Good Will Hunting: Seeking a Reputation By: Emily Locascio

A film about dreams, fears, love, hope, heartbreak, and weakness. Director Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting (1997) presents a 20-year old South Boston janitor Will Hunting (Matt Damon), an unrecognized genius whose talents get discovered when he solves an extremely difficult graduate level math problem. His talents are discovered by Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard), he is amazed by this young man’s capabilities and makes the decision to help Will when he finds him in trouble with the law. Will had assaulted a police officer, but professor Lambeau agrees to take Will under his wing at a court hearing and agrees to help him reach his potential while Will also seeks help from a therapist. Van Sant introduces Will as a troubled boy who purposely gets himself into fights and trouble with the law. Will seems to be someone who avoids his problem and is clever enough to free himself of certain responsibilities.

Foreshadowing the wisdom and help that will come for Will hunting, Van Sant sets up his introduction of Will solving a math problem that is nearly impossible for other mathematicians to solve. None of the students at MIT are able to solve it, but this school janitor can. When Professor Lambeau sees Will writing on the board he says, “that’s peoples work you can’t graffiti here.” He is automatically doubting Will’s potential, which seems to foreshadow to another theme that seems to have went on in Will’s life that we learn about later on in the film. Will responds back to Professor Lambeau with derogatory language while leaving the scene. Van Sant takes a long shot of this scene right before transitioning into a close up of just professor Lambeau’s upper body walking quickly in the direction of Will. Lambeau is curious to know this janitor’s name and his facial expression is annoyed when Will gets away. The camera then pans outward and takes a shot of the entire hallway with Lambeau’s assistant standing in front of the chalk board that Will had been writing on. The camera then shows the two educators staring at the chalkboard in amazement. The camera switches to a close up shot of both the professor’s face and the assistant when they realize the work is correct, the shot stays there for a moment to add suspense.

Van Sant cuts to another scene of main character Will Hunting sitting on a moving train looking out the window. Will’s face looks like he is deep in thought, this scene allows the audience to think about what might be on Wills mind. Maybe he is thinking about what had happened today? Maybe he is thinking about his life choice? Is he happy with himself? We still do not know, and this scene leaves us wondering.

During the bar scene the scene cuts and there is a long Shot of supporting actor Ben Affleck with his friends including Will Hunting in the bar going to talk to some ladies from MIT. The camera pans the scene and we see the bar is full. The camera switches to a close up shot of Affleck talking to the two ladies. The camera switches to a close up shot of Will hunting’s upper body walking towards the direction of his friend. Will has a couple cuts on his lip and his clothes are rugged. His hair is swept over his forehead to the left and he looks serious yet pleased to see his friend making conversation. Van Sant lets the viewers see that Will Hunting has a protective side, he is looking out for his friend. The camera switches to a long shot of Ben and the two ladies, the camera pans slightly to the right before Van Sant cuts to a close up of Ben and Will’s friend group sitting in closer to Ben and the Ladies with smirks on their faces. The two other friends are both holding drinks in their hands. They are dressed in street clothes and both their faces have eye bruises from an earlier fight they had been in together. The camera cuts and slowly zooms into an MIT student walking towards Ben and the girls. The student is a male in his early 20s he is dressed in proper clothing and has long brown hair. He has appeared to try and make Ben look back in front of the ladies. The scene continues and Will enters the shot he is confident and begins to outsmart the MIT student. As Will lists all the facts the student was going to say and says the famous quote “were you going to plagiarize the whole thing for us, do you have any thoughts of your own on this matter?” The camera zooms out away from the character’s making this MIT student appear small. Then the camera cuts and slowly zooms in closer to Will’s face allowing him to appear larger and in control of the situation. The lighting of the scene is low key, shadows are present and there is a sense of mystery about Will, creating contrast. Van Sant allows the views to start understanding standing Will more. He is smart, but then he also mentions having no problem “stepping outside” to handle the problem going in the bar. Will is not afraid to get his hands dirty and he does not want to be anything like this MIT student.

