‘Fairy tale’ is the easy label to give the provocative film Good Will Hunting. The fairy tale certainly came true for first-time writers/actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck when their long-shot screenplay found Hollywood backing at what was then the Weinstein Brothers’ Miramax production company. It went on to be nominated for nine Academy Awards®, ultimately winning two Oscars® — one for Best Supporting Actor Robin Williams and one for the dynamic screenwriting duo. Buzz had it as the year’s best picture, although the Titanic juggernaut won the actual award. Talk about fairy tales….
The film itself is a coming-of-age story about the namesake character and his group of friends, who have become a de facto family to this orphaned and abused math prodigy. They’re boys from the ‘hood — Southy: the predominantly Irish, working-class, south end of Boston. Generally without prospects and resentful of the “rich kids” who attend the city’s Ivy League universities, these guys work at an assortment of manual-labor jobs by day and close down the neighborhood bars every night. Including Will, played by a twenty-something Matt Damon. But Will also reads. Voraciously. Library books stacked on the floor next to the sleeping bag that serves as a bed in the sparse room he calls home.
Will also acts out, picking fights and holding his own against the best of the local toughs, with the rap sheet to prove it. Before his last encounter with the law, however, he worked as a janitor at MIT, surreptitiously solving a complex math problem that had been posted on a hallway chalkboard for students in an advanced class. The professor who finally identified Will as the math whiz took an interest in him, arranging — instead of jail — a probationary sentence that put the troubled genius under math tutelage and also into psychological counseling with a character played by Robin Williams in one of his first dramatic roles.
More fearful of facing himself than of doing any sort of complex mathematical calculations, Will’s struggles form the core of the film. His is the hero’s journey, requiring that he find himself before he can uncover his true calling, genius or not. As with most fairy tales, we tend to forget the obstacles, internal and external, that must be overcome before the possibility of a happy ending. Good Will Hunting, written with authenticity, honesty, and depth by two amazingly talented young men, is one of the best tales around.
Just be prepared: it’s rated R for strong language, including the ubiquitous f-word and some teenage-boy sex-related dialogue. But it has a big heart, excellent characters, moving performances, and, as the Oscar reminds us, a great story well told.
Cast: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Robin Williams, Minnie Driver,
Stellan Skarsgård, Casey Affleck
Director: Gus Van Sant
Screenwriters: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon
Theatrical release: 1997; available on DVD
Copyright ©2014 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos