1997 Movie Review: GOOD WILL HUNTING, 1997


Movie Reviews

Directed by Gus Van Sant
Starring: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Robin Williams
Review by David D


Will Hunting, a janitor at MIT, has a gift for mathematics which is discovered, and a psychologist tries to help him with his gift and the rest of his life.


If you can put aside the rumor that William Goldman doctored the Oscar winning script for Good Willing Hunting AND that it features funnyman Robin Williams in a serious role, you are in an excellent two hours of viewing.

Written by a young Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, the story focuses on a young prodigy named Will Hunting. Will (aptly played by Matt Damon and nominated for an Academy Award) is a genius foster kid that works as a janitor in a prestigious university (MIT) in South Boston. Ben Affleck plays his best friend, Chuckie.

The plot focuses on the discovery of Will’s genius and other people attempts to either use or save him from himself. Will Hunting, on the other hand, has plans of his own.

Robin William pulls in a great performance as Will’s therapist (Sean), pushing him past the anger and sarcasm, to discover what his life is really all about.

This film works on couple of levels. As a viewer, we admire Will’s photographic memory and his uncanny ability to solve incredibly complicated math problems with ease, but at the same time resent the fact that he takes these abilities for granted. The audience musters the requisite ‘If I had that kind of ability I would…’ rhetoric but the script and director ask a much harder question ‘How do we define happiness?’

Will wants a simple life; he doesn’t want the complications of his genius. His actions betray his words as he voluntarily studies late into the night on various subjects, espouses classic lines from English texts and solves mathematical problems on a university blackboard without being asked. Inside, there is a person wanting to break free.

The another level is questioning whether a person is chained to their past. Will was shuffled & abuse from foster home to foster home, and because of this, very wary of human closeness and contact. It is akin to the sting we feel when we fall in and out of love. He is chained to his past because of the anger he still feels towards these betrayals.

His session with Sean (Robin Williams) also belies his true desires. With Sean as his therapist, Will is critical, confrontational and always on the defensive. Fortunately, Sean never pushes too far and because of this understanding, a critical bound is formed between them. Will has a distrust of adults because of the abuse he suffered at the hands of a foster father – one of the many reasons he distances himself from figures of authority.

Will spends most of his time with his friends who would ‘lay down their life for him’. They provide the only human closeness that Will feels towards anyone. When a mathematician Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard) saves Will from a stretch in prison, Will can only thank him with harsh words and scorn.

During Will’s sessions with Sean, he learns that it is ok to take a chance and falls in love with Skylar (Minnie Driver). This relationship has all the hallmarks of defeat as we learn that Will cannot deal with the closeness that comes from trusting someone.

This last plot point is truly what the film hinges on: Will’s inability to trust because of his past. The final reel is emotional and satisfying. We see the journey that Will takes both on an emotional and physical level; from a wounded, cornered animal to a person that realizes hurt is a part of life. As an audience we feel for Will and participate in his struggle to reconcile his past feelings with his chance at a better future and happiness.