Good Will Hunting (1997)
April 25, 2015 7:25 AM - Subscribe

Will Hunting, a janitor at M.I.T., has a gift for mathematics, but needs help from a psychologist to find direction in his life.

Starring Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Afflick, Stellan Skarsgard, Minny Driver, Casey Affleck and Cole Hauser. Directed by Gus Van Sant.

Awards & Recognition
The film received three Oscar nominations in the acting categories and won one:
*Matt Damon - Best Actor
*Minny Driver - Best Supporting Actress
*Robin Williams - Best Supporting Actor - won

The film was also nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a cast.

Written by Matt Damon and Ben Afflick, the film won the Oscar for Best Screenplay, Written for the Screen. as well as the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay.

In addition, the film received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Music (Original Song) and Best Music, Original Score.

Beyond the Oscars, the film also won:

*Golden Globe - Best Screenplay, Motion Picture
*Screen Actors Guild - Outstanding Performance in Supporting Role by a Male Actor in a Motion Picture, Robin Williams
*BMI Film & TV Awards - Film Music Award, Danny Elfman
*Berlin International Film Festival - Silver Bear, Outstanding Single Achievement, Matt Damon.

The film is credited with launching the careers of both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who had only played minor parts prior to this film.

Critical Reception

Roger Ebert:
The outcome of the movie is fairly predictable; so is the whole story, really. It's the individual moments, not the payoff, that make it so effective.

“Good Will Hunting” has been rather inexplicably compared to “Rainman,” although “Rainman” was about an autistic character who cannot and does not change, and “Good Will Hunting” is about a genius who can change, and grow, if he chooses to.

Kevin Lally, Film Journal:
Williams' role combines aspects of his dramatic turns as the teacher in Dead Poets Society and the psychologist in Awakenings-unconventional men whose skewed perspective helps them reach out to someone in need. The zany star turns in a solid and heartfelt performance, but it's Damon's dynamic characterization that really sets this movie apart.
Janet Maslin, New York Times:
Once the math professor goes searching for the shy genius, ''Good Will Hunting'' flirts with narrative danger. Will there be a miracle worker to tame Will's rebelliousness and bring out his brilliance? Will there be awfully many convenient symmetries to the doctor-patient relationship?
Yes, but this film is bright and knowing enough to bring fresh energy to the jousting between Will and Sean McGuire (Mr. Williams), the fellow underachiever who proves to be the only therapist who can handle him.
Peter Stack, SF Gate:
Damon is sensational. Even in quiet moments, torment seems to roil under his skin. He turns every gesture of defiance and denial into a revelation. His acting is earthy, audacious and intelligent. Williams also turns what might have been a star walk-through into a soulfully rich performance. His character is a kind, wise man, but Williams makes him bristle with feelings that reveal his vulnerability.
Quentin Curtis, The Telegraph:
The part is that of Will's psychiatrist, a native of the same Boston south side, whose own life has gone off the rails, and who goads Will into maturity. Robin Williams took the bait, and he gets to deliver two speeches so juicy they look set to become actors' audition pieces: one about the virtue of imperfection, the other a hostile lecture to Will on the difference between knowledge and experience. Those with low schmaltz tolerances may gag, but Williams just about brings off the double of sharpness and tenderness.
Trivia & Such

Grantland: Who Won the Scene? Damon vs. Williams


The Gay Sex Scene cut from Good Will Hunting

7 Things you may not know about GWH


Video Clips

This is a Harvard Bar, huh?

You Paint That?


The Park Bench

Why Shouldn't I Work for the NSA

Skyler's Joke

Say You Don't Love Me


The Best Part of My Day

It's Not Your Fault
posted by nubs (34 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
This post is part of the Robin Williams Movie Club. Visit the thread for the upcoming films on the schedule.
posted by nubs at 7:26 AM on April 25, 2015


I still find myself saying it as I shoot paper balls into wastebaskets on the regular, in Minnie Driver's delightful accent, Shoot, shoot! Dunk, dunk!
posted by carsonb at 3:28 PM on April 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


God I hate hate hate this movie with the passion of a thousand suns. It is, from first frame to last, a not very smart person's fantasy about what it might be like to be very smart, and it gets almost everything wrong.

Nobody like Will Hunting exists, has ever existed, or barring some kind of technological intelligence upgrade ever will exist. People who have Will Hunting's kind of easy natural expertise always have it in a narrow field, and almost always at the expense of some other social function, since we are all born with the same number of pattern detectors in our neocortex. People with that kind of easy natural expertise at some intellectual subject tend to acquire it by being interested in it, not by considering it boring and masturbatory and thinking that manual labor and bar fights are a better use of time.

