‘Good Will Hunting’ – Film Review and Analysis

What happens when you bring together two of the best actors of the modern age who meet at just the right time in their careers? The short answer is that you get some old-fashioned movie making magic. Both men have made their mark on Hollywood and this film that they carry together is one of the reasons for that happening. While a generation sets them apart, their commitment to the craft of acting shines through in this classic film that takes place in the city of Boston where I currently reside titled ‘Good Will Hunting.’

‘Good Will Hunting’, released in 1997, over twenty years ago is a film that I have gone back to again and again throughout the years since I grew up with it in a way. As I have gotten older, the themes of the film stick with me more and more. This film is a timeless piece that a lot of people, especially young men, can relate to. While it’s not a blockbuster and isn’t a mainstream favorite, it carries deep messages regarding relationships, dealing with the future, and learning to love and trust other people.

The two actors that I was referring to earlier are Robin Williams and Matt Damon. Both men are known for their more popular roles in movies like ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ and ‘Good Morning, Vietnam for Mr. Williams and ‘The Bourne Trilogy’ movies and ‘The Departed’ for Mr. Damon. Unlike those other movies, I believe that this movie really shows off the talent of these two men and how they’re able to push each other in emotionally trying roles. On top of those two performances, Gus Van Sant is an excellent director who does a great job of filming this movie set in late 1990s Boston.

As if that weren’t enough, you have a great cast of supporting actors including Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver (has she been in any major movies since?), Stellan Skarsgard, and Casey Affleck of Manchester-by-the-Sea fame who really add depth and substance to this movie. These character-driven movies such as ‘Good Will Hunting’ are usually the hardest to make but if done right, they really stay with the viewer long after the film is over. They really capture different moods, emotions, and feelings and this one in particular captures the struggles inherent in being a brilliant mind in a troubled world.

The title of this film ‘Good Will Hunting’ is based off the name of its main character, Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon) a 20-year old, born and raised in South Boston. You would think from this description that he’s just a regular guy but Mr. Hunting was born with the innate gift of having genius level intellect. He has few possessions except for hundreds of books from Foucault to Shakespeare. He’s an avid book reader but has a specialty in solving advanced mathematical equations that few others in the world can figure out. You would think that this college-aged guy would be working on advanced mathematics at MIT or CalTech but he’s not an enrolled student there or anywhere for that matter.

Will Hunting has had a rough upbringing in that his parents abandoned him when he was a baby and he grew up in foster homes where his foster father abused him physically multiple times. Abandoned by those people who were supposed to love and cherish him, Will, for good reason has a fear of abandonment and does not trust other people. His social interactions are limited because of the abusive childhood he endured but he is happy with his group of three friends: Billy, Morgan, and his best friend Chuckie. While Will does not have many friends, he would do anything for his three neighborhood buddies who he grew up with and he literally considers them to be his family.

While Will’s friends are loyal, they are not the best influence on him and they can be crass, crude, and spend too much time drinking. The group’s antics lead Will into a fight against some neighborhood miscreants, which draws the attention of the local police. Will, acting out his aggression violently, ends up assaulting a police officer causing him to do mandatory community service and therapy sessions. Will, a janitor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, works after hours to help clean the bathrooms and empty the waste paper baskets. Unbeknownst to both students and professors alike, Will in his spare time has been going around solving advanced Math equations that the regular MIT graduate students can’t even begin to conceive a solution for. One night, Will is caught in the act as he gets caught doing an extremely difficult problem that no one else has solved yet. Professor Lambeau of the Mathematics department discovers Will solving this problem and calls after him to no avail but with a four-letter crude response from Mr. Hunting.

Professor Lambeau does Will a huge favor and gets him out of some serious jail time for assaulting the police officer. In exchange for his favor, Will has to sit and work with Professor Lambeau on advanced mathematics in a mutual exchange. Professor Lambeau is fascinated by Will’s brilliance but it appears to the audience that he cares more just about Will’s brain than who he is as a person. Professor Lambeau tries to get Will to open up to different psychiatrists but Will messes with all of them and doesn’t take his therapy sessions seriously. Lambeau, out of options, goes to an old friend from his college days at MIT, Sean Maguire (played by Robin Williams), who now teaches psychology at Bunker Hill Community College and is also a licensed therapist.

