Good Will Hunting


good will hunting

Good Will Hunting (1997). Image from source.

By: Kelly FitzGerald

This weekend I watched Good Will Hunting, which I chose because it’s a classic that I had somehow never seen. I actually thought it was going to be about hunting (animals specifically), until I read the brief summary which mentioned the main character’s name, Will Hunting.

With that said, think the title (and Will Hunting’s name) were very carefully crafted by the writers, offering an ambiguous duality of meaning. The first way you can read the title is with “Good” as the limiting adjective which describes Will Hunting. In other words, understanding Will Hunting as a good person. The second way you can read the title is by linking Will to Good (so we think Goodwill) and then reading Hunting as a verb. This suggests the film is about hunting (or searching) for something out of goodwill or for goodwill. Or perhaps, a combination of the two would suggest a search for a “Good” (or better) Will (the protagonist). At any rate, these possibilities mirror the complexities of the main character, the complexities of chance and choice, and most importantly, the complexities of finding truth among multiple possibilities. Even after watching the entire film, I still couldn’t tell you exactly which meaning of the title might have been most intended by the director, as all are plausible options.

good will hunting 2

Good Will Hunting (1997). Image from source.

While still on the topic of our main character, Will Hunting, it is worth expanding on some of his character traits and seeing how they defy and align with the cinematic portrayals of other mathematicians. Like Paul Erdos and Alan Turing, Will Hunting is abnormal when it comes to social behavior, though on an entirely different plane. In contrast to Erdos and Turing, math is not something that Hunting is excited about. He isn’t good at it because he spends every waking moment trying to solve mathematical problems, he is good at it because it is a gift, something he was “born with.” In fact, he displays complete disinterest in the world of math, only solving problems because he is baffled that others waste so much time trying to solve something he can do in a couple seconds. Hunting’s abnormal social behavior (defined by violence, arrogance, and an incapacity for relationships) is a product of his past experiences, a “defense mechanism” as Robin Williams’ character coined it. Though certainly not a requirement to be a good mathematician, it is interesting to note that Hunting’s fictional past was consciously constructed by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, adding to the narrative of social abnormality that we have come to associate with mathematical genius.

GOOD WILL HUNTING, Robin Williams, Matt Damon, 1997

Good Will Hunting (1997). Image from source.

The most interesting part of the film for me is the conflict between educated privilege and uneducated (or undervalued) intelligence. There are multiple instances where Hunting and Maguire, (the latter a foil to the former), are engaged in verbal arguments with their more successful counterparts. The first major example is when Hunting gets in a fight with a scholar at a bar, inflicted by the student’s perception that Hunting and his friends are inferior since they lack a degree and/or prestigious occupations. Hunting of course comes back at him, delivering (what I find to be) the truth about educated arrogance, suggesting that intelligence goes beyond knowing and regurgitating information. Rather, true intelligence is the ability to author one’s own ideas and to craft new possibilities from knowing what is already out there. It is not something you can simply fork over a lot of money for, nor does it define success. These truths, which leave the audience rooting for the underdogs (Hunting and Maguire), are what really captured my attention throughout the film. It is easy, being a student, to see this spectrum of behavior, and how possession of a degree can breed entitlement. The truth is, intelligence comes in all shapes and sizes, can be interpreted many different ways (like the title), and can be developed outside of a traditional classroom. More importantly, the film reminds its audience that intelligence is not the key to happiness. It’s the capacity to love and to accept…as imparted by Maguire.

To read a second review, published in 1997 by the New York Times, click here.

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7 Responses to Good Will Hunting

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I have watched this film twice over the past few years, and each time I have noticed more and appreciated it for different reasons. It is truly a masterpiece in my opinion–the duality of the characters and plot, and execution are effortless and intriguing. It is truly one of the most thoughtful and impressive movies I have ever seen.

    –Maddie Turner

  2. mediaphiles says:

    The screenplay for this film is absolutely outstanding. I love how Damon, Williams and Affleck all deliver their lines as well. This is a screenwriting and acting masterpiece.

    -Jordan Hansgen

  3. mediaphiles says:

    This film is so interesting in that it kind of subverts auteur theory. I have to wonder how much the director had as input since it was Damon and Affleck who wrote the film afterall?

    – Russell

  4. mediaphiles says:

    I haven’t seen this film for awhile, but I am a big fan of it. I found your analysis on the title very interesting because I too thought it was about hunting until I found out the character’s name, but I hadn’t really thought about the meaning of the title much after that.

    -Walker Rise

  5. mediaphiles says:

    I believe that i have only seen this film once and it has been a while, but i do recall it being a great film. I do not recall catching some of the things you talked about. I might need to go back and watch the film to appreciate it a little more.

  6. mediaphiles says:

    I love this film! I believe it is one of Matt Damon’s best performances by far. I have seen this film a couple of times and the various interactions presented throughout the film are so intriguing. Damon shows incredible range that really emphasizes the growth of his character.

    -Shelby Halliman

  7. mediaphiles says:

    I love Good Will Hunting. The Oscar-winning writing is really intelligent and emotional at just the right moments, and Robin Williams’ and Matt Damon’s on-screen chemistry is really compelling as their relationship evolves into a beautiful father-son-like bond.

    – Cal

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