People with that kind of easy natural expertise in math do not simply walk into the library and emerge a day or two later with that kind of easy natural expertise in a totally unrelated subject like history. It does not happen. People, even exceptional people, do not work that way.

Of course basic failures of science have been overcome by plot and acting before, but GWH fails there too because the writers are too in awe of Will Hunting to let anything actually bad happen to him. The usual way of salvaging a story with such an infallible character is to let their primary skill fail them and have something they are less comfortable with save them, but the GWH writers couldn't bear to let Will Hunting's talent fail him, even in the most minor way, even in the most unrelated field of study, even once in the entire movie.

When I brought this up on kuro5hin I was accused of being envious. WTF? How can I envy a thing that I know never can exist? How can I find a story about such an improbable creature interesting at all? Superman and other improbable fictional creatures are interesting because they face threats that really challenge their improbable talents. Will Hunting's improbable talent is never challenged at all, by anything, even once. It reliably saves the day for him every. single. time. without. fail.

As I wrote in the K5 essay it's like a baseball story that gets all the rules wrong and thinks it's brilliant that the improbably gifted player always strikes out his opponents and always bats home runs, every single time without fail. People don't write poems about guys like that. People write poems when guys like that strike out.
posted by localroger at 3:36 PM on April 25, 2015 [13 favorites]


It does not happen. People, even exceptional people, do not work that way.

Yeah, I didn't like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for exactly that same reason!
posted by carsonb at 3:47 PM on April 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Well Benjamin Button faces a rather stark problem because of his improbable gift -- he knows when he will die. If Will Hunting had faced a problem of that magnitude it might have salvaged the movie.
posted by localroger at 4:51 PM on April 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I loved this movie very much and I rewatched it several months ago as part of a sort of mourning process for Robin Williams. It may be the movie with my favorite Robin William performances in it. The scene with Robin Williams and Matt Damon at the park bench gets me every time. He was such a funny human being, but he had such a tender vulnerability to him, and he had a way of emoting emotional pain that always got to me.

Ordinary People always hits me hard, too -- the gifted psychologist trying to get past the hackles of someone in pain so he can help release them from it. This movie strikes me as a bit of a riff on that, but with much more going on in it.

I am a smart person, though not a genius, and the plot held together well enough for me, well above most movies I watch, well enough to win Damon and Affleck the best screenplay Oscar. I mean, you're allowed to hate the movie certainly, localroger, but a lot of people, including me, disagree. And I think it was an amazing introduction to Affleck and Damon who have gone on to some pretty great work, and also a really heartfelt performance by Williams. I miss him.
posted by onlyconnect at 5:11 PM on April 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


I would agree that the performances, and in particular Robin Williams' performance, were awesome. The sad thing is that there was a good movie waiting to be made by these people about this topic, and they botched it by being too in awe of their character to make him face a real challenge.

I am a genius. When I was Will Hunting's age most of the standardized tests put me four or five standard deviations out, which corresponds to an IQ of around 180. (Not any more though. I swear you can feel the neurons dying as you age and I'm 51 now.) My test scores were the highest in the history of not just my high school but the entire Catholic school system in New Orleans. The math says you could have held a meeting of everyone with test scores as high as mine in the New Orleans area in an ordinary classroom.

And I'm aware of people I know were or are solidly smarter than me, such as Alan Turing and Nikola Tesla. There are biographies of such people. Matt Damon should have read them. For that matter genius itself is a field of study and while people like us aren't common there are enough of us to do statistical studies. Books have been written about what makes us tick.

Neither I nor those really rare even smarter people resemble Will Hunting much. There was an opportunity here to tell a story that would have been just as affecting and used the artists' talents just as well without telling a fairy tale about mental superheroes who do not really exist. It's not like it was sold as a comic book story like the Marvel universe. GWH opens with mention of a real life Indian mathematician whose existence is supposed to justify Will Hunting's character.

Except that it doesn't, because that Indian mathematician surely didn't cruise bars and work construction sites because he felt the maths he'd mastered were a cheap masturbatory thrill. The movie creates a myth that attaches to real people. Nobody thinks anybody really is Superman, but thanks to GWH lots of people think they know what it's like if you are a genius.
posted by localroger at 5:41 PM on April 25, 2015


People with that kind of easy natural expertise at some intellectual subject tend to acquire it by being interested in it, not by considering it boring and masturbatory and thinking that manual labor and bar fights are a better use of time.

He is interested in it. Why did he read all those books he memorised? Why,
You could be a janitor anywhere. Why did you work at the most prestigious technical college in the whole fuckin' world? And why did you sneak around at night and finish other people's formulas that only one or two people in the world could do, and then lie about it?

because the writers are too in awe of Will Hunting to let anything actually bad happen to him. The usual way of salvaging a story with such an infallible character is to let their primary skill fail them and have something they are less comfortable with save them, but the GWH writers couldn't bear to let Will Hunting's talent fail him, even in the most minor way, even in the most unrelated field of study, even once in the entire movie.

