Our Many Faces

“We try to find those people or at least one person who we can share ourselves with and how to open up our ‘little weird worlds’ to them without being judged or criticized or made fun of.”

There is a touching scene in one of my favorite movies, ‘Good Will Hunting’, which focuses on Sean (played by Robin Williams), a former prodigious mathematician turned psychologist, who is mentoring Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon) but also providing guidance to a young man going through a tough time. Will is gifted but also has suffered physical abuse and mental trauma having lived with different foster families who did not treat him well. Sean notices Will not really sharing who he is fully and that is not just the case with Sean at first in their sessions but also with Will’s new girlfriend, Skylar.

Will is afraid to let his guard down and shows there are different levels or facets to he is but given his personal history, is afraid to let others into his world because he is worried that he’ll be hurt or abandoned again like his foster parents did to him. Sean tries to get through to Will on multiple occasions and so does Jerry, Sean’s old friend, who believes Will has great mathematical talent but is unwilling to work with him on his personal issues, which came to a forefront when Will got into a street fight with his friends and ended up assaulting a police officer.

In order to get Will to open up to him more, Sean attempts to tell Will why it is so important to show our true self or as I would like to call it here, our true face when we can because deep down that’s who we really are and it’s special to let someone in when we are vulnerable to get to know our full personality and who we are as individuals. Sean, in his personal anecdote, relays the story of how his dearly departed wife would fart when she was nervous and that only he as her husband would know that about her. Sean would sometimes hide the truth from her by saying it was him who farted even when it was so loud that it would wake the dog up when they were all sleeping in bed together.

“It’s the little things like that, that I miss the most.” Sean doesn’t reminisce primarily about their wedding, how they met perhaps, or about what they would do together on a date night. He would think about the things that made her his wife that no other person would know. In other words, Sean would see his wife’s true face or self because of how intimate of a relationship they had as husband and wife. Those little ‘idiosyncrasies or tics or habits that Sean knew about his wife is what made it such a special relationship even when she had passed away. Sean was encouraging Will to open up more to Skylar because it’s no use going through life without showing somebody you love your true self or face, which you likely hide from other people.

Will has friends, has his Mathematician mentor, Jerry, and his psychologist turned confidant, Sean, but these are different faces he presents to all of them, and the one true face Sean is encouraging him to show is with his girlfriend, Skylar. While Will can drink, talk construction, and reminisce with his buddies, he can’t show him his whole personality or face. In addition, Will can solve complicated Math problems and challenge himself intellectually with Jerry, he can’t do that with his friends. While Sean is a friend to Will and they can talk about sports and relationships and life, Will has a hard time confiding in Sean about his past and what he wants from himself.

I think all of us can relate to a movie like Good Will Hunting and a Character like Will Hunting. We try to find those people or at least one person who we can share ourselves with and how to open up our ‘little weird worlds’ to them without being judged or criticized or made fun of. It’s why we show different faces to our loved ones and our friends than we would with our work colleagues or a stranger. It’s hard to open up but we must do our best to be vulnerable with those we trust and whose relationship matters to us most. We can go days, weeks, months, or even longer without connecting with someone on a deep level, which is why it becomes even more special when we can share our peculiarities, our oddities, or the ‘good stuff’ as Sean would call it with someone we truly love and care about.

Similar to the character of Will Hunting, each of us can be hardened by life and find it difficult especially as we age to be vulnerable, to let people in to see the real ‘you’ without holding back, and to be accepted for it. A lot of times, we may be pretending with our other faces to please our boss, to support a colleague, to crack jokes with a friend, and even help a stranger out. It’s good to have those faces in public but it’s who we are in private with someone we care about or love that is our true face.

Thinking of the expression, ‘to put on a good face’, we often must withhold part of who we are at school, at an office, or at the local restaurant or bar, to hold back from showing 100% of what makes ‘you’ you. It’s not easy as Will and Sean illustrate in scenes from ‘Good Will Hunting’ how to show your real face and real personality to someone fully, especially if you have been burned before in the past and been hurt physically or mentally as a result.

We strive to be perfect and to not make mistakes in our daily dealings with others in both professional and personal interactions. However, it can be easy to forget in our lives to not be afraid to let our true face or our true self shine through as we each have our own flaws and our own ‘peccadillos’ that we set us apart from one another. The key challenge or opportunity in life, depending on how you look at it, is finding someone that we can be truly open and vulnerable with without putting on a different face.

Being able to let your guard down, share yourself fully with another person without fear, doubt, or anxiety, that can lead to some of the deepest joy or happiness in life as Sean had explained to Will in the film. While we may not be able to fully express ourselves day in and day out to most people we meet or interact with, hopefully, we can find the right person to spend as much time with as possible and for whom we can be 100% of who we are and what we are deep down inside.

‘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.

%d bloggers like this: