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"My boy's wicked smaht."
—Morgan (Casey Affleck)
Set in Boston, Massachusetts, the film tells the story of Will Hunting (Damon), a troubled Irish-Catholic young man who is gifted with extraordinary mathematical skills (as well as being a prodigy and an autodidact), but works in a menial janitorial job at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Prone to violence and extremely loyal to his friends Chuckie (Affleck), Morgan (Casey Affleck) and Billy (Cole Hauser), Will has pushed away everyone else who's tried to get close to him because of his abusive past and introverted personality.
After solving a complex mathematical equation at the campus, Will is discovered by Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard), a Fields Medal-winning mathematician who sees a lot of potential in Hunting, and sends him to psychiatrist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), while at the same time, Hunting strikes up a relationship with the beautiful Skylar (Minnie Driver), who is also confronting her own personal problems. Will must learn to overcome his deep fear of abandonment (with Maguire's help) in order to learn how to trust and love the people who care about him.
Good Will Hunting was a financial success, earned widespread critical praise, an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Robin Williams that spearheaded his dramatic career and an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay that launched Damon and Affleck into prominence.
See also Finding Forrester, another Gus Van Sant film about the discovery (and self-discovery) of an intelligent young man.
This film contains examples of:
- Almighty Janitor: Will - see the description above.
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Will admits to Skylar that he's been abused, and they get into an argument when Will believes she's only interested in him because she's trying to "save" him. Skylar tearfully pleads that she loves him, but Will walks out on her.
- Appeal to Obscurity
- Armor Piercing Statement: "It's not your fault."
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
Gerald: Where will you go?
Will: How do you like them apples?
- Award Bait Song: "Miss Misery".
- Badass Beard: Maguire's beard.
- Berserk Button: Dissing Maguire's wife is almost a lethally stupid mistake.
- The Big Board: In Lambeau's classroom and the hallway at the college.
- Break the Cutie: Will's back story.
- Brilliant but Lazy: Will
- Butt Monkey: Morgan among his friends.
- California Doubling: Toronto stands in for Boston in a handful of scenes.
- Cool Old Guy: Sean
- Critical Psychoanalysis Failure
- Dawson Casting: Damon was 26, but his character was 20.
- Delusions of Eloquence: Chuckie when he poses as Will in the job interview.
- Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off: Will explains that his father psychologically tortured him by making him choose what item he would be beaten with (from a belt, stick or wrench). Will always chose a wrench as a "fuck you" to his father.
- E=MC Hammer: The completed algebraic equation given by Maguire as a challenge is (in real life) actually a basic linear algebra problem.
- Epiphany Therapy: Maguire helps Will turn a serious corner in his life and inspires him to be something more by admitting that it wasn't his fault that his father abused him.
- Epunymous Title
- Fake Nationality: Swedish Stellan Skarsgard portraying a French(?) professor named Lambeau.
- Foreshadowing: Maguire is introduced teaching a community college class on psychology, specifically lecturing on the importance of trust. The only reason he's able to help Will is because Will trusts him.
- Genius Bruiser: Will.
- Good with Numbers: Will, obviously.
- Hannibal Lecture: Will is an advanced student of them and pulls several off successfully. He also tries using one on Robin Williams, to avoid talking about his own feelings. This is a subversion, though, as despite the words cutting Williams' character at first, the next time the two are together, Will gets a Lecture thrown right back at him that is something of a combination of Shut UP, Hannibal, "The Reason You Suck" Speech, and a Hannibal Lecture itself.
- Hollywood Hype Machine: Affleck and Damon won an Academy Award for their script, and promptly became the biggest stars in Hollywood. They've parlayed that success into different avenues over the years, with Damon appearing to be much more critically and commercially consistent than Affleck (whose career petered out for a period of time in the mid 00's).
- Hollywood Law: A genius janitor tries to get his assault on a police officer (a serious charge) dismissed by saying it was "self-defense against tyranny". A college professor is allowed to intervene with a judge and speak on the student's behalf to get the charges deferred. A judge quotes two-hundred year old cases during Will's trial that have likely been superseded by current laws and decisions.