[...] Will Hunting's improbable talent is never challenged at all, by anything, even once. It reliably saves the day for him every. single. time. without. fail.


I just... what??

This:

The usual way of salvaging a story with such an infallible character is to let their primary skill fail them and have something they are less comfortable with save them, but the GWH writers couldn't bear to let Will Hunting's talent fail him, even in the most minor way, even in the most unrelated field of study, even once in the entire movie.

His "primary skill", as you put it, in the movie is not his genius.

And the whole fucking movie is about how it has failed him, and always has failed him:
And for twenty years he's been alone because of that. And if you push him right now, it's going to be the same thing all over again
How did we watch the same movie, yet you think he "always bats home runs, every single time without fail"?

they botched it by being too in awe of their character to make him face a real challenge.

Skylar.

Sean.

He nearly lost Sean. He still might've lost Skylar.

The movie is not about genius, you know. It's just a prop.


that Indian mathematician surely didn't cruise bars and work construction sites because he felt the maths he'd mastered were a cheap masturbatory thrill.

Neither did Will. That's sort of the whole fucking point of the movie.

Did the movie hurt you or make your life harder with its inaccurate portrayal of geniuses? Because if it did, we can talk about that. But it seems a lot of the movie has otherwise passed you by, that you fundamentally don't get the character and his motivations, and are drawing conclusions about the character and the writers and filmmakers that are completely off.
posted by catchingsignals at 8:12 PM on April 25, 2015 [13 favorites]


that Indian mathematician surely didn't cruise bars and work construction sites because he felt the maths he'd mastered were a cheap masturbatory thrill.

Yeah, I don't think you understood this character or the movie very well at all. That is not at all Will's motivation and I think you could probably take all the people who've ever seen the movie and interpreted it that way and put them in a room about the size of a New Orleans classroom. Ya know, so they can watch the film again and maybe get some clearer insight.
posted by dogwalker at 9:53 PM on April 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm kind of with localroger on this one. GWH is an above average (but still mediocre) wish-fulfillment-y bro movie about manfeels. The film draws ire from some corners because the cultural weight which it carries doesn't match up very well with the actual quality of the film (Shawshank Redemption style).

Robin Williams did a great job with a great character, but Mini Driver was a boring MPDG, and the "snob" was downright cartoonish. Furthermore, the way Will's emotion/ behavior management problems arising from abuse survival are overcome by simple epiphanies/ momentous occasions is, I find, a borderline toxic oversimplification of how abuse survival actually affects lifelong behavior. Will's trust problems aren't solved by having a 30 second heart to heart with Robin Williams, vocally announcing what isn't his fault, but the movie seems to want us to think that they are. Not even the 4(?) months leading up to those 30 seconds is enough to solve his problems. Epiphanies make for a simpler, more accessible narrative, but they don't make for more realistic characters.
posted by GrumpyDan at 11:49 PM on April 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think there are aspects of Minnie Driver's character that are a bit MPDG, but wouldn't say she is on the whole. The snob (I think you mean the one in the bar, and not the professor?) is a bit cartoonish. On the other hand, I also find "above average (but still mediocre)", like there's some objective standard of quality and we need to put it in its appropriate place, a bit cartoonish. And I don't know what's "bro movie about manfeels" about it. But,

the way Will's emotion/ behavior management problems arising from abuse survival are overcome by simple epiphanies/ momentous occasions is, I find, a borderline toxic oversimplification of how abuse survival actually affects lifelong behavior. Will's trust problems aren't solved by having a 30 second heart to heart with Robin Williams, vocally announcing what isn't his fault, but the movie seems to want us to think that they are. Not even the 4(?) months leading up to those 30 seconds is enough to solve his problems.

I would agree, to a certain extent. I think the "It's not your fault" scene that is so often made fun of can actually happen in a real therapy situation, and can make a real difference. I don't think that's the only thing that "solved" his problems -- there was also his other conversations with Sean. Skylar calling him on his bullshit. His losing Skylar. Chuckie calling him on his bullshit. But still, it's an oversimplification, I would agree with that. (Though it occurred to me just yesterday thinking about it because of this thread, that at the end of the movie, he actually ran away from his job again.)

On the other hand, as with The Shawshank Redemption that you mentioned, I don't understand what "the actual quality of the film" means -- like films only has one purpose, to achieve some measure of definable quality. Both films' "cultural weight"s are because there are clearly enough people who think the actual quality of those films are pretty fucking high. Whatever that means. They have moved people, they mean something important to people. If that could be said to be just wish-fulfillment (which would be an oversimplification), maybe what they are fulfilling says something important about people, and for people, too.
posted by catchingsignals at 5:46 AM on April 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


Did the movie hurt you or make your life harder with its inaccurate portrayal of geniuses?

