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Film / Good Will Hunting

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"My boy's wicked smaht (smart)."

A 1997 drama film directed by Gus Van Sant, written by (and starring) Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

Set in Boston, Massachusetts, the film tells the story of Will Hunting (Damon), a troubled Irish-Catholic young man who is gifted with extraordinary mathematical skills (as well as being a prodigy and an autodidact), but works in a menial janitorial job at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Prone to violence and extremely loyal to his friends Chuckie (Affleck), Morgan (Casey Affleck) and Billy (Cole Hauser), Will has pushed away everyone else who's tried to get close to him because of his abusive past and introverted personality.

After solving a complex mathematical equation at the campus, Will is discovered by Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard), a Fields Medal-winning mathematician who sees a lot of potential in Hunting, and sends him to psychiatrist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), while at the same time, Hunting strikes up a relationship with the beautiful Skylar (Minnie Driver), who is also confronting her own personal problems. Will must learn to overcome his deep fear of abandonment (with Maguire's help) in order to learn how to trust and love the people who care about him.


The film won two Academy Awards, Best Original Screenplay for Affleck and Damon and Best Supporting Actor for Williams. See also Finding Forrester, another Gus Van Sant film about the discovery (and self-discovery) of an intelligent young man.

This film contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Both Sean (his father) and Will (his stepfather) suffered through this in the past. Opening up to one another about it ends up playing a critical role in Will's therapy.
  • Actor Allusion:
    • At one point in the movie, Sean says, "If they don't trust you then you're never gonna get them to sleep with you and that should be the goal of every good therapist." In Dead Again, Robin Williams plays an ex-psychiatrist who was forced out of the job for sleeping with his patients.
    • Sean also used to coach Vietnam veterans, which seems to be a nod to Robin Williams' role in Good Morning, Vietnam.
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    • Will recommends Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States. Matt Damon had been neighbors with the author as a child and provided the voice for an audio version of the book.
    • Chuckie is sent to a job interview for a company called Holden & McNeil. In Chasing Amy Ben Affleck had played a character called Holden McNeil.
    • While lecturing to a class of psychology undergraduates, Sean mentions that Sigmund Freud "did enough cocaine to kill a small horse." This is a direct quote from one of Robin Williams's stand-up routines.
  • The Alleged Car: Will's friends buy him one for his 21st birthday.
  • Almighty Janitor: A mathematical genius who works as a janitor.
  • Always Someone Better: Lambeau feels this way about Will. In an interesting variation, he agonizes over it not so much because he's jealous but more that he feels Will might just throw it all away.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: When Skylar mentions going to California, Will immediately starts a fight because he is afraid of attachment. Skylar tearfully pleads that she loves him, Warts and All. He still walks out on her.
  • Appeal to Obscurity: Professor Lambeau does this to himself, trying to make the point that his interest in Will is not a selfish interest in becoming famous. He asks a nearby waiter if he's ever heard of various famous scientists (Salk, Einstein) and then asks if he's ever heard of Lambeau.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Maguire provides two of these directed at Will.
    • "I just have a little question here. 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?"
    • "Look at me, Will. What do you want to do?"
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    Gerald: Where will you go?
    Sean: India, China... and Baltimore.
  • Artistic License: During Will's argument with the snotty grad student, Will cites "Vickers, Work in Essex County, page 98." Page 98 of any edition of Work in Essex County discusses nothing of the sort. Hilariously, this has led to several Amazon reviewers giving the book poor reviews.
  • Ascended Meme:
    Will: How do you like them apples?
  • Award-Bait Song: Elliot Smith's "Miss Misery", which is played over the end credits.
  • Badass Beard: Sean's beard.
  • Berserk Button: Don't get too emotionally close to Will. And don't disrespect Sean's late wife.
  • Birds of a Feather: Sean and Will grew up in the same shitty neighborhood, one reason why Lambeau thinks he'll have better luck with Will than the other therapists.
  • Book Dumb: Sean is a psychologist who teaches at a Community College. Contrast with Lambeau, who won the prestigious Fields Medal and teaches at MIT, and Will, who has a Photographic Memory. Nonetheless, he is incredibly perceptive and delivers precise insights on life.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Both Sean and Lambeau. Lambeau believes that Will should be given a sense of direction and placed in an environment where his skills are put to use. Sean believes that it's more important for Will to choose his own path even if it conflicts with his potential as a mathematical prodigy.