Despite a few sessions where Will is argumentative and closed off, Sean is able to break down Will’s defensive mechanisms partly by talking about his own rough upbringing. Sean was beat by his alcoholic father while he was a child. In an effort to protect his mother and little brother, Sean would endure the brunt of his father’s anger and vitriol. The two men bond over the fact that they have a high intellect, have both grown up in Boston, share a love of the Red Sox, have had rough upbringings, and can be a bit closed off from their loved ones.

Will is going through a transition period in his young life where he is starting to think about a future beyond just getting drunk with his buddies and hiding his talents from the world. He is also trying his best to form healthy relationships with not only his friends but in his love life too. Instead of endlessly pursuing casual one-night stands, Will finds a girl one night at a Harvard bar whom peaks his interest named Skylar (played by Minnie Driver). Despite them coming from very different family backgrounds as well as her being born into wealth, they share a love for learning and have the same sense of humor. Most important to Will in all of this courting is that she likes his friends and that means a lot to him since they have essentially been his family his whole life.

The problem that Will struggles with in terms of his relationships whether its romantic with Skylar or personal with Sean is that he can’t open up to them about his being abused as a child due to a mixture of shame, guilt, and anger. He turns his emotional pain outward and directs that anger at society, the past therapists, Professor Lambeau, and even at Will and Skylar. Will is self-conscious about his genius and is not sure he wants to have a prestigious office job or even to leave his home city of Boston. He says to his best friend, Chuckie, at one point that he doesn’t “feel like doing long division in a room for the rest of my life.”

However, what Will realizes is that he’s not the center of the world. With the help of Sean and Skylar, he learns eventually that while his life has been tragic, that should not prevent him from reaching his true potential and that he is literally “bound by nothing.” He’s a genius of great intellectual capacity who can change the world in a number of ways. Will has a great gift that a lot of people would kill to have including his best friend, Chuckie. As Chuckie puts to Will bluntly towards the end of the movie, “You’re sitting on a winning lottery ticket and you’re too chicken to cash in on it.” Chuckie tells Will that he’ll essentially be working construction until he retires which is fine because he doesn’t have Will has and that Will owes it not only to himself but to him and his other buddies to do more with his life.

Sean also is the father figure that Will never had and is able to give him tough life. Sean was also abused as a child and knows where Will is coming from. However, he has to learn how to put the past behind him and to not blame himself for what had happened because it simply wasn’t his fault. Will was an innocent child and can’t be blamed for such a horrific event. Will has to learn again how to be emotionally open and vulnerable with the people who care about him like Sean and Skylar. Will had lost the inability to love and be loved but it’s never too late to get that back.

The mentorship of Sean throughout the film helps to bring Will around and the time they share together in the therapy sessions make them true friends. Sean is able to tell Will that he is not so special in the fact that his life has been extraordinarily difficult. Sean, himself, fought in the Vietnam War as a young man and had his best friend there die in his arms. He also lost his wife, the one true love of his to a long battle with cancer years ago and hasn’t been able to become romantically involved with anyone since then. However, he implores Will to also see the beauty in life such as in the form of a woman who can ‘level you with her eyes’ and be your own angel.

There are also the wonders of the world that Will can experience such as how it smells in the Sistine Chapel in Italy.    Will may be an intellectual genius but he still has a lot to learn about the beauty and ugliness of life. Sean’s experiences help to enlighten Will about what life is all about and how to persevere through the struggles and setbacks that are inevitable. Both men have their inner demons to battle but they encourage each other to become better, to strive for more, and to live good lives. With Will’s urging, Sean is also ready to put his tragic past behind him to begin anew. He sets out to travel the world, meet a special someone like Will has with Skylar, and truly live life again.