You have no idea. You know how once you make the mistake of letting your family know you know something about computers you're on 24/7 IT call for them? Well imagine they think you're that good at everything. And of course when it turns out that you can't speak seven languages or don't know anything about Mayan mythology, well snicker you must not be as good as you think you are.

People are frightened of what they don't understand. There aren't a lot of sympathetic portrayals of genius out there in the culture. The fact that Patch Adams is a genius is downplayed; John Nash pays for his genius with teh crazy. The Imitation Game manages to forget that Alan Turing had an active sex life, which created a certain amount of drama, and inserts a fictional spy subplot to add drama to the plot.

You know what the absolute worst scene in Good Will Hunting is? It's the one where Will sneers at the professor and hisses "Do you have any idea how easy this is for me?" Because that is absolutely the stereotype average people believe about smart people. Sure Will is a a bar cruising normal kinda guy except when you piss him off and he turns his superpowers on to destroy you. Because GENIUS!!!!

The movie is not about genius, you know. It's just a prop.

Horsepucky. That's like saying Man of Steel is about Clark Kent's character development and his alternate identity and superpowers are just a prop. The story is being made into a movie because of superpowers. It didn't get all those accolades because it was yet another romantic drama about an awkward guy figuring out how to patch up his personal relationships. It gave people a sense of what it might be like to have that superpower. Superman made people believe a man can fly. GWH made people believe a man could walk into the library and emerge as a leading world expert on whatever random topic might be useful in a few hours.

The dangerous difference is that people think the GWH superpower actually exists. And it's really not safe for the world to think you have limitless magic powers others can't understand or control.
posted by localroger at 6:57 AM on April 26, 2015


I've always had a soft spot for the movie. It does a good job of creating a main character that many can relate to, particularly how he makes mistakes and gets in his own way. Sure, it's a bit simplistic at times, but only if taken literally. The whole "It's not your fault" scene shouldn't be taken as fixing him, but rather as a breakthrough that allows him to move forward.

The ending always bugged me even as it thrilled. The idea that he would never talk to his oldest friend, just because they're moving in different circles is annoying, but the idea that he may or may not get the girl in the end is great. Mostly importantly, he'll learn from his mistakes and try.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:09 AM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm with GrumpyDan, sorry. It's very wish-fulfillment-centered and despite some really good attempts at naturalism and a terrific cast it doesn't gel for me beyond that, and much of it simply rings false. I'm not even wholly a fan of Williams's performance here, but definitely I disliked Damon in just the same way I hated the awkward sex joke he tells in SPR.

The script is pretty good, and while I hate to play this game, I have to wonder why Damon and Affleck, if they had the talent on the final page, they haven't repeated it. So the rumors of someone else's hands gain some currency for me.

Still, in the end, I'm not a hidebound literalist, even with subjects I'm familiar with being depicted on screen. So does it work as a fantasy, a confection? Clearly it does for a lot of people, and I think as a story it hits the right notes. So I don't object to people liking it; it just doesn't reach greatness for me.
posted by dhartung at 10:53 AM on April 26, 2015


I'm going to have to defend this movie. Is it a feel-good "feelings" movie? Sure. Much like Dead Poet Society. That's okay. There's this common strain of thought that every truly great work of art has to leave you feeling like shit, or at least seriously conflicted, afterwards, that I think has its roots in some kind of melding of liberal guilt and intellectual elitism. And there is a lot that this movie got right, or at least, that really, strongly resonates with me.

People with that kind of easy natural expertise at some intellectual subject tend to acquire it by being interested in it, not by considering it boring and masturbatory and thinking that manual labor and bar fights are a better use of time.

I am good at math. I spent all of high school sitting in the back of the classroom, goofing off with the slackers, troublemakers, and "bad kids", I never did any of the homework, and I aced every test. Frustrated the hell out of some of my teachers, who desperately wanted to fail me or at least challenge me but had to grade me the same and teach me the same curriculum as all the other kids. Then, once I got to college and was no longer required to take math classes, I stopped doing math completely and have never touched the subject since. Because math fucking bores me to tears, and always has. But I had all sorts of guidance counselors and teachers telling me I should be studying math. Am I saying I'm Will Hunting? No. Not even close. But Will Hunting is very much an exaggeration of a real phenomenon for dramatic effect. It'd be nice if we lived in a world where the things we are naturally talented at are always also the things that we find personally fulfilling, but that idea is more of a complete bullshit fantasy than anything in this movie. Instead we live in a world where everyone assumes that if you're smart you will end up running things without asking if you want the responsibility of being in charge; where everyone tells you that it is a terrible shame to squander your talents, without any of them ever asking you what you want.

the "snob" was downright cartoonish.

