An underprivileged young man with a brilliant mind is given the chance to make a better life for himself. Good Will Hunting (1997) Directed by Gus van Sant Starring Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Stellan Skarsgård, Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver
AFTER high school comes ... university, college, or institute of technology.
Whatever the institution, tertiary education marks for many of us the last stage of our formal education, and with it a slew of life experiences, life lessons and life choices so that, in more ways than one, our time at university is that of continued learning.
We turn now our attention from high school movies to college movies, starting with Good Will Hunting.
The film is the story of Will (Matt Damon), a have-not labourer from South Boston who is also a closet mathematical genius.
As part of a deferred prosecution agreement for assaulting a police officer, he is spared from incarceration under two conditions: that he study Math with Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård), professor of combinatorics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and undergo therapy.
Will’s is a one-in-a-million story.
Like his best friend Chuckie (Ben Affleck) says to him, he got the winning lottery ticket.
“So if in 20 years you’re still here and working construction, I’ll kill you.”
The point of therapy is for Will to realise his potential and gain some direction in life.
Will proves resistant towards therapy and it is only after five therapists when Lambeau brings in his former college roommate Sean (Robin Williams), does progress occur.
Sean’s success lies in the fact that he comes from the same background as Will; even the same neighbourhood.
This means that he can match up to Will’s tough guy act and knows what the troubled youth needs.
This is why, when Lambeau, who has big plans for Will, arranges a series of prestigious job interviews for him, Sean warns against pushing the young man, saying that he should be given time to figure out what he wants to do with his life.
Crucially, included in this sentiment is the time for Will to figure out himself.
Orphaned as a child and with a turbulent history of abuse whilst in foster care, adult Will has classic attachment and abandonment issues, never wanting to get too close to people for fear of losing them.
Notice how we never really get to see the inside of Will’s house; we only ever get a quick window’s peak into it and even then, only towards the film’s close: his private home evades us just as his private, real self evades people.
Sean teaches Will the necessity in life of letting people in and having real relationships with them.
That the film ends with Will choosing to go to California in search of his potential soulmate Skylar (Minnie Driver) shows the progress he has made.
In a breakthrough moment, Sean also helps Will to accept that the abuse he suffered was not his fault.
Essentially, Sean helps Will to move forward in his life.
This is important because how is Will to figure out what he wants without first figuring out himself?
And how is he to figure out himself without some help?
It is his makeshift father-son relationship with Sean that ultimately saves him.
A running thread through the film then is the part that socio-economic factors play in being able to realise one’s potential and talents fully, in terms of access and opportunity to education, but also with regards to having a stable and healthy upbringing with proper parental figures.
A fortnightly segment where we look at 10 films set against an educational backdrop and explore what they can teach us and what we can learn from them.
> Where in the film do we see Will putting a wall between himself and others?
> Analyse further the makeshift father-son relationship between Will and Sean.
> In your opinion, how can the government improve the situation for someone like Will?