  • Break Them by Talking: Will does this, successfully, to everyone he wants to avoid dealing with. He gets under Sean's skin at first, but Sean comes back later with a lecture about Will's woeful lack of first-hand experiences, which leaves him speechless.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Will is so afraid of failure that he'd rather work a construction job than show off his incredible math skills.
  • Butt-Monkey: Morgan.
  • Can't Catch Up: Lambeau can't compete with Will's brilliance.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Sean is introduced teaching a community college class on psychology, specifically on the importance of trust between client and therapist. Doubles as Foreshadowing.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Considering this film takes place in Boston, this trope is to be expected. 154 total f-bombs are dropped.
  • Cool Old Guy: Sean.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Will almost constantly, and Sean, though a little less pronounced.
  • Delusions of Eloquence: Chuckie when he poses as Will in the job interview.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off: Will's foster father tormented him by making him choose what he would be beaten with: belt, stick or wrench. Will always chose the wrench to spite his father.
  • E = MC Hammer: Averted. Professor Lambeau leaves a math problem for his class that allegedly took MIT professors two years to solve. The actual problem is legitimate, though not terribly difficult.
  • Epiphany Therapy: Sean works out that Will's root problem is self-blame for his foster father abusing him. Everything turns around when he reassures Will that it's not his fault.
  • Epunymous Title: Will Hunting is Good. The movie is about Hunting for Good Will.
  • Forgiveness: Late in the film, Lambeau and Sean reconcile their years of differences.
    Lambeau: Look, Sean, I'm...
    Sean: Me too, Gerry.
  • For Want of a Nail: Will's lengthy explanation of why he doesn't want to work for the NSA.
  • Genius Bruiser: Will. He is very gifted at mathematics and other minutia but really would prefer to knuckle down and beat up his way through life — literally, in some cases.
  • The Glasses Come Off: When Will suggests that Sean married the wrong woman, he takes his glasses off in the background before throttling Will.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Implied with the case of bringing Sean onboard. Will goes through eight different therapists with differing methods who all fail due to Will's unwillingness to open up. It's implied that Lambeau is reluctant to reconcile with Sean but relents because of how much he values Will's talents.
  • Good vs. Good: Everybody wants Will to succeed, but there's disagreement on the particulars. Lambeau thinks that Will's gift shouldn't be wasted, while Sean emphasizes that Will should find his passion.
  • Good with Numbers: Will. Most of the film's drama comes from people trying to get him to do something with his gift, even if he is militantly reluctant about it.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Will deconstructing Sean's reaction to his wife's death during one of their first therapy sessions. It doesn't end well for Will: Sean slams his head against a wall and makes clear that next time he tries to rile him up this way he's going to kill him.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Will and Chuckie, as are Damon and Affleck in real life.
  • Hollywood Law: Zigzagged. Will tries to get his assault on a police officer dismissed, saying it was "self-defense against tyranny." The judge notes that Will had managed to get out of an impressive number of assault and theft charges, one by citing a property rights law from 1798. Sanely, he ignores Will's arguments and convicts him anyways. However, Professor Lambeau manages to have the charges deferred under his supervision.
  • Hollywood New England
  • Immune to Mind Control: While the subject of hypnotic therapy, Will pretends to recall an alien abduction, then starts singing and mocking the hypnotist.
  • Improv:
    • Much of Robin Williams' monologue about dating was ad-libbed.
    • According to the filmmakers' commentary, Sean and Will's laughter in the scene when Sean talks about his wife's flatulence is genuine. The joke that really set them off was cut from the film:
      Sean: I woke up and said, "Somebody light a match!"
      Will: Was that how she died?
  • Inferiority Superiority Complex: Beneath Will's Insufferable Genius exterior is a host of insecurities and severe emotional vulnerabilities. Sean describes him as a "cocky, scared-shitless kid".
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Will is an isolated, delinquent, genius teenager from the slums of Boston, and Sean is a middle-aged and lonely community college psychology professor.
  • Jerkass: Will is not a nice person. The film has him get better with Sean's guidance.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Clark, the snotty Harvard student that Will outwits at the bar, does bring up a legitimate point in that he was still going to earn a degree and set himself up for future success while, at the time, Will was doing nothing with his life and wouldn't be successful in the future (a sentiment shared by pretty much every other character in the film.)
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Will and Lambeau, to a degree.
  • Just Think of the Potential: Lambeau makes the argument that pushing Will to contribute his genius to mathematics could be as huge as Jonas Salk or Albert Einstein. Sean retorts that the Unabomber was also a child prodigy who went to Harvard.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Something Sean goes out of his way to point out in his "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Will is that, while he may have a lot of book knowledge on a wide range of topics, he has no practical experience with any of them, and as such doesn't really know what he's talking about.