Hahahaha, haven't frequented many Harvard-area bars (especially around say, October or November) have you? As someone who studied and lived in Boston for 10 years I can tell you that encounter is really only the tiniest bit over-the-top and is based on something very, very recognizable to anyone who's lived there.

I went to Boston University on a merit scholarship, and had to work all sorts of odd, frequently blue-collar jobs to pay for "extras" like textbooks. I worked side-by-side with blue-collar guys working overnight shifts to set up for conventions coming into the convention center and then the next morning I would go to class with trust-fund kids much like that guy. I've seen (or been part of) that kind of culture clash up close.

See, the thing about Boston, with the sheer number of universities in the area, is that there's like 25% of the population that is college students. Always. They don't grow up and age and get wiser (well, they do, one hopes, but they graduate and mostly go do it somewhere else) - they just get endlessly replaced with the next batch of students just as arrogant and dumb as they were when they started out. Those new freshmen take the same introductory classes as the ones the year before, and by and large they are impressed by the same bits of knowledge from those introductory classes (you don't need to be a genius to be able to predict it, trust me), and they exist in the same nigh-impenetrable fog of entitlement and money and privilege and general youthful arrogance. I could probably write a lengthy treatise on the various kinds of culture clashes between those kids and the blue-collar folks that live and work in the city and keep it running - but suffice to say it's totally a real Boston phenomenon and this movie is one of the few movies I've ever seen that tackled it at all, even if it's in a kind of blue-collar wish-fulfillment-y way. Really the whole movie can be viewed through a lens of that culture clash; it's basically a macrocosm of the same internal conflict that Will only resolves by up and going to California. Because in Boston that conflict is endless, beginning anew every fall.
posted by mstokes650 at 11:57 AM on April 26, 2015 [8 favorites]


You have no idea. You know how once you make the mistake of letting your family know you know something about computers you're on 24/7 IT call for them? Well imagine they think you're that good at everything. And of course when it turns out that you can't speak seven languages or don't know anything about Mayan mythology, well snicker you must not be as good as you think you are.

Well, yeah, but people are like that. It's not because of the movie.

And,
SKYLAR So, what're you saying? You play the piano? WILL No. Not a lick. I mean, I look at a piano, I see a bunch'a keys, three pedals, and a box of wood. but Beethoven, Mozart, they saw it, they could just play. I couldn't paint you a picture, I probably can't hit the ball out of Fenway, and I can't play the piano. SKYLAR But you can do my O Chem paper in under an hour. WILL Right. Well, I mean, when it came to stuff like that, I could always just play. That's the best I can explain it.
That's not him being good at everything at all, right? And the whole "Sistine Chapel" speech? It was all about the things Will doesn't know. That's kind of central to the movie, y'know?


You know what the absolute worst scene in Good Will Hunting is? It's the one where Will sneers at the professor and hisses "Do you have any idea how easy this is for me?" Because that is absolutely the stereotype average people believe about smart people. Sure Will is a a bar cruising normal kinda guy except when you piss him off and he turns his superpowers on to destroy you. Because GENIUS!!!!

That's... not my impression of most people's idea of Will Hunting after watching the movie. As Brandon Blatcher says, "It does a good job of creating a main character that many can relate to, particularly how he makes mistakes and gets in his own way." If anything, the character of Will Hunting makes geniuses more relatable.

Yeah, he's a dick in that scene. But he didn't use any superpowers; most of the destruction, if there was any (the professor seems fine later on in the movie), was done by the professor's own ego.

"Because that is absolutely the stereotype average people believe about smart people." Are you sure that's not your stereotype about "average" people?


Horsepucky. That's like saying Man of Steel is about Clark Kent's character development and his alternate identity and superpowers are just a prop. The story is being made into a movie because of superpowers. It didn't get all those accolades because it was yet another romantic drama about an awkward guy figuring out how to patch up his personal relationships. It gave people a sense of what it might be like to have that superpower. Superman made people believe a man can fly. GWH made people believe a man could walk into the library and emerge as a leading world expert on whatever random topic might be useful in a few hours.

What was Will Hunting a leading world expert on in the movie?

I guess all I can say is I don't even understand how Good Will Hunting could be seen as a superhero movie the way you seem to have. "Wish-fulfillment-y bro movie about manfeels", I disagree with, but at least I get.

His genius in the movie was about how this supposedly one of the smartest guys in the world still was deeply fucked up and didn't know what he was doing. That he knew all this stuff and could run rings around everyone with smarts, but put him with Skylar and he didn't know what the fuck to do. That Skylar was "smarter" than him about some things. As was Chuckie. As was Sean. That's the whole point. That he was a "cocky, scared shitless kid". Not a superhero of any kind.


