Everyone loves a Cinderella story, and Good Will Hunting is no exception. Although the ending was slightly predictable–the underdog hero ends up on top after overcoming internal and external obstacles–it could not have ended any other way. The film is driven by complex characters and several beautifully written scenes and monologues. Credit must be given to Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who co-wrote and starred in the drama. Affleck and Damon even ended up winning an Academy Award for best original screen play, affirming how the script works to unify the action of the entire film.
The plot of Good Will Hunting follows Will Hunting (Damon) as he transforms from a Southie from Boston who only wants to go out drinking with his friends to someone who realizes his potential as a genius mathematician and actual human being capable of love. Although there is some external conflict, the main conflict in the movie is between Will and himself. The whole movie revolves around Will, and the action is not particularly exciting because it includes a lot of dialogue. However, the film is still relateable and interesting.
The film opens with Will and his best friend, Chuckie Sullivan (Affleck), heading to their blue collar jobs. Will, who has a photographic memory capable of understanding complex mathematical theories and spends his time reading entire libraries, works as a janitor at MIT. The brilliant mathematics professor, Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard), posts a complex problem on the hallway blackboard and promises a reward to whoever solves it. Will, genius that he is, solves it and leaves the professor and mathematics geniuses at MIT wondering who could have solved the problem so quickly. After posting another problem on the board, Lambeau discovers the illusive Will Hunting, who tells him to “fuck off.” Unfortunately, by the time Lambeau tracks Will down, he has landed himself in jail. Lambeau makes a deal with the judge to work with Will and provide him with counselling. Will agrees to the mathematics, but refuses to work with the subsequent therapists. Lambeau eventually brings Will to see his former college roommate, Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), who challenges Will and is the only one to break through.
One of the reasons why Good Will Hunting is so good is because, like our textbook suggests, it “handles emotional material with restraint.” Particularly the scenes in therapy between Will and Sean. There are moments, like when Sean talks about his wife farting in her sleep, that are incredible but could also have been extremely over-the-top. Sean mentions how he was with his wife for 18 years, and she was sick for six and in the hospital for two. Williams handles the role effectively, yet subtly, to help us feel what he is feeling but not get overwhelmed by it.
The defining element of the film is the characterization. Most of the characterization occurs through dialogue but appearance is also important. The dialogue is realistic, which makes the story much more believable. The importance of appearance is apparent when we see the successful Lambeau in his expensive suit standing next to Sean in his sweater. We also see Will and Chuckie wearing paint-splattered clothes to show their blue collar working status.
As far as characters go, we see Will at the foreground. He is a walking contradiction who reads about philosophy and science at home, then gets into trouble with his friends. These friends are the only ones to have ever shown Will real love, because he is an orphan. He clings to them to the point that it stops him from leaving and growing. He is tough and sarcastic on the outside as he messes with all the therapists Lambeau sends his way. At the same time that he rejects his potential and refuses to do something bigger with his life, he also knows that he is intelligent. He is proud of it, which we can see when he banters with the guy in the Harvard bar. Will has had a complicated past, and, although we never learn as much as we would like about his history, we see him learn that what has happened in his past is not his fault. The moment when Sean gets him to admit that is pivotal to allowing him to move on with his life and accept love.
There are four characters that help Will throughout the movie, and in a way, they each act as a foil to a different aspect of Will’s life. Professor Lambeau discovers his genius and helps him to find work beyond construction. Although he is incredibly intelligent, he has had to work much harder than Will to be successful. It’s hard for him to watch Will throw away his gifts while he works so hard to make a difference. Lambeau is both amazed by Will’s mind and upset with how easy it is for him and how little ambition he has. Regardless, he helps Will because he hopes that Will will make a difference in the world in some way.
Chuckie is also an important part of Will’s journey. Chuckie is the only family Will has ever had. Where Will is complex, Chuckie is simple and leads an uncomplicated life without much potential. At the same time, he recognizes greatness in Will and knows that the Southie lifestyle will never be enough from him. He pushes him to do something more in his monologue at the construction site when he says that the best part of his day is those 10 seconds when he thinks Will might have left town. It is an important moment because it forces Will to see how his giving up and settling would affect his best friends.
Skylar helps Will learn about love. She is rich and intelligent with a Harvard education and big goals to be a doctor. She has goals and aspirations, and Will does not. Skylar is also able to love Will easily. Even when he rejects her so horribly in her dorm room, she still looks for him at the airport before she leaves. Meanwhile, Will sits on a park bench, watching planes leave Boston. Despite the fact that he does love her, he can’t admit it like she can. It is not until Will makes peace with his past in therapy that he cant go after her.
Perhaps the most important character to Will’s development in the movie is Sean. Sean was a student with great potential, but he choose love. He mentions several times that he put his cards on the table and experienced life while Will is too afraid. It is great that Will is so smart, but he lives in a world of books instead of real-life experiences. Sean choose love over everything else, and Lambeau feels that he sacrificed his career and potential, but Sean has no regrets. In the end, Will shows just how much Sean has effected his life when he chooses love over a new job. In the final scene, he drives toward California to find Skylar and leaves Sean a note, in which he steals the line, “I have to go see about a girl.”