Study Guide

Good Will Hunting Analysis

  • Game 6 of the 1975 World Series

    Baseball might usually be a metaphor for life, but in Good Will Hunting, baseball is a metaphor for luuuuurve.

    In one of the famous scenes from this movie, Sean Maguire tells Will all about the time he and his friends slept out on the sidewalk all night to get tickets to game 6 of the 1975 World Series. But when the time came to go to the game, he "just slid my ticket across the table and I said, 'Sorry guys, I gotta see about a girl.'"

    The reason he ended up missing the game is because he had just met his future wife, Nancy, and he wanted to be with her more than anything else. The whole point of this story is that Maguire knew right away that he wanted to be with his wife. It was love at first sight. Aww, jeez.

    But there's more to Maguire's story than love for his wife. He also tells it to show Will that it's worth putting your heart on the line even if you might get hurt in the end. Will asks him if he ever regrets meeting his wife because of the pain it now causes him, but Maguire answers,

    MAGUIRE: I don't regret the last years when she got really sick. And I sure as hell don't regret missin' the damn game.

    So when it comes down to it, Maguire wants Will to know that it's a whole lot better to have loved and lost than it is to never have loved at all.

    And you know what? Will listens. He listens so well that he ends up borrowing Maguire's line—he lets Maguire know that he's decided to drive to California to be with his ladylove by writing, "Sorry, I had to go see about a girl."

    Who knew that a Sox game could end up being a metaphor for love, intimacy, and daring to be vulnerable? (The answer is probably "99% of the Sox fans out there.")

  • Sean Maguire's Painting

    When Will first meets Maguire, he walks right up to a painting on his wall and finds out that Maguire painted it himself. He then uses his knowledge of psychology and art to make claims about Maguire's life based on the painting. For starters, he says,

    WILL: […] he linear and impressionistic mix makes a very muddled composition. It's also a Winslow Homer rip-off, except you got Whitey, uh, rowing the boat there.

    So for starters, he calls Maguire out on being unoriginal. But his mind games don't stop there…

    The longer Will looks at the painting, the more he seems to figure out about Maguire's life. By the time he's done, he's summing up Maguire's whole mentality, saying,

    WILL: You just piss in your pants, you're cryin' for the harbors, and maybe you do what you gotta do to get out. Yeah, maybe you became a psychologist.

    This is all incredibly insulting and Maguire handles it well. But the moment Will mentions his dead wife, he snaps and grabs him by the throat. It looks like Will has hit a soft spot.

    So far, all of this conversation about the painting has been about Maguire. But in a later scene, Maguire turns the whole thing around and makes it about Will, saying,

    MAGUIRE: [You] presume to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine and ripped my f***in' life apart.

    The fact is that Will might think he knows people, but he doesn't know anything that Maguire couldn't go find in a book. Will is just a scared little kid who uses his intellect as a weapon to keep people away from him, and it takes Maguire less than a day to figure this out.

  • Farting

    You thought a Red Sox game as a metaphor for love was weird? Try this one on for size: Farting, at least in the world of Good Will Hunting, is an even bigger metaphor for l'amour.

    Will seems to think that if he stays with Skylar, it will ruin his experience of her because he'll find out all the ways that she isn't perfect. But as Maguire tries to tell him, it's people's imperfections that tend to make us love them:

    MAGUIRE: You know what? [Nancy] used to fart in her sleep. Sorry I shared that with you. One night it was so loud it woke the dog up.

    At first, Will thinks they're just having a laugh, but Maguire sums up his point in saying,

    MAGUIRE: People call these things imperfections, but they're not, aw that's the good stuff. And then we get to choose who we let in to our weird little worlds.

    Part of Maguire's therapy is teaching Will to let go of his fears and hang-ups so he can go out and experience life, even if a lot of stuff might be scary. There's no question that Will is afraid of getting emotionally hurt. But as Maguire tells him,

    MAGUIRE: Now you can know everything in the world, sport, but the only way you're findin' out that one is by givin' it a shot.

    By "that one," Maguire is referring to the happiness of knowing all a person's imperfections and still loving them. And by the end of the movie, it looks like Will has taken a step toward learning this by heading to see his girlfriend Skylar in California.

  • Hero's Journey

    Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

    About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

    Ordinary World

    Will Hunting lives an ordinary life as a janitor by day and a good ol' beer-drinking buddy by night. There's just one thing: He's probably one of the smartest people in the world. But his intelligence doesn't count for much after he assaults a police officer during a fight and gets himself tossed in jail. But even though this might all seem like a big conflict for Will, it actually sounds pretty normal in his world.