The positive mentorship between Will and Sean is a beautiful thing to see develop over the course of the film. To see true friendship between the two and the chemistry that Damon and Williams have in their scenes together makes ‘Good Will Hunting’ a really special movie. Similar to ‘Lost In Translation’, it’s also nice to see a true romance between Will and Skylar develop as well that starts out very inconspicuously. It’s a young, innocent kind of love that is beautiful to watch and it’s both real and raw to see with how much they truly care for each other and want to best for one another. One of the best lines in the film that Will and Sean both use for courting the special women in their lives is “Sorry, I had to go see about a girl.” Is there anything in modern cinema that can compare to this phrase so simple yet so full of meaning? I don’t think so.

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The Need for Critical Thinking

Facts are a tricky thing, but the importance and recognition of them is vital in order to consider yourself a critical thinker. In this era of ‘alternative facts’ and opinionated media, it’s necessary to be able to read, analyze, and think about all of the information that you’ve been taking in and figure out for yourself if it’s truthful or nonsense. In this day and age, opinions are easy to find everywhere but what have become harder to find are the cold, hard facts. The famous expression, “take it with a grain of salt” can be applied to you if you want to be a critical thinker.

The first thing you have to do, as a critical thinker is to be able to sort out the facts from the falsehoods. You should be able to use more than one source of information and before you use those sources of information, you need to verify that they are both unbiased and trustworthy. The evidence that you gather for these facts have to be based off of real sources, who have compiled the information and verified its’ authenticity.

For example, if you’re a Chemistry student and you’re trying to do an experiment on making a chemical volcano, would you choose to get the information from an actual scientist who has their PhD and teaches Chemistry at a local university or would you trust the advice of a best friend in your Science class instead?

While it’s desirable to be a good friend and trust them because they would like to help you most likely, it’s likely their advice will pale in comparison to the Chemistry professor with the PhD who wrote a ‘how to’ article on chemical experiments in the latest edition of ‘Science Weekly.’ If you’re a critical thinker, you would choose option #2 100% of the time because you would like to create an experiment that’s going to be the best that it can be and using your friend’s advice won’t get you to that point.

Regardless of what professional or educational field that you decide to pursue, you’re going to need critical thinking. Being inherently skeptical at first of the information you’re receiving is important to do because you need to be able to discern if what you’re reading, watching, listening to, etc. is factual. In your daily life, you’re going to need to identify prejudice, bias, propaganda, etc. that you’re likely to encounter in your daily life. You have to do your best to discern fact from fiction even if it takes some time. You could decide to ingest every bit of information that you see in the news or at the office as being factual but it would benefit you instead to deep a bit digger by doing your research, verify the source(s), bounce it off other pieces of information to see if there’s a pattern, and then decide if it’s factual.

A true critical thinker is not lazy and does not take shortcuts. He or she goes the extra mile to gather the right information, prioritize it to give it credence in your decision-making, and then recognize, solve the problems in order to move on to the next goal. If you’re in a field where you’re working with data on the computer, you have to be able to interpret it, evaluate it, and then use it for your business or company’s needs. By being able to communicate effectively and clearly is also a necessity when it comes to being able to take those fresh facts you’ve verified and then pass it on to the next person so they know that they’re not being misled by you.

As a critical thinker, it’s also necessary to disregard generalizations made about complex topics, which require in-depth research and analysis. Instead, critical thinking also necessitates the ability to draw conclusions from the evidence and the facts that you have gathered. Then, you have to be able to pass those conclusions on to the right people so they know what’s true and what’s false.

Conclusions that you’ve made in the past can sometimes change in the present or in the future so it’s vital to not be stubborn about your beliefs. Critical thinking requires that you also be flexible in your beliefs especially if you’re able to take in new evidence, and logic. A man or a woman who does not change their views on anything despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary cannot consider himself or herself to be a true critical thinker. While it can be difficult to let go of your innate biases and prejudices, you still should be open-minded and be able to accept the truth and the facts even if they contradict with yours.

