellectual ability (he has eidetic memory) but isn’t much inclined to harness it. As a perpetual idler who spends his days drinking with his immature set of buddies, he works as a janitor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology rather than as an attendee, to the annoyance of us and his friends that know he’s worthy of something greater.
But Will won’t have it — he has no goals in sight, and figures he’d be perfectly happy doing handiwork until retirement becomes him. Bully for him when he daftly solves a challenge problem posted by one of the math professors, though; his competency doesn’t go unnoticed, and from there does his journey into self-actualization begin.
It’s all a matter of coincidence, really. As the institute attempts to figure out who finished the problem, Will flees the scene, worried that he will no longer be able to survive on his minimum-wage life because feared adults might force him to do something more meaningful with his life. So when he later assaults a childhood foe and the police officer who tries to make peace, he faces arrest, but is able to skirt past it when Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård), the man who posted the brain teaser, proposes that he privately study the field with him while also attending regular therapy as an alternative. As learning and divulging one’s problems is more appetizing than spending a couple months in a jail cell, Will agrees, much to his disliking.
But, of course, such activities prompt him to realize that he can’t keep going down the path he's been stuck on for his entire life. He likes to drunkenly mess around with his friends, but he might like romancing Skylar (Minnie Driver), a British Harvard student he begins seeing, better. He likes to tell himself that hammering drywall is a more valid job than solving mathematical proofs, but he might think otherwise the more he sees Sean McGuire (Robin Williams), the psychologist he’s expected to talk with that eventually becomes a sort of confidant. The film’s events just might be the most emotional and confusing of Will Hunting’s life — but he’d better get the girl and better stop slacking off in the end. He needs to.
I have a theory, anyway, that a movie should be able to be predictable so long as we want a happy ending, and if we want its characters to prosper. If emotional manipulation isn’t a part of the equation, why not give us what we desire? Good Will Hunting, a smart crowdpleaser that undercuts its realism by warming the heart, earns its good-natured conclusion. It’s the sort of film we could watch over and over again, its dialogue and acting so voracious and interesting that its feel-good twist is the very thing that keeps us coming back for more all these years later.
Part of its charm, too, is its working as a breakthrough for so many of those involved. It brought avant garde filmmaker Gus Van Sant his first worldwide success, and it propelled Damon and Ben Affleck to superstardom, winning them both Oscars for the screenplay as well as defining them as acting talents of weighty ability. It brought Williams, poignant as Will’s therapist, a trophy for his supporting turn, and got Driver, the most engrossing love interest of the decade, a nomination. Because Good Will Hunting is a work that doesn’t just make an impression; it also gallantly affects us, going beyond mere satisfying filmmaking because it touches us in ways few films can manage. It makes for a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours, and a little cinematic dopamine here and there can be a terrific thing. A
Gus Van Sant
2 Hrs., 6 Mins.
May 7, 2016
arvard doesn’t so much seem to be a university as it does a fictional land in my eyes. I imagine its student body cool like the misanthropes of Cruel Intentions, uniformed like the young wizards of Hogwarts, adept in the art of conversation like any character in a given Aaron Sorkin-penned TV series. A friend of mine goes there, being the basketball playing Emmy Noether of our middle-of-the-road home town, and confounding is the way she talks about how those around her seem to unanimously display uncharted characteristics of brilliance. Rare-