    Call to Adventure

    Will gets a chance to stay out of prison when Professor Lambeau from MIT shows up and offers to get him out. Turns out that Lambeau knows Will is a genius and he has provided two conditions for Will's release from prison. First, he has to work with Lambeau on math problems once a week, and second, he has to attend therapy.

    Refusal of the Call

    Will is fine with working on math with Lambeau, but he has absolutely no interest in therapy. So he uses his intelligence and arrogance to scare off his first five therapists. It looks like he's going to get his way and get to keep living the way he's always been living. After all, he's not going to let someone like Lambeau tell him what to do.

    Meeting the Mentor

    Things change drastically for Will after he meets his sixth therapist, Sean Maguire. One of the things that immediately makes Maguire different from Will is that he is willing to show Will his deepest vulnerabilities, including the pain he still feels after losing his wife. Will thinks that Maguire will never want to see him again, but Maguire surprises him by continuing with their meetings in spite of Will's cruelty.

    Crossing the Threshold

    Will's life changes when he goes to a bar at Harvard University and meets a girl named Skylar. They go on a really great date together, but Will never calls her back after that because he's afraid of ruining the perfect vision he has of them together.

    When he tells this to Maguire, Maguire sits him down and says that the most important things in life can only be learned when we put our hearts on the line and risk getting hurt. Otherwise, Will will just go through his whole life without getting close to anyone or experiencing life's greatest joys.

    Tests, Allies, Enemies

    As Will's treatment with Maguire unfolds, Professor Lambeau gets impatient with the progress they're making and pressures Maguire to speed things up. Frankly, Lambeau doesn't care if Will is happy, as long as he can stay out of jail long enough to do some exciting things with mathematics.

    This impatience eventually leads to a big fight between Lambeau and Maguire. Lambeau accuses Maguire of being a failure and of trying to turn Will into the same thing. Maguire accuses Lambeau of being a pompous jerk who can't see the world on any terms but his own.

    Approach to the Inmost Cave

    Will feels the pressure in his life building as his relationship with Skylar gets more serious and his treatment with Maguire delves deeper into his emotions. He also has a frank conversation with his buddy Chuckie about what he's going to do with his life, and Chuckie tells him he's wasting his time pretending to be just like everyone else in his neighborhood.

    The truth is that whether he likes it or not, Will isn't like everyone else.

    Ordeal

    Will's life falls apart when Skylar tells him she loves him and asks him to move to California with her. Will has been doing well with his therapy, but only because he hasn't felt a huge amount of pressure.

    Skylar's sudden request makes Will pull away violently. He tells her he doesn't love her and basically walks out of her life. Then he has a big fight with Maguire and walks out of therapy, which makes it seem as though all the progress he's made has been wiped away.

    Reward (Seizing the Sword)

    Once it looks like he's going to head right back to his normal life, Will goes into therapy with Maguire again and ends up having a breakthrough. Maguire brings up Will's history of abuse and tells him "It's not your fault" over and over until Will breaks down and cries.

    Maguire has waited for the right moment to talk about Will's abuse, but now that he has, it looks like Will can finally begin the process of making decisions about his future.

    The Road Back

    After his breakthrough with Maguire, Will decides to move on with his life and take one of the jobs that Professor Lambeau set up for him. It looks like he's really going to start acting like an adult and exploring the world outside his home neighborhood. He also calls Skylar one more time to say goodbye before she leaves for California.

    Resurrection

    On Will's birthday, his friends get together and give him a new car. Although "new" car is a bit of an overstatement, since the car is something the boys put together from a bunch of scrap materials they found all over the place.

    Not long after that, Chuckie goes to Will's house to pick him up for work and finds that Will isn't there. He instantly knows that Will has left the neighborhood and this makes Chuckie happy, since he's always wanted Will to go out and experience the world outside Boston.

    Return With the Elixir

    In the movie's final scene, Will leaves a note for Maguire saying that instead of taking the job Lambeau set up for him, he (Will) is heading to California to be with Skylar. He also makes sure to steal the same line that Maguire told his buddies when he first went on a date with his future wife, Nancy.

    So in the end, the most important thing we learn about Will is that he's a plagiarist—just kidding.

  • Setting

    Boston in the 1990s

    Beautiful Beantown is the belle of the ball in Good Will Hunting: This is one of the iconic Boston movies. The only way that this movie—which features the Sox, Southie, Harvard, and MIT—could get more Bostonian is if it starred Paul Revere eating a Dunkin' Donut.

