Good Will Hunting is an extraordinary story on multiple levels because it is about the little guy. The trajectory of a lowly janitor being propelled to MIT genius is moving no matter how often it gets copied or imitated. It just never gets old. Then, there is the story of two young unknowns named Matt Damon and Ben Affleck who shot to fame thanks to some big dreams and a few mentors. Now they are two of the top names in Hollywood over 15 years later and they continue to be (Gone Girl and Interstellar are proof).
However, back then they were a long shot with only a solid idea for a film. It worked wonderfully though because of its core themes. It’s about friendship. It’s about romance. It’s about fear and aspirations. It’s about vulnerability. It’s about long shots making the most of their lives. Admittedly, that could be almost any film so there’s a need to bring the microscope in a little closer.
At face value Will Hunting (Matt Damon) seems like a young thug from South Boston who loves his beer, buddies, broads, and brawls. He and his friends including Chuckie (Ben Affleck) spend their days trying to make ends meet and fill the rest of their time with the aforementioned. We get glimpses of a different Will, however, a brilliant young man holding a plethora of book knowledge and blessed with a photographic memory. He’s able to philosophize rings around conceited Harvard students catching the eyes of a cute British girl named Skylar (Minnie Driver). They are a sweet couple and it seems like it might add up to something good.
Then, comes the necessarily fateful day when Will solves the unsolvable equation on the MIT wall, following that feat with a brawl fight that lands him with a potential jail term hanging over his head. It’s a strange dichotomy and it deeply surprises Professor Gerald Lambeux who quickly realizes the unassuming genius that is Will Hunting. He’s fantastic, but in order to utilize his potential Lambeux agrees to have him meet weekly with a therapist.
What follows is an absurd string of therapy sessions where Will, who wants none of this analysis, makes a mockery of his psychologists. When Lambeux’s former roommate and last resort Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) is called in it looks like more of the same. But he is different. He sees something more and Sean is not about to give up on the kid. Their sessions begin as a battle of wills until Will’s defenses finally break down. They construct something beautiful, something real, and in many ways vulnerable.
It is then that Sean teaches Will about true love and living life with no regrets. He had a wife who passed away from cancer, and he is hardly a big name academic, but he wouldn’t trade his life for anything. That’s enough for him. All the while, in between sessions, Will must figure out his life whether he wishes to work in the stuffy world of academia with professor Lambeux, continue living with his chums in Southie, or move forward with Skylar who is off to Stanford soon.
Sean doesn’t force him into one decision or another but he gives him personal advice. As a young man, he met a pretty girl in a bar, the same day in 1975 that Carlton Fisk hit his famed home run. But Sean gave up his seat to spend that evening with a girl and it paid off. She would be his wife for all those happy years before she came down with cancer. In Will’s eyes, and perhaps even the eyes of the audience, he was utterly insane to pass that up, but for Sean, there were no regrets. That’s enough.
On the verge of turning 21, there are so many choices, thoughts, feelings, and fears swirling around. Not to mention Will’s ugly past as a foster kid full of abuse and a heavy rap sheet. It’s the steady and pragmatic consoling of Sean where he finds relief. Sean will not be quelled in reminding him, “It’s not his fault.” That’s simply the hand he was dealt.
In another beautiful scene that is oft cited, Chuckie tells his friend, in the most genuine way that he can, that he doesn’t want Will to stick around. Because, the reality is, Will has been given a ticket out of Boston, and it would be a knock to all of his friends if he stayed around. On the day Chuckie won’t need a note. He’ll have satisfaction enough that his friend will be gone. To this day, it still feels a tad corny, but it works within the film so I will go with it.
Down the line, Sean receives a sincere note in his mailbox and Chuckie walks up the steps to Will’s place and no one answers. No one needs to say anything because they all know Will has gone to follow his dreams. Go west young man after the girl you love and take a chance. No regrets. It is the perfect ending for this film and at the same time the most aggravating.
Robin Williams was an obvious standout in this film, and it saddens me to think that he is no longer with us. I think I appreciate him most in his dramatic roles because he is so genuinely funny it comes out organically. He is a great counter to Matt Damon. Without that dynamic, this would be a far less noteworthy film. Also, the script is full of quips and a great balance of intellectual and laymen terms making for a unique story. It takes time to acknowledge the idiosyncrasies and pain that are a reality of human existence. That’s why it hits home. Hopefully, Will as well as all of us find what we are hunting for.