The dangerous difference is that people think the GWH superpower actually exists. And it's really not safe for the world to think you have limitless magic powers others can't understand or control.

You're making it sound like you're a mutant from the world of X-Men. I don't know your life experience, so maybe you have had really bad experiences with people, that has led you to see the movie through this lens. But can I suggest that that's not how most people saw the movie at all? Brandon Blatcher's reaction is much more the common one. People tend to like Will Hunting.
posted by catchingsignals at 3:09 PM on April 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


The ending always bugged me even as it thrilled. The idea that he would never talk to his oldest friend, just because they're moving in different circles is annoying,

Was there anything that suggested that? I thought he just left like that because that's what Chuckie said he wanted. "No goodbye, no see you later, no nothin'. Just left." So it was him saying to Chuckie, 'I heard you'. That's what made Chuckie smile. But it wasn't like Will wasn't going to come back to see him.
posted by catchingsignals at 3:21 PM on April 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


The script is pretty good, and while I hate to play this game, I have to wonder why Damon and Affleck, if they had the talent on the final page, they haven't repeated it.

Watching it this time, it reminded in many way of Rocky - the film is written by the star(s) at a time when they were trying to break in; despite being a series of cliches, the film somehow becomes more than the sum of its parts, largely due to stellar performances - Damon is fantastic - as is Affleck, though his time is more limited, and Williams brought a humanity and vulnerability to his role that I'm not sure anyone else could have, and I wonder if Damon's performance (like Stallone's in Rocky) is in part because of how invested in the material they were.

This was something they did while they were waiting for their break; it turned into their break, and then they decided to be actors, not writers.
posted by nubs at 3:27 PM on April 26, 2015


One of the excellent articles that nubs linked notes that the duo were self-assured enough in the power of what they wrote to include their screenplay with the film to the voting members of the academy, so that members would know what they wrote and what was ad libbed. This was an unusual move. I don't know about you, but if I hadn't actually written a good portion of my screenplay myself I'd be really wary of doing this. So I tend to think they wrote it.
posted by onlyconnect at 3:53 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


What was Will Hunting a leading world expert on in the movie?

As I wrote in 2003,
The breadth of Will Hunting's talent is also extraordinary. He is not just good at maths; he displays a complete knowledge of Harvard's history curriculum, of psychology, and by implication just about everything else. Indeed, there is not one single instance in the entire film of Will Hunting making a purely intellectual error.
Indeed, as I recall Will walks into the library after getting pissed off at Snob Bro and emerges the next day ready to wipe the floor with Snob Bro by having mastered the entire field Snob Bro is studying. It's explicitly stated that this is also his problem with psychiatrists, and Robin Williams admits to Will that Will can walk circles around him in his own field, which isn't much related to math either.

This isn't to say that Will is infallible. He's crap with relationships and has no juice for things like music. Well, the Flash can't bench-press a thousand pounds either, he's still a superhero. I stand by my statement of Will's improbable superpower I made 12 years ago. He never, not once, in any circumstance, is intellectually wrong about anything, no matter how unrelated it might be to his core interest in math.
posted by localroger at 4:37 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


He never, not once, in any circumstance, is intellectually wrong about anything, no matter how unrelated it might be to his core interest in math.

I'm not sure that's true, but lets say it is.

So what. The point was that his brilliant intellect didn't matter for shit on many of the finer points in life.

Like how he diagnosed the doctor's painting, going down a laundry list of art styles and movements. He completely missed the point of the painting, despite probably bring techincally correct.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:40 PM on April 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


GHW is a sports movie, except that instead of being gifted in baseball or basketball or track, Will's talent is his intelligence. That's why his genius isn't particularly central to the plot. He doesn't even have to be smart for the movie to work. The central question of the plot is can someone who has been abandoned and abused connect with and trust people? Also, can he find any self-worth? Unlike the prodigy trope in most films, where the problem is that their genius isolates them from other people who aren't as gifted, Will isn't isolated by his genius. He's isolated by the fact that he doesn't place any value on himself because he was treated as worthless his whole life.

This movie isn't a good movie because any of that is done well. It's a good movie because the conversations in it are terrific. Almost every scene is two people talking, and it's so enjoyable to listen. And the jokes work. Skylar's joke about the old couple; Chuckie's joke about his uncle and the state trooper; Will's joke about being on a plane...and best of all, Shawn's story about his wife's farting (which, as has been pointed out repeatedly, was ad-libbed...so Will's laughter in response is actually Damon losing his shit). These people shooting the shit rings true and I love it.

The overhead shot of Williams bowling through Damon to evoke Fisk round the bases in Game 6 was fantastic film-making.

