‘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 Power of Mentorship

Since the days of ancient Greece, the concept of mentoring or mentorship has been apart of human recordkeeping and history. The naming of the word itself ‘mentor’ is said to have come from Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ where the main character, Odysseus, while getting ready to leave for his famous voyage, decided to leave his infant son behind. Because he didn’t want to leave his son alone considering how long his ‘odyssey’ could be, His infant son, Telemachos, was left in the care and companionship of Odysseus’s friend named ‘Mentor.’ From this allegorical story from Homer, we get a sense of how longstanding the idea of mentorship has been around and why it has lasted throughout the centuries.

Why exactly is mentorship so powerful? Well, there are a number of reasons why it can be such a helpful and important part of a person’s success. People very rarely can do everything by themselves and to have the ability to seek out someone who gives them both their time and expertise without asking for anything in exchange is what makes having a mentor so powerful. Now, not everybody starts out being the best mentor. It’s a skill like any other skill that takes time to develop. It’s also impossible to mentor somebody in every aspect of his or her life.

It would be better to focus on an area where you think you can be a good mentor and lend help to another person. For example, if you’re good at writing and consider yourself to be a writer, you should want to mentor someone else who’s aspiring to be a writer and not someone who wants to become a mechanical engineer. Your mentoring has to line up with the mentee’s aspirations and what they hope to do in the future. Mentorship doesn’t only have to be professional advice but it can also involve be personal advice as well. Mentorship can range from how to learn a new skill set in order to make more money to being able to manage your personal relationships better.

Before mentorship can begin though, a level of trust has to be built up over time between the mentor and the mentee. When you’ve taken upon the role of the mentor, it’s important to make sure that you think that the mentee can be successful and that they can put in the work and effort to reach their goals. If somebody is mentoring you, it’s important to make sure that you know them well already, you respect them, and you find that they have good expertise and knowledge in the field or area that you need mentoring in.

A mentor doesn’t have to be a boss or a co-worker. It could also be a friend or family member who you have a close relationship to and is able to give you sound advice based off of their personal and/or professional experiences. When it comes to mentorship, it has to be a consistent and long-standing relationship between two people. The mentor and the mentee should be meeting on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis together in order to make actual real and sustained progress on both their short-term and long-term goals. If you’re only meeting with a mentor once every month or every three months, it’s not going to work out and you’ll be lucky to make any lasting progress. If mentorship is done right, the mentee will see themselves go far in the area, skillset, or field that they’re focusing on especially if the mentor is giving out real, practical advice that they themselves have proven to work.

For mentorship to be successful, it’s important that this kind of relationship between two people be a two-way street and not just a one-sided affair. The mentee should not be getting 100% of the benefits out of the mentorship because respect and appreciation has to be paid from the mentee to the mentor. Time, as we all know, is quite valuable and for a mentor to be giving his time freely to the mentee especially on a weekly or monthly basis is a very selfless thing to be doing. While the mentor should not expect anything in return right away, a healthy mentorship would involve the mentee taking it upon himself to show his appreciation and thanks through small gestures. It could be buying your mentor a gift for the holidays or buying them a ticket to a baseball game or a concert but it’s important to show that you care about the mentorship and that you realize it’s nice to give back every now and then.

If you’ve built up a strong personal friendship with your mentor, it would be nice for the mentee to spend time with the mentor outside of their formal meetings / sit-downs, etc. For example, if you two have shared interests outside of business, you can go out together for dinner, or do an activity together. Mentorships don’t have to be strictly business all of the time and the best mentorships are when both parties like each other and would consider themselves to be good friends. One of the key powers of mentorship is its’ sustainability and longevity when it’s done right. A fruitful mentorship of months and even years can definitely change the course of a person’s life. While not the easiest thing in life to take upon oneself, being a mentor to someone is one of the most rewarding things a person can do and it’s an easy way to make the world a bit better than before.

Unfortunately, true mentorship today isn’t as prevalent as it used to be and is a far cry from what it was like just a generation or two ago. Most people today do not have a mentor in their lives to help them who can they rely on for good advice without paying money. If you’re able to be a mentor to someone who needs your help or advice, it is something that should be seriously considered especially if that person has a lot of potential. Mentorships shouldn’t always be thought of in terms of the mentor being older the mentee in terms of age.

That’s a fallacy in that there are ways in which older people can learn from younger people especially in this current digital age of technology. The power of mentorships lies in the inherent decency of one person helping another person to get ahead in life in any way that they can. The mentee can then take the advice to heart and work hard to improve themselves in professional and/or personal ways. The mentee should show gratitude and appreciation to the mentor because having a good mentor who is generous with his time is not easy to find these days. While mentorships and apprenticeships were more common a generation or two ago, they are exceedingly rare nowadays. If you’re able to have a good mentor in your life, remember to be grateful for it and pay it back in the future by mentoring another person who is growing through the same struggles and setbacks that you once conquered yourself.

If there were more active mentoring going on between people, not only would their own individual lives improve over time but also that of the local community and society as a whole. When more and more folks are willing to give back to others in their community and help them out consistently, that helps out the society in general. The power of mentorship is also a reminder that we’re all in this together and we should try to spur on success of others rather than kick them down a notch. You’ll feel happier and more engaged in the world to when you give mentorship a shot so I encourage those of you reading this article to go out there, think about why mentorship is important, and figure out if that is a calling that you personally would like to take upon in the future in an effort to help other people help themselves.