Movies That Settle: Good Will Hunting

Posted: May 23, 2016 in Movies That Settle, Uncategorized

It’s always interesting to me how people can relate to certain movies and characters based on where they are in their lives while seeing the movie for the first time. For instance, Magic Mike always harkens me back to my days as a male stripper. This is probably why some movies don’t settle well, because they are meant to appeal to a certain audience at a certain time, but when that audience moves out of that time, the movie just doesn’t hold up.

But some movies do stand the test of time, because they appeal to a wider audience. I’ve written before about how 40-year-old Matt Dursin relates to different characters, even in the same movie, than did 25-year-old Matt Dursin. I’m starting to sound like a big Scotch-drinker, but it’s true. (2017 note: I, in fact, am a big Scotch-drinker)

However, I have a little trouble placing Good Will Hunting. On the one hand, it’s a really ridiculous premise: a genius kid from Southie works as a janitor at M.I.T. and solves equations at night when no one is around. OK, I can swallow that enough. Unfortunately, genius kid meets a girl, and decides to throw away the prosperous future that is being laid out for him, and leave all his buddies in Boston, and drive his beater across the country to chase her, after knowing her for just a few weeks. Also, he lied his face off to her and treated her rather poorly, so why she would even have him once he got there is beyond me. That’s where 40-year-old Matt Dursin has a problem with it.

But, it was 22-year-old Matt Dursin who saw the movie for the first time, and he saw it while living in L.A. Yes, the most Boston movie ever made up to that point, and I was 3,000 miles away when I first saw it, so sue me for being nostalgic. I was spending my final semester out there, and it was very much up-in-the-air on whether or not I would even return to the East coast after graduation. I’m not going to go so far as to say that Good Will Hunting had any impact on my decision, but I will say that, like Good Will, I came back because I had to “go see about a girl.” The thing is that girl and I broke up four months later, which is probably what happened to Will and Minnie Driver, and probably what would happen to most people in this situation. Let’s face it, at 22, you’ve still got a whole lot of livin’ to do.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts about it settling, here’s the skinny on Good Will Hunting: Like I recounted above, Will is a super-intelligent janitor at M.I.T who finishes equations at night for fun. He catches the attention of Field’s Medal-Winner Professor Gerald Lambeau (otherwise known as Creepy Stellan Skarsgaard), who sees world-changing potential in him. The tiny hiccup in Lambeau’s plan is that Will is a bit of a loser. giphyHe hangs out with a bunch of other losers, including Chuckie, played by pre-sexual harassment Ben & Casey Affleck. During one of their pointless skirmishes with other Southie ne’er-do-wells, Will punches a cop in the face, and so is in some hot water with the fuzz. Lambeau gets the judge to go easy on him and turn him over to the professor, and in return, Will must go to counseling. I didn’t think college mathematics professors had that kind of sway in our judicial system, but there you go.

Enter: Robin Williams. After Will out-smarts several eminent psychiatrists by insulting their masculinity, Lambeau turns to his former roommate, Sean Maguire (another Southie boy), played by Robin Williams in an Oscar-winning role. Sean is supposed to give Will direction, preferably the direction that Lambeau wants. Will sandbags Maguire at first, as he did with all the other shrinks, but eventually they bond over Game 6 of the 1975 World Series and the fact that their father-figures weren’t very nice to them. Man, Southie sure was different then.

They also talk a lot about Will’s new lady-friend, Skylar, played by Minnie Driver. Skylar is a Harvard med student who is soon graduating and moving to San Fran to continue her education, so Will sees little point in pursuing anything serious. Widower Robin Williams tries to convince him that he should give love a chance, but really, I think I gotta side with Will on this one. Eventually, good ol’ Chuckie finally rips Will a new one about how he has a winning lottery ticket for a brain, and he needs to use it and blow this burg. (2017 Note: It’s funny that, on the 20 year anniversary, people are talking about what a Boston movie this was, when the ultimate resolution is Will deciding that he needs to get the Hell out. Very Springsteen.)

Like I said, the end result is that Will takes off for San Francisco to follow Skylar, leaving Sean, Chuckie, Lambeau and everyone who helped him and was willing to help him behind. We don’t really know if he got an amazing job out there, but maybe he moved to Silicon Valley and became CEO of some awesome internet start-up. Or he kept mopping floors. Who knows?