Will meets with several therapists before finally meeting with his therapist Sean (Robin Williams). Sean breaks down a wall inside Will. They come from similar backgrounds and Williams is not like the other shrinks, he does not give up on Will. Van Sant shows their relationship in a different way, he has them meet in the setting of a park for one session. The lighting in high key, there are not many shadows and the camera shows both of them in the scene along with a background of trees and light shades of green. There are ducks and Robin Williams and Will Hunting are both sitting on the park bench. The camera zooms into Robin Williams face, he is only in focus the background is not in focus, but the bright green tree colors are still visible. Robin Williams is talking about their previous encounter in the movie and how what Will said bothered him, until “something occurred to him and he fell into a deep peaceful sleep.” The scene focuses on Robin Williams, even when Will speaks Van Sant had decided not to switch the camera to include him or pan out the scene to the left as Williams is talking. Van Sant does this because is allows the audience to understand that what Williams is saying is deep and meaningful and Will has a lot to learn from him. The camera eventually pans to the left and shows small portion of the side of Will’s face and then cuts to the left zooming into Wills facial expression. We see the face of a boy in thought, the camera holds there for a while until it switches to a long shot of Robin William leaving Will on the bench. At the final portion of the scene the camera zooms in to a close up shot of Will’s face left in deep thought of what his next move is going to be. The lighting is high key, Van Sant allows the viewers to have hope for Will, we are able to believe Robin Williams have left a great effect on Will and he could move in a better, reforming direction.

During the famous office “It’s not your fault scene” Williams has a copy of Will’s childhood foster care folder. The lighting is low key, this allows the viewers to understand the mystery behind Will’s life it was not easy, and he was hurt and blamed as a young child. The camera shows a front shot of Williams taken from behind Will hunting. We see the back of Hunting’s head so we can not make out his facial expressions as Williams brings up his past life. The camera then switches to an eye-level shot of Will, the lighting is low key, and his facial expression is uncomfortable and serious. The camera switches back to William as he begins speaking about how his father was an alcoholic and then cuts and zooms in slowly to Will’s face as he smirks. The camera cuts back to Robin Williams as he passes another page in Will’s foster care book. The camera cuts and allows us to see a flashback of Will’s father coming up the stairs to harm will. Van Sant does this to define the phenomenon. The camera then cuts and we see a close up of Will crying into his hands as Williams is trying to let him understand that this is “not his fault”. This is a groundbreaking moment in Will’s life. The lighting begins to change to high key as Will hugs Williams and cries into his arms. The camera cuts between close ups or Will’s face and Robin William’s face, until the camera finally pans out and we see an eye- level shot of Robin and Will hugging. There is light coming in from the window and the lighting has transformed to high key. This allows the audience to have hope for Will and see his breakthrough moment. The positive mentorship between Will and Sean is a beautiful thing to see develop over the course of the film. We see true friendship through their bond.

Sean gives Will the courage to take on a loving relationship despite the fact that he was never truly loved as a child. He helps him to get passed his difficult past and open his heart up to taking a chance. “Sorry I had to go see about a girl” This is the phrase that Sean says, it is so simple yet so meaningful. There are not many lines like it in modern cinema that can compare to this.

Matt Damon started writing this film as a final assignment for a playwriting class he was taking at Harvard University. He collaborated with Ben Affleck, asking him to develop the screen play with him At first, it was written as a thriller about a young man in the rough-and-tumble streets of South Boston who possesses a superior intelligence and is targeted by the government with heavy-handed recruitment. He added in his girlfriend at the time to play a medical student Skylar Satenstein and Robin Williams to play his therapist, Dr. Sean Maguire. Ben Affleck played as his best friend Chuckie Sullivan.

Castle Rock Entertainment bought the script for $675,000 against $775,000, meaning that Damon and Affleck would stand to earn an additional $100,000 if the film was produced and they retained sole writing credit Castle Rock president Rob Reiner urged them to drop the thriller aspect of the story and to focus on the relationship between Will and his therapist. Terrence Malick told Affleck and Damon over dinner that the film ought to end with Will’s decision to follow his girlfriend Skylar to California, not them leaving together. Miramax eventually bought the rights from castle rock and put the film into production. The film made a gross of $225,933,435. On the review of Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 97%.

References: Sikov, E. (2009). Film studies: An introduction. NY, Columbia University Press


Good Will Hunting Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYa6gbDcx18



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