Ben Affleck & Matt Damon were in their twenties when they wrote a script. It was an idea that they thought could work as a thriller later came to fruition in a completely different tonality. You can see the innocence in their eyes while holding the Academy Awards they won for the film. They look like scared kids who were just let off on a big stage before even hitting puberty! It was obviously a big thing for them – they can’t seem to hold their excitement like an adult ideally would. In a way, that age is a phase of rebirth in one’s life in order to form some semblance of uniform identity.
This particular stage of early adulthood is where we usually enter a stream of higher education. Any decision of ours makes a deep impact on our future pathway. This makes Good Will Hunting an insightful college-campus film since it explores the paradoxes that are more commonly found during this age. An abundance of uncertainty about life is coupled with an arrogant assurance of the existing knowledge. We know so much and do not want to be lectured, considered as kids. And yet we do not wish to leave the nest even if our wings have the potential to take flight. The pressure of adulthood and the loss of childhood create an interesting mix that often leaves one in a state of bewilderment.
Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon) shares these fascinations and confusions. He works in the janitorial department of a university and spends most of his time sweeping the floors with a broom to make a living. But he is much smarter than people perceive him to be. Born and raised as an orphan, he does not have a home to call his own. So the camaraderie he shares with his close friends is important to him. As a result, he doesn’t mind his daily chores and finds solace in their company like any young adult who tries to latch onto some kind of belongingness. This level of comfort bounds him to not look beyond his immediate reality. Even if he’s brighter than most of the fancy college graduates, he pulls himself back often to resign to his present circumstances.
Will also struggles to openly express his emotions due to a fear of being exposed or being emotionally naked. The lack of support in his primitive years makes it difficult to express the need for love or compassion. So when Professor Gerald Lambeau offers him some assistance, he plainly refuses to acknowledge that he requires any help. Later on, when Dr. Maguire (the psych professor played by Robin Williams) tries to do the same, Will sees him almost like an opponent who is trying to threaten his identity. Will’s assurance with his bookish knowledge turns his interaction into a rebuttal. It appears like a survival tactic, derived from his memories from the street brawls. So it gives him an air of confidence about his genius. Owing to his past, it seems natural to look at vulnerability as a threat to one’s worth as an individual.
While eventually the psych professor helps Will to look beyond himself, he also lets him make sense of his spiral of overthinking. After all, intellect can be a virtue or a vice and it depends on how one learns to use it. The film navigates this facet of truth through many prolonged and meditative conversations. This abundance of knowledge connects him with many college-goers where the increased awareness makes one reevaluate, judge, openly criticise an older person’s opinion. This is a poignant portrayal of this age of utter confusion where you’re not quite sure which box you fit into, while responsibilities are just pounding on your door.
Since a lot of college-centered dramas, comedy or romance, focus on the aspect of friendship, Good Will Hunting is an engrossing character-driven drama that steers away from the popular-kid zeitgeist. It serves as a look into the college-campus through the eyes of a spectator. The film does follow the trope of an underdog, but it speaks about the subject of mental health in a way that is both accessible and perceptive. It manages to resonate with the college-goers with similar repressed emotions and elevates into a heartwarming film.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.