Shawn:...and I sure as hell don't regret missing a damn game. That's regret.
Will: Huh...Woulda been nice to catch that game though.
Shawn: I didn't know Pudge was gonna hit a homer!

posted by dry white toast at 9:56 PM on April 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't have all that much affection for GWH, though I think it's an okay bit of entertainment. But the nature of Will's mental skill and how wide ranging it is isn't something that stuck with me in the time since I've seen it. I remember his failures. Maybe not anything he ever put his mind to, but the point that he's failing to really create an interesting life for himself. His exceptionalism - even if it's too wide-ranging - he uses as a party trick, or an itch he'll scratch if he can't help it, then he'll turn away from it.

He may be too competent when he tries, but I feel like that's less the point than the fact that he is afraid to try in any meaningful way and - more importantly, and what makes the movie better - that said lack of trying is leaving him with a life he's not happy with. Not that he owes it to the world to use this skill; the professor pushes on this angle and it's never satisfactory. But that Will is in his own way, and rather than being bounded by his own limitations - which some of the people he interacts with would kill to have limits as unbounded as Will's - he's limited by himself.

The comparison to Superman is an interesting one, and as I said above I think one of the things I like about GWH is that it doesn't give credible voices the Ben Parker with great power comes great responsibility voice. Will isn't ever called upon to save others; he's not obligated to use this skill to break Enigma else People. Will. DIE! The crime The Imitation Game commits isn't that it exaggerates certain things or leaves out aspects of Turing's life in order to focus on other angles. It leaves out things to create, via their absence, conflict and unhappiness.

I don't think the extreme of WH's genius is the same thing. He's got a level of skill sufficient to get folks interested in him, rather than being just someone slightly above average who isn't achieving. He needs to be notably better and with opportunities beyond his immediate circle of friends/social cohort. But in the end his choice isn't even about his intelligence, right? He goes off in pursuit of romantic happiness as I recall (it really has been a long time). I don't know we're supposed to see him as entirely beyond a need to keep working on his mental health so much as we've just seen him take a big first step at change. That's certainly the gist I got from it - Will simply deciding he will use the degree of skill he has in order to go outside a highly limited comfort zone.
posted by phearlez at 8:46 AM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


The only really significant memory I have relating to this movie was watching the Oscars - which I rarely do - and thinking Wow, seriously, you're not going to thank Kevin Smith?
posted by phearlez at 8:47 AM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


GHW is a sports movie, except that instead of being gifted in baseball or basketball or track, Will's talent is his intelligence.

I would agree with this; in fact I made the same analogy when I wrote the essay in 2003. But GWH is a sports movie that gets all the rules of its sport wrong. It's fine to say that Field of Dreams is about longing and redemption, or that Any Given Sunday is about power and avarice, or that Friday Night Lights is about family, coming of age, and relationships. How hard would the actual sports fans have dogged any of those shows if they had simply made up their own rules and history to further the plot, with no regard as to whether the game portrayed was either real or playable?

P.S. on a similar vein don't see any gambling movie ever made except The Cooler, and most especially not 21, for exactly that reason.
posted by localroger at 11:19 AM on April 27, 2015


I went to school with people who were math whizzes and also very fast readers. And people can be extraordinarily accomplished across multiple fields: Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. I don't know, localroger, I just don't think the situation posed in GWH is outside the scope of all possibility, even if it isn't your personal experience or that of other geniuses you have known.

I can't help but watch this movie and reference Matt Damon's later character in The Talented Mr. Ripley and think of Ripley as being the older version of Will gone wrong, without the Boston accent. Damn shame the way he turned out after all. :/
posted by onlyconnect at 12:19 PM on April 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


The breadth of Will Hunting's talent is also extraordinary. He is not just good at maths; he displays a complete knowledge of Harvard's history curriculum, of psychology, and by implication just about everything else.

Here's a transcript of the film. "...a complete knowledge of Harvard's history curriculum, of psychology, and by implication just about everything else", is your own projection. It is not in the film. Same with this:

Indeed, as I recall Will walks into the library after getting pissed off at Snob Bro and emerges the next day ready to wipe the floor with Snob Bro by having mastered the entire field Snob Bro is studying.

You imagined the whole thing. Feel free to read the transcript. Will knew the curriculum, and remembered a line in a book by page number. That's it. Clark the snob didn't know shit, and Skylar would've handled him just fine. That was no great intellectual battle here.


It's explicitly stated that this is also his problem with psychiatrists, and Robin Williams admits to Will that Will can walk circles around him in his own field, which isn't much related to math either.

And was this what happened in the rest of the film? Did Will walk circles around Sean?


He never, not once, in any circumstance, is intellectually wrong about anything, no matter how unrelated it might be to his core interest in math.

