Movie Review: Good Will Hunting (May-Jun 1998)

By Matt Dabbs

by Janet Morrison
May – June, 1998

(Janet Morrison is Children’s Outreach Director at Central Dallas Ministries and lives in the middle of the South Dallas neighborhood where she spends her days leading, teaching, and loving underprivileged children. She is a graduate of Harding University.)

32Good Will Hunting is a movie about discovering purpose. It’s a movie about relationships. Strange as it may seem, I also see it as a movie about the pain in charity.

This movie is about a kid from South Boston, the rough part of town, who has a natural-born talent that allows him to solve extremely difficult math problems with little effort. Raised in various foster homes, and working as a janitor at M. I. T. to fulfill his parole requirements, Will (played by Matt Damon) enjoys hanging out with his friends, drinking, and fighting more than he aspires to be a well-known mathematician.

Will’s hidden talent is discovered one evening as two professors walk out of their office, see Will, and assume because of his janitorial position that he could only be vandalizing the chalkboard. Instead, they learn that this is the mathematician who has secretly been solving their near-impossible problems.

In a serious endeavor to discover who this boy is, Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard) tracks him back to the court system where he has just been convicted of his latest crime: fighting and assaulting a police officer. Lambeau meets and talks with Will, explaining that he will be released if he agrees to meet with the professor once a week to work on math, and meet with a counselor once a week to help himself. Even though reluctant to go the counselor, Will agrees.

Math is easy for Will and presents no problem he can’t solve. Counseling, on the other hand, is not something Will believes he needs. Therefore, he makes a game of the counseling sessions, taunting each and every counselor until they all give up. After Will sends five counselors running, Professor Lambeau visits an old college roommate in a last effort to find a therapist for Will.

As Lambeau enters Sean McGuire’s (Robin Williams) classroom, Sean is explaining to his psychology class that they must establish trust in the client-doctor relationships. Trust later becomes the backbone of Sean and Will’s relationship. On their first meeting, Sean immediately turns to and excuses the other professors in the room to provide privacy for Will. Other therapists had treated Will as a project and a case to be studied. In each session, professors were on hand taking notes and observing Will’s “progress.”In contrast, Sean began by treating Will as a valued person with rights. The fact that Sean also grew up in South Boston helps advance this process.

Throughout the rest of the movie, Will experiences relationships with his girlfriend, Skylar (Minnie Driver), and Sean that develop him and challenge him. Sean allows Will to be himself. He gives Will permission to live his life the way he wants to live it. In doing that, Will is able to finally see what he really wants in life. He has purpose. Sean doesn’t push him to be somebody he isn’t. Sean realizes Will is valuable whether or not he has a math award on his wall or a great job by society’s standards. And, in a classic moment between Sean and Will, Will is made aware that all of the pain and hurt he has been through is not his fault.

Skylar is simply someone who loves Will for who he is. She does not attempt to change his life, his friends, his habits, or his job. But, because she loves him, she wants to help him. It was interesting to me to see him immediately push somebody he loved very much away when she told him she wanted to help him. The pain in “being helped” seemed so apparent. No one wants to be loved with ulterior motives (although her motive was very sincere). No one I’ve met enjoys being another person’s project.

Toward the end of the movie, Lambeau begins pushing Sean to make Will accept the jobs he’d been offered. Seeing the progress Sean was making with Will, Lambeau felt it was time for him to move on to bigger and better things. Thank goodness Sean realized the potential disaster inherent in Lambeau’s plan. Yes, Will had made progress. However, pain and hurt that has developed over a lifetime cannot be reversed in a few counseling sessions. Thank goodness there are people like Sean who realize that just because things look good on the outside, such experiences don’t mean the person has dealt with them on the inside. Because Sean allowed Will to take his own time with decisions, he was able to make a decision that he felt good about. He wasn’t forced to make a decision that made everyone else happy.

This movie had such deep meaning to me. In working with children who have many underutilized talents, I see how people run over their feelings and seem to know what’s best for them. To me, this movie seemed to be a statement about charity. Will didn’t ask for any of the attention he received. He was simply doing his job in life to get by. He didn’t realize how valuable his mathematical talent was, but he also didn’t care that it could bring him fame and fortune. Fame and fortune did not make him happy. His happiness revolved around his friends.

On the other hand, knowledge and fame did mean a lot to Professor Lambeau. And because they meant so much to him, he thought it ridiculous for Will not to think the same way. Therefore, his mission became to show Will how important it is to use his talent. Unfortunately, the professor’s real focus was not about Will, but about himself.

Doesn’t this tell us something about charity? Charity is something we believe to be good. Charitable people honestly want to help others. But helping others becomes, not finding out what they want or need, but knowing what we want for them. And, in the end, the focus is ourselves. We are the ones who have done the good deed; we are the ones who get the credit; we feel good. But, where have we left the people we are trying to help?

I see a lot of young people who let their potential go out the window. But maybe, just maybe, the reason that upsets me so is not because of what they could be but because I no longer receive credit for their fame and success. Society has defined success, and I, many times, have defined their success. I think I need to understand how my kids view success. As Will said,”What’s wrong with laying brick? There’s honor in that.” But we also have to ask what Sean asked Will:”Is that why you took that job? For the honor of it?” I should value a brick layer just as much as I value an accountant. I need them both. I wouldn’t have a home without the bricklayer and I wouldn’t have a job without the accountant.

Value. People need to be valued. Not for their money or their talents, but for being a child God has made. People are inherently valuable. Sean recognized that Lambeau had never valued him. Sean was from the “wrong side of the tracks.” His choices in life weren’t perfect. Sean pointed out that, even years later, Lambeau still talked to him with a condescending voice and looked at him with an embarrassed look. There’s an arrogance about Lambeau that is often seen only by Sean and people like him. Lambeau treated Sean like a failure even when he was no longer a failure.

Good Will Hunting. What exactly does it mean? Are we the type of people who search so hard to do good that we become people hunting to do good as was Professor Lambeau? Or would you define yourself as a someone who searches for the good in Will Hunting as Sean did? Perhaps you are just the type of person who sees another for who he is.

Each of us needs to do good for our own benefit, yet each of us needs to see the good in someone else so that we are not the primary benefactors from the relationship. But, finally, each person we come in contact with needs to valued as they are, for who they are, and not for whom we make them to be.
Wineskins Magazine

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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