- Hollywood New England
- Improv: Much of Robin Williams' monologue about dating was ad-libbed.
- According to the filmmakers' commentary, Sean and Will's laughter in the scene when Sean talks about his wife's flatulence is genuine. The joke that really sent them off the deep end (not used in the actual film)? "Sean: I woke up and said, 'somebody light a match!'" "Will: Was that how she died?"
- Informed Attribute: There's little to no evidence of Will's genius in action. The most the audience sees is Will putting the final touch on an equation - otherwise, it's referenced by others. Enforced, because most moviegoers won't understand higher-level math and it wouldn't be good drama even if they did.
- He is shown to be a very fast reader.
- Intergenerational Friendship: Will is an isolated, delinquent, genius teenager from the slums of Boston, and Sean is a middle-aged, dissatisfied and lonely community college psychology professor.
- Ironic Echo: "I have to go see about a girl."
- Jerkass Facade: Will uses this as a defense mechanism.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Will and Lambeau (to a degree) fall under this.
- Justified Title
- MacGuffin: Will's math talents drive the plot of the film, but it's basically an Informed Attribute (see that trope above).
- Missing the Good Stuff: Maguire's story about Game 6 of the 1975 World Series could be considered a subversion.
- The Mourning After: Discussed by Maguire during one of his monologues.
- Odd Friendship: Maguire and Lambeau, although their relationship is strained, are revealed to have been old buddies and get a bit of reconciliation as the movie progresses.
- The One Who Made It Out: Inverted. Will wants to stay in Southie but Chuckie desperately want him to use his gifts to become the one who gets out.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Happens to Prof. Lambeau (played by Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard) occasionally.
- Overshadowed by Awesome / Can't Catch Up: Lambeau, by Will. Agonizingly lampshaded by Lambeau himself.
- Photographic Memory: Played with. Maguire talks with Will about his ability to memorize books and analyze information ridiculously fast, but not know the feelings, emotions and sensations that result from a lifetime of personal experiences.
- Power of Trust: Lambeau teaches this to a student by throwing an apple to him out of the blue, and asking what he learned from the experience.
- Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Several times, including Chuckie's speech to Will, where he explains that Will is an idiot if he gives up the opportunities he's been handed.
Chuckie: Let me tell you something: if you're still here in twenty years, breaking brick with me, I'll fucking kill ya. And that's not a threat, that's a promise.
- The Shrink: Maguire
- Single-Issue Psychology: Will (who has successfully fended off helpful and unhelpful psychotherapy throughout the movie) turns a corner (and successfully changes his outlook on relationships) at the end of the film by exchanging graphic memories with Sean about their respective abusive childhoods, then crying as Sean repeatedly tells him, "It's not your fault." It was cited by some critics as the one thing in the movie that seems like it was written by people as young as Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were at the time.
- Star-Making Role: For both Affleck and Damon, as well as a dramatic one for Robin Williams, who had primarily been known for his comedy work up to that point.
- Therapy Is for the Weak: Will's attitude at the beginning of his court-mandated therapy sessions.
- Throw It In: Maguire's final line, "Son of a bitch...he stole my line," was ad-libbed by Robin Williams, and was kept as the second-last shot of the film.
- Unsportsmanlike Gloating: A moment of awesome.
- What Could Have Been:
- Ben Affleck and Matt Damon first asked Kevin Smith to Direct. He declined because he felt the script deserved a better Director, and served as a Producer instead.
- Michael Mann, Steven Soderbergh and Mel Gibson were also considered before Gus Van Sant was hired on.
- Damon and Affleck's original idea for the film was more along the lines of a thriller, with the CIA endeavoring to use Will's math talents for their own ends. The Weinstein brothers encouraged them instead to focus on the relationship between Will and Maguire.
- You Wouldn't Believe Me If I Told You