Deconstructing Cinema: Good Will Hunting

Deconstructing Cinema: Good Will Hunting

Miramax Films

Original release date: December 5th, 1997

Running time: 126 minutes

Director: Gus Van Sant
Writers: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck
Composer: Danny Elfman

Cast: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Robin Williams, Minnie Driver, Stellan Skarsgård

It’s not your fault: 00:44:28 to 00:49:04

Deconstructing Cinema: One Scene At A Time, the complete series so far

Written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, Good Will Hunting focuses on the troubled genius of Will Hunting (Matt Damon), as he fights, drinks and smokes his way through a lifelong friendship with Chuckie (Ben Afflect), an intense series of therapy with Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) and a lot of maths with Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård). And there’s also a girl in the story as well (Minnie Driver).

When it came to deciding a scene to deconstruct there was one that immediately leapt to mind: ‘It’s not your fault’. As is illustrated in the picture of Stewie and Brian (the baby and the dog for those who aren’t well versed in Family Guy), ‘It’s not your fault’ is a scene that has crept into popular culture. The scene features Sean submitting Will to ‘it’s not your fault’ several times until Will begins to break down.

Family Guy

It is one of the fantastic moments of Good Will Hunting, and is evidence by its parody, it is worthy of referencing. Will’s protective wall is at breaking point, and Sean pushes through with a forceful compassion that tips Will over the edge. Reduced completely to tears, the therapy has worked and Will can start building his life back up.

So without delving any further into that scene, I felt that it was necessary to point out that it is a great scene and clearly one of the reasons why this film was so successful critically and financially.

Deconstructing Cinema: Good Will Hunting

The actual scene that I decided to look at was much earlier in the film. After a therapy session with Will, Sean is feeling angry but still very determined to do what he can to help. So to take the opposite approach to Williams’ well known Patch Adams – sorry but it is impossible to write about Robin Williams as a therapist without mentioning him as a doctor – Sean takes Will to a lake and doesn’t make him laugh. He doesn’t make him cry, but he certainly isn’t laughing.

The film leading up to that point has shown Will ‘winning’ as it were, and lording his intelligence over everyone. After the earlier therapy session with Will’s usual psychological games, the power game has certainly swung over to Will, as it usually does. After categorically ripping Sean’s boat painting to shreds, it looks like Will is going to move on to another therapist to play with.

Deconstructing Cinema: Good Will Hunting

But their next therapy session is a turning point for the film: Will’s vulnerability starts to come through, and he is well and truly put in his place by the force of Sean. Reading an unimaginable number of books and retaining all of their information doesn’t make for a fulfilled person, a good person or a rounded person. It just means that you have read an unimaginable number of books and retained all of their information.

Deconstructing Cinema: Good Will Hunting

The interaction between the academic and the real are at play in this scene. It is by no means a dig at the academic or those that hold it dear, but instead it takes Will as an example of seeing an education as a means to an end, rather than a way of opening up a world of possibilities. Will can break down a piece of art, but it doesn’t mean he’s lived his life and has let himself become overawed by art.

Deconstructing Cinema: Good Will Hunting

The scene itself is very simple; the therapist and his patient are sitting in a park on a bench. There are some swans, and everything is quite serene. But there are three elements to this scene that make it as powerful as it is: Williams’ acting, a very well written script and Damon’s reacting to Williams.

To begin with Williams. There are few actors that have had as versatile a career as Robin Williams. From an overgrown child in Jack (1996), to the menacing Si-the-photo-guy in 24 hour Photo (2002), to the compassionate teacher John Keating in Dead Poets Society (1989), he has covered a hell of a lot of characters. His role as Sean in Good Will Hunting is another string to his already very strong bow.

Deconstructing Cinema: Good Will Hunting

His monologue lasts better part of 4 minutes, with only a few ‘yes’s and nods from Damon.

Although 4 minutes doesn’t look like a long time written down, it is a long time for one actor to hold your attention in a film. Each line is delivered with undertone of pity that reduces Will to nothing:

“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written [...] But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that.”

Deconstructing Cinema: Good Will Hunting

Irrespective of everything Will has learnt he is still a ‘kid’. He has read it all but he hasn’t done any of it, and that is what he has to learn from Sean. The language used in Sean’s speech successfully speaks to both the world of the academic and of real-life experience.

Peppered with references to Michelangelo and Shakespeare, alongside themes of familial death, travel and adoption this 4 minute monologue covers a vast amount of issues in a way that breaks down both Will and, over the course of the speech, Sean to the people that they are. And they are what they have experienced.

Deconstructing Cinema: Good Will Hunting

Throughout all of this Damon just sits there. That is all he has to do and all he can do as he takes this verbal beat-down from a man who has clearly been places, seen things, smelt things and lived. He’s been out of Boston. And Will hasn’t.

The camerawork compliments this dynamic perfectly, as it focuses on Williams for so long while he delivers his monologue. You become completely consumed by his words to then have Damon gradually comes into the frame. But even when he enters the frame he is out of focus, with all eyes still on Williams. Will has been at the centre-stage of the film with his intelligence, but he’s been pushed to the peripheries with this speech.

Deconstructing Cinema: Good Will Hunting

The camera then turns fully to Damon, and he is there, deadly still, averting Williams’ gaze. Speechless, he opens his mouth slightly but nothing comes out. Will as a broken man is all we can see at this stage, and all we can hear is either Williams’ talking or silence as Will doesn’t respond.

Sean gets in the last word with: ‘Your move, chief’. Damon looking lonely on his bench. Job done.

About Jack Murphy

Jack Murphy

Jack is an English Literature student in his early Twenties (The Golden Age!) at the University of Leeds. He insists on saying that he’s originally from Slough, Berkshire which is the setting of Ricky Gervais’ comedy series The Office – and not a day goes by that he’s not reminded of that fact… Irrespective of being mocked for it, Jack still is, and will most likely remain, a big Gervais fan.

And he sure knows how to spend his time. Having subscribed to a well known DVD delivery service for the past three years, Jack spends half of his days watching DVDs – and the other half on catch-up websites watching TV programmes.