Thursday, March 10, 2022

CANON OF FILM: "GOOD WILL HUNTING"

GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997)

Director: Gus Van Sant
Screenplay: Matt Damon & Ben Affleck

 

One of the big distinctions that comes with genius or intelligence is the recognition and realization that you are indeed, different. That you mind, in one manner, or in one form or another works differently then others around you. I question to say that all such unusual mental abilities equates to a person being a (finger quotes) "genius", or even that they are of above-average intelligence, and hell, I even hate using the word, (finger quotes) "gifted" in this tense. In all honesty, I feel like the term indicates too much that intelligence, or genius, is something that's god-given or ordained onto some lucky someone as oppose to something that's developed and cultured over time and practice. IQ tests don't measure intelligence, it measures potential intelligence, and you have to keep up your ability to use them to the fullest potential. 

And yet, I can't help but remember those times in school, elsewise and elsewhere where I was able to easily recall obscure facts and obtuse references strikingly quicker and more elaborately than my other piers. How I would finish assignments in record time and ace them, while everyone else struggled. How, essentially, to quote "Good Will Hunting", in regards to certain skills and certain areas of general knowledge, and other certain mental tests, abilities and skills, I could just play. 

I've been thinking a lot about genius and intelligence lately, especially young genius, and whatever that means, and how everybody reacts to that awareness and knowledge. I know, in my experience, I think it effected me too much. I believed too many of these claims, and I worked too hard and liked too much being the person who knew all the answers that any attempt at trying to be, "normal", just felt beneath me. Many times, I still think it is, and as a result, I probably became much more full of myself and misanthropic as a result. That's not how everybody I know reacted though, and I do know a few people who ended up, trying to spend their lives dismissing their "gift", wanting to evade it, run away from it, keep it hidden and quiet and silent. That's probably why "Good Will Hunting" has always effected me; I've always related to those who were the smartest in the room. 

Once upon a time, I called "Good Will Hunting" the greatest script I ever read. I don't know if I'd go that far now; I've read a lot of scripts in my day, but it's still up there personally, although I can see some of the flaws now. Chuckie's (Ben Affleck) speech near the end of the film seems to come out of nowhere and also seems a little bit too well-spoken, perhaps, but I still think it works. In hindsight, I think it's because the character of Will Hunting (Oscar-nominee Matt Damon) is just too good of a character. When people see somebody who's really smart, they'll often ask questions like, "How did you end up that way?", but that answer is too ridiculous, and correctly, we don't learn that, instead, we slowly learn how Will Hunting ended up the way he ended up. It's actually kinda sly how the film does this, introducing him to us, and then seeing the characters around as they try to understand, and even help him. First, Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgaard) who's aware of just how rare and brilliant he is, and gives him the second chance after bailing him out of jail. The second, is the girlfriend, Skylar (Oscar-nominee Minnie Driver), the Harvard student who he begins dating and also cares about, and struggles to fully understand him and his demons. Both of them are outsiders to Will's Boston poverty and upbringing, and the collision of class and experience causes each of them to only get so far. While they can connect with him intellectually, they're far from connecting emotionally, not that too many people could. 

This is of course, where Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) comes in. I don't think anybody who's a professional analyst would tell you that he's a great shrink, even Will mentions how he talks more then any other shrink he knows, but he's the perfect person to make Will force himself to push through his emotions instead of hiding them using his Southie, low-class, street rat upbringing. I remember being a kid and being shocked when he won an Oscar for this performance, not that I didn't love Robin Williams, like every kid in the '90s, we adored him, but for those who didn't understand entirely, we didn't think of him as this great, skilled actor. My grandmother and the rest of my family watching the show knew how big a deal it was, and thought it was about time that he won. Really, his character, and naturally his performance, isn't just the guy who comes in and saves Will; he fits that's role, but it's also a deeper character then that. One who shares and understands both Will's experiences as a troubled Boston youth, but also has the experience with incredible intellect and his and Lambeau's relationship. The more I watch the movie over the years, the more I realize how crucial that aspect of the film is. It's not just about a guy who himself is struggling to fight his own genius, but it's also about how everybody else reacts to genius as well. How they try to relate to it, how they try to achieve it themselves, how they try to understand it. There's a lot of movies about incredible achievement and intellect, some of them are even quite good, Jodie Foster's "Little Man Tate" for instance, some of them are so idiotic trivial it makes me wonder if the filmmakers have any idea what it actually means to have real intelligence and genius and know people in that position would actually think or do. (Neil Burger's "Limitless" is the one I usually think of with this; I can't believe somebody thought that movie was good enough to have an attempted TV spinoff) Few of them really strive to get it entirely right. The genius character is either so smart that nobody could get him, and for obvious reasons, main characters who are that smart, general audiences just aren't going to feel sympathy for, or they trivialize such knowledge and skills, usually for money-making endeavors. Even "Rain Man", which is one of my favorite movies and since I have an autistic brother, I'm way more empathetic towards then some might be, but yeah, the only way Tom Cruise is able to contemplate Raymond's abilities is to, go to Vegas and count cards at blackjack. It's funny, and by some accounts, apparently true, but I can tell you from experience, not everybody who knows how to count cards this well, actually count cards. 

The script which famously won Matt Damon and Ben Affleck an Oscar, is the film's best aspect. It's been parodied to death at this point, including the famous two-women play "Ben and Matt" by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers, but it's still much more observant about intellect then most films that think they know. Damon himself used to live next door to Howard Zinn, who's literally written the book on modern American history, and is generally looked on as one of the great minds of our generation. But I don't think enough people give Gus Van Sant credit for directing this film so observantly. I think most people regard this film as a weird outlier in Van Sant's filmography, as most of his films seem to be about lost outsider on the fringes of society. It's looked upon as his good and even interesting rare forays into Hollywood fare, along with the other film that earned him an Oscar nomination, the biopic "Milk", but actually I kind think the movie does fit in pretty neatly with aesthetic, geniuses are people at the fringe of society, but more then that, Van Sant has always viewed his subject matter, the best of his films, his a more observant and curious perspect. His Death Trilogy of films, "Gerry", "Elephant" and "Last Days" all take quiet and casual looks at their subjects who are all going on missions/journeys that lead to their inevitable deaths. Or how the put-together families of his early films of loners like "Drugstore Cowboy", "My Own Private Idaho" and "Even Cowgirls Gets the Blues", are looked on with judgment or disdain, he's not even necessarily trying to put them on some kind of utopian pedestal, he's just observing the behavior and actions of those who he finds interesting, and yeah, outsiders who don't fit the molds of the society they're around and have to find ways to connect to them elsewise. 

People forget that he followed up "Good Will Hunting", with his most overlooked and underappreciated film, "Finding Forrester", a film about a Salingeresque recluse writer and the young African-American high school student he's begun reluctantly mentoring, who happens to also be quite "gifted" and knowledgeable at the schoolwork, in particularly his writing, that he kept hidden from most of his piers through his more accepted skill, being a high-level basketball player. Intellectual outsider are outsiders as well, and sometimes more outsiders then others. It's also something to be curious of, but also examined and observed like all of us, and to try to observe it in all it's aspects. We hold perceived genius and intellect to such high pedestals in our society that it's actually kinda refreshing to see it looked upon with as much understanding as it is here. The fact that it is done in a touching movie that would otherwise seem fairly average narratively, shows that it is apart of the world at large and not simply something that's either shunned as mysterious or prophesized like gospel. 

Sometimes genius isn't out there trying to take over the world, or otherwise show off their intelligence, sometimes, they're just good people out there, just struggling, and trying to find their way in the world. 

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