The film that catapulted Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to fame, Good Will Hunting was not only starred in by the young duo, but also written by them when they were just in their twenties. Affleck, just twenty five at the time, was the youngest recipient of the Academy Award for the Best Original Screenplay. The now-twenty-three year old film remains fresh and relevant to this day with its plot involving mental health.
Will is a foster kid, a friend, a genius, a janitor, a juvie, and a victim of child abuse. He enjoys solving puzzles that even the smartest people prove incapable of solving but he is also a little too comfortable with his life. He happens to like picking fights with random people for no good reason other than to while away his time but he is also fiercely loyal to his friends. But, he is also afraid of commitment and has abandonment issues. He does not like “smart” people who are pretentious and considers them to be phoney but is also not above using his intellect to intimidate people and scare them away as per his own convenience.
Will has a simple world. His best friend Chuckie, his job as a janitor at MIT and his books. He is content. Not just content, he wants nothing more than for nothing in his life to change. That is despite the fact that Will is a certified genius. Like a “genius” genius. He solves math problems that even the professors at MIT took years to solve. When Professor Gerald accidentally finds Will solving one of the math problems he had assigned to his students, he takes it upon himself to train the kid and unveil his genius onto the world. To be the Hardy to Will’s Ramanujan. And that is precisely why he makes a deal with the judge to let Will go free despite him assaulting a few boys at the park and despite his remarkably long rap sheet. Incidentally, the deal includes Will having to mandatorily have weekly therapy sessions. It also happens to be around this time that we are told that Will had been physically assaulted at three of his previous foster homes. And this is a key incident for the story which plays heavily further on.
After showing off his incredible knack of being able to scare away all his therapists, Will is finally introduced to Sean. Sean, who, unlike the previous therapists, is not discouraged by Will’s temperament, but instead intrigued by it. Sean, who is the only one Will is not able to intimidate by his smartness because Sean is also the first one who is able to match his genius with his own. Sean, who despite being an MIT alum, teaches as a lowly Bunker Hill Community College. So while the previous guys got discouraged or agitated at discovering Will’s personality, Sean decides to accept the challenge and takes on this new client. We also learn that Sean is a widower who still wears his wedding bands. Who has not gotten over his wife’s death till now.
In their sessions together, Will and Sean start developing a kind of friendship. Unlike a normal therapist, Sean does not keep asking Will questions about himself. Instead, they have actual dialogues with one another, about one another. Will asks Sean just as many questions about him as Sean asks Will. And if we remind ourselves that Will most probably does not have anyone to talk to aside from his friends (who, let’s face it, do not match his intellect, personality or emotions), having an adult guidance in the form of Sean is greatly beneficial for Will. He feels comfortable with Sean, something he has never previously felt before with another adult. They talk about life and not just Will’s issues or his abusive past. They talk about love. Sean teaches him that love is not something you can learn about in books. It is something that you have to give a shot. But that means asking Will to come out of his comfort zone. In turn, Will challenges Sean about his attitude towards his love. He redirects Sean’s questions towards Will back to him and makes him reflect on his own lessons. Will challenges Sean to put himself out there again and give love another shot again. That just because Sean already had a great love in his life, doesn’t mean that he needs to spend the rest of his life alone just because his wife has passed away. They have a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship.
So when Will accidentally overhears Sean taking a stand for him in front of Professor Gerald, it is the first time he sees someone fight FOR him, not fight him. He sees the kind of loyalty he sees in his friends for him. Sean would not allow Gerald to push Will to do anything that he was not completely ready for or interested in. Much like our parents figuring out our life plans for ourselves, Gerald did not have any ill inhibitions for Will. He just wanted to push Will towards the greatness and success that he knew was in store for Will. And there is nothing wrong about that. But Sean thinks that Will should be given the space, freedom and the faith to be able to figure out what he wants for himself. Even if it means the world possibly never seeing Will for the mathematical genius he is. The movie makes it so that one stands for career and the other stands for love. Or if we choose to look at it a different way, then it gives Will the option to go after something he would be comfortable in (having a job solving math problems) or go for something he could fail disastrously in (falling in love and making his relationship work). And in his case, with his circumstances, Will decides on the latter. He decides to challenge himself. He decides to accept that everything that goes wrong in his life is not his fault alone. He decides to forgive himself. He decides he is worthy of love. The key word being he decides. He allows himself to take control of his life now. He allows himself a space to fail and be wrong. But to be himself…