Good Will Hunting came on TV last week. I watched it all the way through waiting for the one scene that hit me the hardest when I first saw it years ago. The scene in Skylar’s (Minnie Driver) room. After a long night together, she asks him to go to California with her, and they argue. Her tears flow as she challenges him to say he doesn’t love her, and after a second he calmly stares her right in the eyes, “I don’t love you,” and walks out. When I first saw him do that, I was stunned. What a beautiful statement of youthful cynicism, the absolute refusal to do what you’re obviously supposed to do. When some girl charms you out of your mind and brings everything you dream about in a woman to life with her every step; when she’s head over heels for you and only you, and you and her are both at a moving-on point in your lives, and nothing would work out better than that the two of you move on together, you don’t go for it. You don’t ‘follow your heart.’ You step away for a second and think about it and decide (you don’t know why, but you have to) to deny it all. You calmly make the one statement that’ll bring it all crashing down: “I don’t love you.”
He said it, but he didn’t mean it, and that’s where the movie goes wrong. The movie makes Will conform to the precepts of normality. Get the job; chase the girl. His conformity at the end completely undermines the power of his personality as established in the earlier scenes, especially his virtuoso psychological analysis of Dr. Sean’s sea painting. Good Will Hunting is half melodrama. The other half is an intriguing study of Will’s genius. We are mystified by Will’s two sides -- the violent criminal next to the seemingly omniscient genius effortlessly beyond all others in math, history, law, literature, and even molecular biology. We are in awe of such a twenty-year-old. But the study of Will’s genius, the strength of the movie, winds down quickly and gives way to a Robin Williams-led descent into sap, with heavy emphasis on hugging and learning.
To correct this, I would take out all the hugging and all the learning. Just show Will living his life without using the characters to judge him and tell him to shape up. Don’t moralize. Don’t Melodramatize. Doing so, you push a character like Will backwards into the improbable. The “breakthrough” scene, with all that “it’s not your fault, Will” gush was enough to make me sick, not because I am a cold, emotionally perverted, morally schizophrenic man, but because those teary-eyed hugs are totally false, the equivalent of a Christian revival experience. A temporary emotional high meaning nothing. A compound delusion. Will cannot change who he is. The “breakthrough” is actually merely Will entering a state of temporary delusion which allows him to believe he can overcome himself. By fully realizing what Dr. Sean’s words mean -- “it’s not your fault” -- he can change the basics of his personality. The truth -- that he did NOT bring the abuse onto himself by being flawed in some way, that the abuse had nothing to do with him, that it was the work of an evil man who had zero justification -- will set him free.
All of this is merely Will’s mind operating in a world of pure delusion. No such realizations will ever truly hit home. Knowing the truth does not help. Will cannot change the basics of his personality. Despite his gifts, he cannot overcome himself. None of us can, not even in a movie, no matter how many tears a psychiatrist can get us to cry. That’s my opinion. Elsewhere I wrote “people don’t change; they don’t have good enough memories to change.” The idea being you forget what you are supposed to change to in the hustle and bustle of life. At lunch you decide to be a better clothes folder. At dinner as you’re folding clothes the old way, you remember, but it doesn’t seem necessary any more. It’s like you dreamed it. It doesn’t seem real, after only a few hours. That’s because the whole idea of self-change is contrary to animal nature. We act according to our nature just like animals. If those actions violate the social codes of close knit human groups, oh well. That’s reality. Violations occur. Change, denaturalization -- perverted thoughts made pure in the perverted lens of melodrama. We see the doubly perverted as true human purity.
Will does not change. Most viewers don’t realize this. After he drives out to California and quickly gets sick of the clingy, needy, weepy Skylar, he comes right back to southey Boston having gained nothing either in emotional maturity or purpose of life. He does not change despite appearances, people. The “breakthrough” of course does not stick. The love doesn’t last. And the job makes him miserable. Furthermore life itself, its population grid of fools with egos and women with remote control tear ducts begins to press in, gradually applying more and more pressure, increasing internal pain, boosting annoyance levels. Then in a fit of rage, ready to pounce on some pretentious Harvard punk, Will finally directs his rage at its true source -- himself. He kills himself by holding his breath. Don’t think it’s possible? Think again. Will is special even in death.
But he lives on in art. Remember Will Hunting not as a sell-out to false love, not as a triumph of progressive psychiatrical methodologies, not as a job-taking careerist, but as a young man who appeared to be such things at the end of his movie because his creators compromised him in the pursuit of their own sell-out, careerist goals.