  • MacGuffin: Will's math talents drive the plot of the film, but it's not the central focus.
  • Maybe Ever After: The movie ends with Will going to California to make things right with Skylar. We do not see their reconciliation.
  • Meaningful Echo: "I have to go see about a girl." An amused Sean quips that he "stole [his] line".
  • Missing the Good Stuff: Sean's story about Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Pointedly, he makes it clear that not meeting his wife would have been what he really missed.
  • Mood Whiplash: Sean shares a hilarious story with Will about his wife's habit of farting while nervous, or even in her sleep, and one time so loudly it woke the dog. He then casually notes that she's been dead for two years. Will's laughter dies down quickly.
  • The Mourning After: Sean refuses to remarry. Will considers it cowardly to have loved his wife so much and refuse to try again. Through his treatment with Will, Sean begins to agree, and is willing to "play another hand'' just to see what happens.
  • Odd Friendship: Lambeau and Sean, old college roommates, have a very strained relationship given the one's success and the other's contentment. They reconcile at the end of the film, however.
  • The One Who Made It Out: Inverted. Will wants to stay in Southie, but Chuckie berates him for being scared to use his talents and live a better life.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping:
    • Happens to Prof. Lambeau (played by Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard) occasionally.
    • Robin Williams remembers to drop his r's every once in a while, but not enough to sound like a guy from Southie. Justified in that he's apparently been living elsewhere for some time, and could have lost the accent naturally.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: Lambeau, by Will. Agonizingly lampshaded by Lambeau himself.
  • Pet the Dog: Will sees an old bully at a ballgame and contemplates jumping him, but opts to get some burgers instead. He later sees the guy on the street and goes for him only after the dude catcalls a random woman.
  • Photographic Memory: Played for Drama. Sean talks with Will about his ability to memorize books and analyze information quickly, but not to know the feelings, emotions and sensations that come from a lifetime of personal experiences.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Sean is noticeably shorter than most of the other characters, but mentions bench pressing 285 pounds. And as seen below, he can easily pin Will to the wall.
  • Product Placement: Chuckie always shows up to see Will with a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee for him, though considering this is Boston it'd be weirder if he didn't.
  • Rage Breaking Point: The first meeting between Sean and Will has Will trying to break Sean by talking like he's done to all the other therapists before him. Sean takes it all well and good up until Will notices Sean is getting defensive about his late wife and he keeps insulting the poor woman to make Sean dismiss him...
    Sean (after slamming Will's head against a wall): "If you ever disrespect my wife again, I will end you. I will fucking end you. Got that, chief?"
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Chuckie to Will, and Will, Sean, and Lambeau to each other, at various times.
  • Satisfied Street Rat: Will is one, up until his genius is discovered.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Sean used to be in the military, and tells Will about the trauma of having a fellow soldier die in his arms.
  • The Shrink: Eight therapists see Will, before Sean is brought onboard.
  • Shout-Out: To Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. Matt Damon and Zinn had been neighbors when Damon was a child.
  • Single-Issue Psychology: Will resists several psychotherapy methods throughout the film, and doesn't contribute at all to his own healing. Near the end of the film, he and Sean exchange graphic memories from their abusive childhoods. Sean tells him "it's not your fault" repeatedly until Will breaks down, and seemingly all of his issues go away at once.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Will and his friends.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Easy Listening music (Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street") plays during the brawl incited by Will & co.
  • Super-Speed Reading: It's briefly shown that Will can read incredibly quickly, aided by his Photographic Memory.
  • Therapy Is for the Weak: Will's attitude at the beginning of his court-mandated therapy sessions.
  • Tranquil Fury: When Will starts taunting Sean about his wife, Sean calmly takes off his glasses, puts them away...and slams Will into the wall with a chokehold.
  • Undying Loyalty: Sean tells Lambeau that this is the reason Will hangs around with friends he looks down upon as they showed him a sense of loyalty that no one else has.
  • Unsportsmanlike Gloating: After Will beats Clark at an impromptu argument over education in the bar, he sees the latter sitting in a diner with his friends, and walks over to tell him that he got Skylar's number (using the famous "How do you like them apples?" quote).
  • Worth It: The good memories Sean has of his wife were well worth the pain of losing her to cancer, or missing the legendary 1975 World Series game.
  • You Wouldn't Believe Me If I Told You: One of Will's favorite lines to obfuscate his embarrassing past.


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