No offense to Casey Affleck's character, but "wicked smart" doesn't even begin to do Will Hunting justice.
Will is a genius when it comes to just about anything you can learn in school. In the very first scenes of this movie, we watch him solve some of the most difficult math problems in the world. And the moment Professor Gerald Lambeau finds out about Will's intelligence, he wants to make sure that Will uses his gifts to contribute to the world of math.
He even tries to explain just how special Will is by telling his friend Sean Maguire about a man named Ramanujan:
LAMBEAU: Now this… this Ramanujan, his—his genius was unparalleled, Sean. Now this boy is just like that.
Yep, Will's level of intelligence is world-class.
And it's not like Lambeau is the only one who can see Will for who he is. Will knows his smarts pretty well himself, even. But instead of using them constructively, he tends to use his brain as a weapon to help him win fights. When he protects his buddy Chuckie from some not-super-suave mockery by a Harvard graduate student, Will whips out his encyclopedia knowledge to do the trick.
WILL: […] Next year, you're gonna be in here regurgitating Gordon Wood. Talkin' about, you know, the pre-Revolutionary Utopia and the capital forming effects of military mobilization.
(Someone needs to Shmoop this conversation, so us lesser geniuses know what he's talking about.)
So here we have a janitor making a Harvard-educated jerk store look like, well, a jerkstore. Or as Will puts it, he's a guy who "dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a f***in' education you coulda' got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library."
Yeah, he's funny, too.
At this point in the movie, we still might take Will's intelligence for granted. It's just a part of the movie's premise that he's gifted. The real conflict for him is the choice of how he's going to live his life and use (or not use) his natural gifts. After all, intelligence isn't the same thing as maturity.
And that's where the plot thickens.
A Fighter, Not a Lover
Will seems pretty happy to spend his days drinking with his buddies and goofing off. But there's a darker side to him that we only find out about after he's jailed for assaulting a cop. The judge at Will's arraignment gives a quick rundown of Will's criminal career:
JUDGE: I just can't believe it. June '93, Assault. September '93, Assault. Grand theft auto, February '94.
Yup: Will ain't exactly a model citizen.
So now we've got ourselves an incredibly intelligent young man who also likes to get in fights and drink all the time. Or as Professor Lambeau so nicely puts it, Will likes "hanging out with a bunch of retarded gorillas."
It's only later in the movie that we find out some of the root causes for Will's emotional problems. For starters, Will was an orphan who experienced a lot of abuse in the foster families he stayed with (as Will says to Skylar, "You don't wanna hear that I had f***in' cigarettes put out on me when I was a little kid!"). Or how about the fact that he was stabbed by his foster father?
Clearly (and for good reason), these experiences have left a lasting mark on his personality. He's slow to trust people and he's determined never to live on any terms other than his own. Which, uh, makes it pretty hard for him to hold down a job. It also makes it tough to commit to relationships because he's afraid everyone will just leave him like his parents did.
Or a Lover, Not a Fighter?
Early on in his relationship with Skylar, Will shows us that he's a charming dude. On their first date, Will admits that he "was hopin' for a kiss." And he gets one.
Of course, he then goes ahead and...doesn't call her.
That's when it becomes clear how Will's childhood and abandonment issues are going to affect this relationship.
As he tells his therapist Sean,
WILL: I mean... this girl is like f***in' perfect right now, I don't wanna ruin that.
Will is so worried about being hurt that he has a tendency to cut off happy experiences before they even have a chance to go bad. And it's this kind of attitude that will cause him to miss out on some of the best stuff in life… if Maguire can't help him change.
Eventually, of course, Maguire helps Will overcome his fears—and Will starts hanging out with Skylar again. But commitment issues don't just vanish. He totally snaps when Skylar asks him to move to California with her. When Skylar asks why he's so upset, Will maps out her life:
WILL: You're going to go off to Stanford, you're going to marry some rich prick who your parents will approve of and just sit around with the other trust fund babies and talk about how you went slumming too, once.
Will simply doesn't believe that Skylar will keep loving him in the long run, so he wants to dump her before she has a chance to leave him. Skylar insists that she loves Will and wants to be with him, but Will won't hear it. He ends their relationship with a not-as-charming "I don't love you."
Yeah, we don't buy it either.
A New Man
Eventually, Sean Maguire manages to get through to Will. You remember the scene: Sean talks to Will about his abusive childhood and tells him "It's not your fault" over and over (and over) until Will breaks down sobbing.
(And so do we.)
After the breakthrough, Will finally seems ready to move past some of his lingering childhood fears and make decisions about his future. He even takes a job with one of the firms Professor Lambeau has set him up with, telling Sean,
WILL: I haven't told [Lambeau] yet, but I went—I went down there and I talked to my boss and… my new boss. He seemed like a good guy.
Think there's something unsatisfying about Will taking a job with a think tank? So does he.
Will changes his mind.
Instead of going to work, he hops in his new car and heads for California to see Skylar again.
The only thing he leaves behind is a note for Sean:
WILL: If the Professor calls about that job, just tell him, 'Sorry, I had to go see about a girl.'
Yep, that's the same line Maguire used when he told his friend he was going on a date with his future wife more than twenty years earlier. The experience made a new man of him, and it looks like it's about to do the same for Will, who finally seems ready to make decisions and commit to his future.
How do you like them apples?