I think we’re supposed to believe that he left it all behind for a girl, which I was all for when I saw it at 22. I vividly remember a conversation I had with one of my fellow students out in L.A. when I was discussing my “Will-I-or-Won’t-I” plight. he said, “What good is the greatest job in the world if you’ve got no one to share it with?” At the time I thought that was just wonderful, so I thought, “You go, Will!” I also didn’t know as much about Hollywood endings. Did I mention Good Will Hunting won Best Screenplay that year?

Here’s the real clinker, though; Older and wiser (and grumpier) me thinks about this movie now and marvels at the scenes between Sean and Lambeau. Despite the fact that they paint Lambeau as a total jerk most of the time, he makes some good points. He has seen firsthand Will embarrass brilliant mathematicians, and knows what Will can offer the world. In comparing Will to Albert Einstein, he says, “Imagine if Einstein had given all that up to get drunk with his buddies?”  If you want to say that Lambeau is the villain in this movie, then there is the motivation that makes him an interesting and believable character. Certainly much more interesting than Skylar.

However, Sean Maguire, the Obi-Wan Kenobi to Will’s Luke, makes a similar comparison to another brilliant mathematician: The Una-Bomber. Sean’s point is that if they rush things and don’t let Will grow on his own and face his past, then he could become a looney who blows people up. It seems a little overly dramatic, but it could have been a cool plotline if they didn’t spend so much time on the dopey love story.

The other cool part about the scenes between Sean and Lambeau is the history they have. At one time, they were contemporaries, but Sean ended up counseling veterans and teaching at Bunker Hill Community College after, presumably, meeting his wife. The unattached Lambeau became a sort of rock star mathematician, if that’s even possible, winning what is described as the Nobel Prize for mathematics. So, they took different paths, and Lambeau thinks that Sean is trying to use Will to get back at him for being successful, and Sean thinks that Lambeau is using Will to belittle him for not being successful. In the climactic scene that probably was on the Oscar nomination tape, Sean tells Lambeau that he knows who he is, and is proud of what he does, and in my favorite line, puts him in his place when he says, “I knew you before your were Mathematical God, when you were pimple-faced and homesick and didn’t know what side of the bed to piss on.”

Naturally, 22-year-old Matt Dursin could not possibly understand that kind of dynamic, but 40-year-old one does all too well, as I’m sure a lot of people do, in their own way. However, like Sean, I am damn happy with the choices I have made. Living in L.A. and working in the office at a movie studio probably wouldn’t have worked out too well, but then, I didn’t exactly have it all laid out for me like Will did.  No regrets there. But I do sometimes wonder what became of my L.A. friend who fed me that brilliant “No one to share it with” line. Was he the Gerald Lambeau to my Sean Maguire? I will probably never know, because I actually don’t even remember his name.

Seeing that this was the Little Movie That Could, and pretty much launched the careers of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, it is interesting to peel back the layers a little bit. However, in the end, it boils down to a cheesy love story. But there was another moment that probably helped Williams win that Oscar, and that’s not part of the overall love story, but it is a love story: the love between Bostonians and their beloved Red Sox.

As I mentioned earlier, Sean and Will bond over Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, a game etched in Boston sports lore, and sometimes called the greatest game of the greatest World Series ever played. That game climaxed when Carlton Fisk hit the game-winning home run off the foul pole in Fenway Park, wildly waving his hands as he left the batter’s box, willing the ball fair.


You can’t write that stuff.

It’s hard to imagine it now, but in Boston before 2004, that was all the Red Sox really had as far as post-season history. And for it to be woven into the screenplay of a movie was pretty cool. Williams was recounting the story of the night to Will, saying that he and his friends had slept on the street to get tickets, but when Will asked him if he rushed the field, as the fans did in 1975, Sean said that he didn’t go to the game, because he saw a girl in the bar before and decided he had to “go see about a girl,” his future wife as it turned out. Will is understandably incredulous, but Sean tells him that he doesn’t regret anything, not the years spent counseling veterans, teaching at a community college, caring for his ailing wife, and he certainly doesn’t regret missing a baseball game. And he probably doesn’t regret not winning a Fields Medal.

That’s the real love story at work here; loving who you are. That’s why this movie, despite its flaws, does settle well, when you stop and think. It’s really about not living with regret and being happy with who you have become. No 22-year-old can understand that, yet.

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