Study Guide

Good Will Hunting Themes

  • Intelligence

    On the surface, Good Will Hunting is just a story about a really smart kid who doesn't know what he wants to do with his life. But everyone knows the surface is bo-ring.

    A gift like Will's takes a lot of maturity and emotional balance to use effectively. But Will has had a life filled with abandonment and abuse, and this makes it very difficult for him to show his intelligence for what it really is. That's why he tries to hide his smarts from his close buddies and why he spends his days drinking beer and goofing off.

    His development in this movie isn't intellectual, because he's got natural intelligence either way. His real struggle is growing in emotional intelligence.

    Questions About Intelligence

    1. Do you think Will should go to work for one of the think tanks that are courting him, or should he do something else with his life? Why?
    2. Do you agree or disagree with Professor Lambeau's belief that Will has been wasting his life and his talents? Why?
    3. What sorts of things is Will smart about and what things is he not smart about? Why?

    Chew on This

    Good Will Hunting shows us that if you don't use your intelligence to its fullest potential, you're wasting your life.

    In Good Will Hunting, we find that emotional balance matters way more than a high IQ.

  • Love

    Understatement of the century: Will Hunting doesn't have a very good history when it comes to love.

    For starters, he was abandoned as a child by the ones who were supposed to love him most—his parents. After that, he was abused by all the foster families he stayed with. So it makes sense that he wouldn't have a very deep trust for other people and the love they give. But getting over this lack of trust is something Will is going to have to do if he ever plans on living a full life.

    And—bonus—during the course of Good Will Hunting he also teaches Maguire to get over the pain of losing his wife and to go out and experience love and life again.

    Questions About Love

    1. At what point does Will realize he's scared of being in love with Skylar? Why?
    2. What is Will's normal reaction to love and commitment? What do we know from his background that could help explain this?
    3. How does Maguire help Will get over his fear of love? At what point do we know it's working?
    4. How does Will respond when Skylar tells him she loves him? Why does he respond this way?

    Chew on This

    In Good Will Hunting, we see that (sometimes) unconditional love is the last thing somebody might want.

    Good Will Hunting teaches us to go out and seek love, even if it's scary to make ourselves vulnerable.

  • Coming of Age

    Will might know almost everything about chemistry and math, but he hasn't passed the third grade when it comes to living as an emotionally healthy adult.

    In fact, Good Will Hunting is basically the story of Will learning to overcome his childhood fears and to develop as an emotional and vulnerable person so he can live a fulfilling life.

    Questions About Coming of Age

    1. When does Will turn his first corner toward becoming an emotionally stable adult? Why?
    2. What's Maguire's biggest contribution to Will's wellbeing? Try to be as specific as possible.
    3. How do Maguire's stories about his own life help Will learn about his own situation?

    Chew on This

    In Good Will Hunting, we learn that being smart doesn't mean a person is mature.

    Good Will Hunting reminds us that you can't waste your time trying to be happy if it keeps you from achieving greatness.

  • Education

    Good Will Hunting's Will is the classic self-educated dude, or an autodidact if you want to be really fancy about it. But his biggest problem is that all of his good education is intellectual and all of his bad education is emotional.

    For example, Will is a super smart guy who's learned a ton of stuff about math, economics, chemistry, and literature from books. But he's also learned a lot of bad emotional lessons from his abusive upbringing. He's learned not to trust anyone or love anyone… because that person might hurt him if he lets them in.

    Questions About Education

    1. What is the most important lesson Will learns in this movie? Why?
    2. In what ways does Will educate Sean Maguire? Try to be as specific as possible.
    3. What does Skylar learn from her time with Will?
    4. What does Will teach Professor Lambeau and his colleagues about the work they've done in mathematics?

    Chew on This

    In Good Will Hunting, we learn that education means a whole lot more than just book-learning.

    Good Will Hunting shows us that all the education in the world can't change the fact that some people are naturally smarter than others.

  • Dissatisfaction

    It's fair to say that Good Will Hunting's protagonist has a deep-seated dissatisfaction with his life. He might like to think that he's totally fulfilled by his life of drinking and fighting. But if that were the case, he wouldn't spend his evenings reading about economics and solving insanely complicated math problems in the hallways of MIT.

    There's a big part of him that wants to turn his gift loose on the world. He holds himself back, though, because he prefers to live in a world that never challenges him or asks him to be vulnerable. It's only when he starts seeing Sean Maguire for therapy that he starts to get at some of the inner problems that are feeding his sense of dissatisfaction.

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. What do you think is the biggest cause of Will's dissatisfaction? Why?
    2. Why does Will spend his time working manual jobs instead of going to work in some think tank?
    3. How does Sean Maguire help Will confront some of the problems that are keeping him dissatisfied? When do these efforts reach a climax, and why?

    Chew on This

    In Good Will Hunting, we learn that sometimes, we're not even aware of how much we're holding ourselves back in life.

    Good Will Hunting shows us that most dissatisfaction comes from knowing that we could be making better use of our lives.