Seems to me he was intellectually wrong about a ton of shit. But not intellectual enough for you I guess. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by catchingsignals at 5:19 PM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I once read that the original idea for GWH was that the movie would be a spy-thriller. The lead character would be a math genius who gets mixed up with the CIA or something and has to navigate being a pawn in some high stakes geo-political event. Him seeing a therapist once or twice was only a minor part of the movie.

Matt Damon and Ben Afflack show the screenplay to someone who says that the spy-thriller angle is not so great as written, but the idea of a math genius being emotionally fragile and meeting with a therapist seemed like a better way to go. So we get GWH as is. In one scene, Will Hunting explains that he doesn't want to work for the NSA because his skills would be used by the military to kill people.

But Damon still wanted to make a spy-thriller so we later get the movies based on The Bourne Identity books.

Has anyone else heard this?

It does suggest that Will Hunting was originally conceived as a superhero-like figure. Although in GWH, he is clearly "flawed" in the sense that he is arrogant and emotionally unavailable. Him working to overcome these flaws is, I think, the main point of the story.
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 8:56 PM on April 27, 2015


You mean "based on" the Bourne Identity books. Because man do those movies have zippo to do with the book Jason Bourne.
posted by phearlez at 8:03 AM on April 28, 2015


How hard would the actual sports fans have dogged any of those shows if they had simply made up their own rules and history to further the plot, with no regard as to whether the game portrayed was either real or playable?


Field of Dreams got Joe Jackson wrong (he was left-handed). FNL breaks some football rules.

Movie Sports (like Movie History, Movie Law & Order, and Movie Industry) are full of liberties taken with the real and the playable. One of the most beloved sports movies ever, Rudy, sets up a central conflict that never happened - so did A League of Their Own. I can happily watch Rounders for Norton's Worm or The Color of Money for Paul Newman's handsome - what makes a movie work is rarely scrupulous cleaving to the actual rules, it's giving the audience reason to believe in it's own internal logic.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 1:09 PM on April 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm glad to see there are other people out there who dislike the movie as intensely and irrationally as I do. Just a lot of embarrassingly cliched scenes to demonstrate how Smart the protagonist is. I think it's funny how "super-genius among the mortals" is such a common movie cliche; a lot of the scenes from this movie seemed almost interchangeable with Finding Forrester and that John Travolta movie about the guy who gets hit by a lightning bolt or whatever. Both of the latter movies are really just terrible, but they are essentially the same movie as GWH: Tortured Genius revels in his genius, audience gets to enjoy genius-fantasy through the protagonist, but then Tortured Genius realizes there's more to life than being a Tortured Genius--there's also love, which darn it, he's not so good at. Maybe regular folks are the real heroes after all!

Also, besides the fact that the famous stand-off with the mustache twirling history-jerk at the bar was just painfully cartoonish, the idea that a history snob would not have heard of Howard Zinn is preposterous. It was just a chance for Matt Damon (who is a big Howard Zinn fan, I have later read) to show off his nerdy knowledge under the guise of Things Real Geniuses Know.

The genius tropes aside, it also heavily relied on some really common and cheap script signposts that aggravate the hell out of me. I remember listening to Robin Williams little speech about how he had to go see about a girl, and how it was presented made it clear that the line would come back later to close some loop. Same thing with Ben Affleck's thinking outloud about how someday he'd show up and Matt Damon's character would be gone. This was the cinematic equivalent of a stand-up comic dropping a joke from mid-set into the finale joke, and it's such an old, cheesy idea that we grown when comics do this now.

All that said, however, it's not that bad of a movie, I'm sure I would have completely forgotten it if it hadn't been so popular and won so many awards.
posted by skewed at 1:53 PM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


the idea that a history snob would not have heard of Howard Zinn is preposterous.

So preposterous that it didn't even happen. Zinn isn't mentioned in that bar scene, Will brings him up while inspecting the books in Sean's office. And Sean responds by asking Will about Chomsky, which kinda implies that Sean too knows who Zinn is. (Interestingly, Will pivots then, like he doesn't know Chomsky.)
posted by dogwalker at 4:29 PM on April 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


ah, damn, false memory. just conflated that scene with the bar scene
posted by skewed at 7:13 PM on April 28, 2015


Rewatched this recently, and I do think focusing on his "genius" is a mislead. It's what drives the plot, but what makes it interesting are his emotional interests. I also really like his dates with Minnie Driver, they both come across as quite likeable and human throughout. Yes, Will does have absurd amounts of knowledge, but there are some very smart people out there. What I like about the film is that it says that while intelligence is valuable, emotional well being is more valuable. And that might not be rational, but there's some truth to that. Yes, Will avoiding the job to work construction is an emotional evasion, but ultimately so would be taking the job: the real thing he is avoiding is a new emotional connection.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 4:06 AM on May 1, 2015


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