    Screenwriters Matt Damon and Ben Affleck decided to set this movie in their hometown of Boston, Massachusetts. And you can tell early on that they have a strong connection to this place. For example, they waste no time in having characters mention the fact that Will Hunting is from the traditional working-class neighborhood of Southie. This happens to be the same neighborhood Sean Maguire is from, as he says to Professor Lambeau,

    MAGUIRE: Boy genius from Southie... How many shrinks you go to before me?

    One of the reasons Maguire is able to get Will's trust is because they're from the same neighborhood, and trust is pretty much the only thing that keeps their relationship going at times.

    As much as Southie brings Will and Maguire together, it threatens to push Will and his girlfriend Skylar apart. In fact, Will tries really hard to avoid bringing Skylar to meet his friends in Southie, and he lies to her when he says that his brothers "all live in Southie. I—I'm livin' with three of them right now."

    Of course, Will is an orphan and doesn't have any brothers. But one of the reasons he says this is because he believes he'll never have to bring Skylar back to his home. In the end, he knows he's from "a certain kind of neighborhood" and that it's not the kind of neighborhood that Skylar's future husband will come from.

    Or at least he thinks he knows that.

  • Point of View

    Third-Person (Omniscient)

    Although the movie mostly follows the story of Will Hunting, it involves tons of scenes where Will isn't present or even aware that the scene is happening. This goes especially for the scenes where Sean Maguire and Professor Lambeau fight about the different visions they have for Will's future.

    We also get a chance to see things in this movie from a bunch of different angles because we know things that individual characters don't. For example, Professor Lambeau at one point has no clue that Will's friend Chuckie has been going to meetings for Will and scamming money from Will's potential employers. This is all pretty funny to begin with, but it's even funnier for us audience members who get to know everything that's going on… even when some characters don't.

  • Genre

    Coming of Age

    Usually, someone Will Hunting's age would be a little old for a coming-of-age story. But in this case, his growth as a person has been stunted by the emotional baggage that he's still carrying around from his childhood.

    He's also managed to create a world for himself where he never feels challenged and never has to put his heart on the line for anyone. But these are the exact things that he'll need to grow out of if he's ever going to experience the best things in life. As his therapist Sean Maguire tells him many times, he's going to miss out on a ton of great stuff if he keeps living in the world of books and not experiencing things for himself.

    And by the end of the movie, we're happy to see that Will has taken some of the steps he needs to if he's going to move on with his life. Our baby boy's growing up.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Well we all know that Will Hunting is the name of the main character in this movie, so it makes sense that it's in the title. But the moment you throw "Good" in front of his name, it messes with the meaning.

    After all, we can probably agree that Will is actually "hunting" in this movie because he's searching for a way to move on with his life and make decisions about his future. But the "good" also makes us wonder if we're looking at a person who has "goodwill" while he's in the act of hunting. Or, if he's on the hunt for a person with goodwill.

    So now we have a title that suggests on one level that Will Hunting is good and that Will hunts with/for goodwill. In both cases, the title is accurate because it reminds us that there are good and bad ways to hunt for meaning in life, and Will is following the good one (most of the time).

    On another level, the title is just saying, "Give Will a chance because he's a good dude."

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    At the end of this movie, it looks as though Will is all ready to take one of the jobs that Professor Lambeau has set up for him and use his intellectual gifts to their fullest potential. But then at the last second, he leaves a note for his therapist, Sean Maguire, and takes off for California. His note to Sean says to tell Professor Lambeau: "Sorry, but I had to go see about a girl."

    In doing so, he repeats the same line that Maguire used with his friends back in 1975 when he first met his wife, Nancy.

    On a symbolic level, the end of this movie tells us that Will is finally willing to embrace the uncertainties of life and put his heart on the line to be with someone he loves. Throughout his life, he has pushed people away because he's been afraid that they'll hurt him emotionally if he lets them get too close. But after making a real breakthrough in therapy, he's prepared to make choices about his future that are best for him and no one else.

    Finally, Will's departure shows that he's also willing to escape the little cocoon of safety he's built for himself by hanging out with his childhood friends from Southie. His pal Chuckie is certainly happy to see him go because he's tired of watching Will work construction jobs and waste his talents.

    In the end, we can assume that everyone will be happy except for Professor Lambeau, who will no doubt be disappointed once again that Will has walked away from a prestigious job.

  • Shock Rating

    PG-13

    Yes, it's an uplifting movie about a boy genius who comes from the wrong side of the tracks. But there's also a lot of raunchy humor that gets thrown around when Will is with his buddies from Southie… and when Skylar is telling her jokes.

    So yeah, we wouldn't go and show this movie to any thirteen-year-olds without some good ol' parental supervision.