If your mother, someone who you loved and respected, happened to have told you one day that the sky was the color red instead of blue, would you accept her statement at face value or would you go outside of the house to check, verify her statement to see if it was true or false? If you are not a critical thinker and a great son, you would choose option #1 and believe that statement without actually checking to see if it’s true. If you are a critical thinker but still a good son, you would choose option #2 and tell your mother later that the sky is actually blue because you went outside to see its’ color for yourself. Even if your mom might be offended by your conclusion, she would still love and respect you for being a critical thinker as is necessary.

To put it bluntly, there are a lot of people out there in different industries that are not critical thinkers and they’re hoping the same about you. I don’t want to name names but you’re likely to encounter them in your neighborhood, your city, and your city. However, if you’re able to develop the right personal habits and characteristics, you’ll be able to set yourself apart as a real critical thinker rather than just a person who believes what he hears, reads, or listens to all of the time regardless of the source it’s coming from.

Those habits involve being a problem solver, an evidence gatherer, a decision maker, a rational thinker, being able to reason with others, and an inquisitive learner above all else. While critical thinking isn’t mandatory in life, you’ll still go a lot further and succeed more when you put those skills and habits to use when compared to those who don’t. If you’re an open-minded, intelligent, mature, and inquisitive person, you’ll turn out to be a good critical thinker and a positive example for others to follow.

How You Think Affects Everything You Get

1. Your mind is a fertile garden patch. Failure to cultivate it allows weeds to run rampant. 

As the popular saying goes, “Your mind is a terrible thing to waste.” In order to get the most out of your brain, you need to put your mental and intellectual capabilities to the test every single day. Whether it is reading the newspaper, doing a crossword puzzle, or solving a Rubix cube, you must exercise your mind as you do so for your body. If you don’t do anything to stimulate your learning capabilities, it’s likely that you will be left behind in life to some degree. Especially in this day and age where there is an unlimited amount of information to be accessed by the average person, there is simply no excuse as to why someone can’t cultivate their mind to improve themselves and become smarter.

You don’t even need to spend your whole day learning because it’s likely that you’re already a busy person. However, it only takes an hour or two a day of active learning in order to get ahead in life and improve a little bit. For example, you could spend that hour or two each day learning a musical instrument, studying a foreign language, or reading a chapter or two from a new book. The possibilities are seemingly endless but you need to take the initiative in order to make it happen. As an adult, nobody is going to hold your hand and force you to learn new things.

This isn’t like it was in school growing up where you had set periods of learning and a teacher there who could guide you to improve and become more knowledgeable. After high school or even college, you need to take initiative when it comes to learning and empowering your mind to become more open, agile, and responsive for the increased amount of knowledge that you want to retain. You can hold the weeds at bay if you’re willing to plant some flowers there instead.

2. Thoughts lead to feelings, and feelings lead to actions and actions lead to results. If         you don’t like the results you’re getting, reexamine your thinking.

You may not be able to control the thoughts or the feelings that enter your head but you need to control how you act and react to them. There is a direct correlation between your thoughts and feelings and your actions that come later. It’s important to think about why you are experiencing these particular thoughts and feelings, and if they are constructive or not to be having in your mind. You need to make sure that the actions that you are willing to undertake as a result of your feelings are done for the right reasons and are not just based off of poor impulses.

Part of being a mature adult is realizing that you have control over your actions and you should weed out the thoughts, emotions that are completely negative in nature and won’t get you very far in your goals and in your results. The effort that you put forth in your actions is a direct result of the effort you put into your thoughts. For example, if you feel confident about the subject material for a biology exam and are thinking about the topics you need to study and master, then you will be more likely to turn those positive thoughts into real actions as you crack open the books to study for this exam and then take the exam the next day with good feelings of confidence from putting efforts behind your original thoughts.

