Study Guide

Good Will Hunting

Good Will Hunting Introduction


Release Year: 1997

Genre: Drama

Director: Gus Van Sant

Writers: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck

Stars: Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck


  • Do you need a college education to be smart?
  • How can you have an IQ of 180 but the emotional IQ of a sea cucumber?
  • Why are we so weirdly drawn to Boston accents?

These are just a few of the brain-tickling questions that Good Will Hunting asks. 

The movie was the brainchild of debut writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Ever heard of 'em? 

Released in 1997, it was nominated for a whopping nine Academy Awards and won two of 'em: Best Supporting Actor for Robin Williams and Best Screenplay for Damon and Affleck (who, BTW, also starred in the movie). Oh, and the movie cost only $10 million to make but grossed over $225 million at the box office.

So, yeah. We'd call that a decent debut.

Based in Boston, Good Will Hunting is the story of a twenty-year-old named Will Hunting. 

He's... good.

Will is an orphan who grew up in a lot of abusive foster homes. Did we mention he's also one of the smartest people on the planet? But instead of working in some big think tank, Will spends his days drinking, fighting, and working as a janitor in the hallways of MIT.

Will tries to hide his intelligence, but the cat is let out of the bag once he's caught solving complex math problems by an MIT professor (Lambeau). Busted.

After assaulting a cop, Will has a basic choice: work with Lambeau and attend therapy or... go to jail. He chooses the first option (wise move, Will) and starts therapy with a guy named Sean Maguire. Over time, the two build a trusting relationship. And the legacy of this relationship has been so powerful for fans of the movie that many of them still visit some of the places where Will and Sean have their biggest breakthroughs—like the bench where Sean gives Will his first "You haven't really lived yet" speech.

This kind of enduring popularity no doubt plays a role in the fact that Matt Damon still thinks of Good Will Hunting as his favorite project decades later. And that's from the dude who was in all three Bourne movies, guys.

If you can get through the movie without throwing tomatoes at the screen in a fit of jealousy, we promise that you'll feel equal parts warm-fuzzies and the motivation to start carpe'ing your own dang diem.

What is Good Will Hunting About and Why Should I Care?

Real talk: Have you ever felt like backing away from a life experience because you were afraid of getting hurt?

There are a million things this could apply to. You could have decided to not go to tryouts because you convinced yourself you had a cold. You could have left karaoke night early before belting out "Don't Stop Believing." You could have convinced yourself that you didn't like something you were interested in—learning a language, writing a novel, studying the clarinet—because you were scared of being mediocre.

Or, like Will Hunting, you could have closed yourself off from human connection because you were terrified of getting your heart broken into smithereens.

One of the biggest obstacles we'll ever face in life is our own fear because many of us would rather miss out on an experience than risk being hurt by it. This is the reason the saying "there's nothing to fear but fear itself" is so dang true. It's also the logic that Will Hunting applies to his entire life in Good Will Hunting.

He won't pursue his relationship with Skylar, for example, because he's afraid she'll stop loving him someday. He also won't use his incredible intellectual gifts because he's afraid to live on any terms other than his own.

So if many people's problems are just like Will's, what are we supposed to do about it? The answer is: take risks. Will you have some painful experiences along the way? Yup. Will you sometimes wish you hadn't put your heart/talent/dignity on the line? You bet.

But that doesn't change the fact that it's no good to live life in a little cocoon of emotional safety. Some of the experiences most worth having are the ones that could cause pain and pleasure in equal amounts. And no experience fits this description more than love.

As a kid, Will was abandoned by his parents—the people who were supposed to love him most. Now he's stuck inside a shell that he started building for himself back in childhood, and he's afraid to come outside it because he never wants anyone to have power over him. But Will also has to learn that there are tons of amazing things he'll miss out on in life if he doesn't learn to trust people and let them see him at his most vulnerable.

And if there is anything we can all relate to, it's the fact that being vulnerable is pretty much the most frightening thing on earth… except the possibility of leading a life half-lived.

Trivia

Gus Van Sant actually wanted Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to add a scene in Good Will Hunting where Chuckie dies in a construction accident. But after reading the changes, Van Sant agreed with Damon and Affleck that it was a terrible idea. So Chuckie got to live!
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Director Gus Van Sant actually painted the picture that hangs in Sean Maguire's office in the movie. So does that mean that Will's tear-down of the painting actually applies to Gus? You be the judge.
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You can call them sappy, but Matt Damon and Ben Affleck actually cried on the first day of filming Good Will Hunting when they saw a scene between Robin Williams and Stellan Skarsgaard.
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Good Will Hunting Resources

Websites

Good Will Hunting Official Site
Check out this link for some great movie clips… you know, if you don't actually want to sit down and watch the whole movie again.

Good Will Hunting on IMDB
Yep, it's the world's greatest movie database and it's got you covered on everything you want to know about Good Will Hunting.

Blog Will Hunting
One fan has gone to the next level in her/his love for Good Will Hunting. This is definitely worth checking out if you consider yourself even a minor fan of movies or blogs.

Articles and Interviews

"15 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Good Will Hunting"
That's right. No matter how big a fan you are, we're willing to bet you didn't already know all fifteen of these interesting facts.

Original Review from 1998
In honor of Robin Williams' death in 2014, the UK Telegraph republished an old review of Good Will Hunting from back in 1998. And don't worry; the review was positive about Williams' performance.

Good Will Hunting: An Oral History
Fifteen years after the release of Good Will Hunting, Boston Magazine sits down with Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Gus Van Sant to talk about one of the biggest Hollywood success stories ever.

Video

Bar Scene from Good Will Hunting
Oh yeah. It's so good watching Will destroy that Clark guy in front of everyone. Take that, snobbery.

Park Scene
So you've seen Will take Clark down a peg. Now watch Sean Maguire give Will a little schooling.

"The Best Part of My Day"
Good ol' Chuckie knows what's what, at least when it comes to Will and his emotional hang-ups. In this big scene, Chuckie shows that he knows a lot more about life than we've ever given him credit for.

Audio

Good Will Hunting—The Whole Score
Yep. If you want all the music from the movie, give this link a shot. It'll make for nice background music while you're hanging out and reading about math, right?

"Miss Misery"
Singer-songwriter Elliott Smith first wrote this song for the closing credits of Good Will Hunting. He even got nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, but was then crushed by Celine Dion's megahit, "My Heart Will Go On."

Opening Theme
If you're not feeling up for the entire movie score, we don't blame you. So why not settle for the opening theme?

Images

Learnin' About Life on a Bench
Classic pic all the way. Classic enough to inspire people to revisit it all these years later.

What Kind of Math Problem is that?
It might look like he's just doodling, but according to the experts, the math in the movie is pretty legit.

We Won Baby!
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck celebrate their Oscar win for writing Good Will Hunting. It's safe to say they probably partied pretty hard afterward.