However, if you choose to focus on the negative aspects of your thoughts and emotions, it will likely cause a downward spiral, leading you to make mistakes and achieve less than desired results. With positive thoughts and emotions come the positive efforts of hard work that will often lead to good results. You really need to believe in yourself internally before you can have external success in the world and that all begins with your thought process and how you feel about yourself as a person.

3. Don’t deceive yourself. Confront reality, as it exists, even when the facts are brutal! Once you do, and then take action based on that reality.

Reality can be difficult to cope with but it is absolutely necessary to be able to handle even when the facts are not in your favor. In anything in life, you need to have a sound understanding of the facts and figures before you can start taking action regarding the subject you’re researching.

It is very easy these days to wrap yourself up in falsehoods and misleading information, which is why it’s more important than ever to seek out the reality of things in order to not confuse or distort your understanding of it all. The facts that may make you depressed, angry, or disturbed but the facts are the facts and they won’t be handed to you automatically. Any good student or researcher will know that you have to check and verify the facts on any subject before moving forward with taking any serious actions.

For example, when it comes to the issue of climate change and global warning, the facts matter a lot which is why so many scientists spend years in their field compiling data, doing research, testing out hypotheses, etc. before they decide to take substantive action to reverse this problem or lessen its’ effects. There are a lot of people out there who wish to distort the truth or dismiss it entirely but when you do not have a consensus on an important global issue like climate change, the problem will get worse and not better especially if no action is taken.

Reality must always be confronted even if there are some harsh truths that we as human beings must deal with. Part of being a mature, responsible adult is seeking out the facts in a situation and getting to the truth of the matter regardless if you like what the outcome is or not. Once you have the facts, you’ll be clear to take action and to do the right thing in your mind.

4. Worrying about things you can’t control creates a negative feedback loop that will cause you unneeded stress and anxiety.

Worrying is useless when you think about it. It doesn’t do anyone let alone yourself any good to think about the things that may happen in the future but also may not happen otherwise. You can only really know what’s going to happen exactly for today or maybe for tomorrow but beyond that you can never really be sure about what is going to happen to you.

Worrying can really be a mental block that can prevent you from making progress in your daily goals or from being successful in whatever you set your mind or your body to. By worrying all of the time, you’re not going to be able to do anything useful with your life if you’re worried about something bad is going to happen. By doing that, you’ll create a negative spiral of negative thoughts that you may not be able to get out of so easily.

When you decide to worry about something out of your control, stop yourself right there, take a deep breath, and push those negative thoughts out of your head. Instead, you must think positively and act positively in order to create the change you need and to become a better person in different areas of life. Worrying will get you nowhere and will create an endless loop of negatively. You have to be willing to take some chances, face some risks, and do your best effort in order to get to where you need to be. Worrying is a wasteful endeavor when you could focus your mental energies in a way that is more positive and productive overall.

5. Harnessing your thoughts to drive tangible, positive outcomes – It’s not enough to stare up the steps, you have to step up the stairs.

Thoughts must become actions in order to make things happen. You can think as much as you want about what you’re going to do, but unless you put actions to words, you won’t be able to get anywhere. There’s an important saying when it comes to this subject, which is, “Watch what people do, not what they say.” There’s also another saying such as, “Actions speak louder than words do.”

If people aren’t willing to follow through with their actions, you can be sure that they won’t be able to advance or progress that much with their goals, dreams, or aspirations. The difference between someone who’s a big talker and someone who actually walks the walk is quite stark. Success and progress doesn’t just come out of thin air. You need to be the person who is willing to take action after forming a plan of how to make the outcome positive or successful. This applies to a number of things in life that we often strive to achieve.

Whether it’s being the first person in your family to graduate from college, or working extra hours for that raise, or going back to night school to get the skills you need to apply for that job, positive outcomes must come from actual efforts and hard work. Good things come to people who put actions behind their thoughts. Anybody can talk a good game but the ones who really stand out in life are the ones who go the extra mile to achieve their goals with planning, taking action, and doing their best.