Good Will Hunting turns 20 this year, here's why it's a modern classic
"I gotta go see about a girl."
Have you ever watched a film and felt like it was specifically made for you? For me, Gus Van Sant's Oscar-winning drama about Will Hunting, a troubled M.I.T janitor with a gift for mathematics, is just that.
Right now, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are two of the biggest stars on the planet, but 20 years ago today, they were relatively unknown actors that were nervously waiting to develop one of the most heartfelt, funny, moving and intelligent scripts of the modern era.
Here's why it's a modern classic.
1) The background
"How do you like them apples?" - Will
Much like Easy Rider, Clerks or The Blair Witch Project, some films can almost inspire you to become a filmmaker. Good Will Hunting is definitely in this category.
Prior to the film being released, Damon was relatively well known in Hollywood circles having starred in Ed Zwick's Courage Under Fire while Affleck featured in Kevin Smith's films Chasing Amy and Mallrats, but it was their Oscar-winning script that launched their careers into the stratosphere.
Just like Will Hunting's tale, everything began in Boston. Affleck and Damon's mothers were longtime friends and the two lads even went to the same school, Cambridge's Ringe and Latin School, although they were two years apart.
Given that Damon was the older of the two, he was the first one to leave for college. Harvard University and an English degree, to be exact.
As part of his college work, Damon submitted a 40-page script—and yes, that was the script that would become Good Will Hunting. After landing a role in Geronimo: An American Legend, Damon moved out to LA where he crashed on Affleck's floor. The pair continued to work on the script for Good Will Hunting, but in its early stages, the film looked nothing like the beloved classic that we know today.
In fact, the first few drafts revolved around these kids from Southie that were thwarting the big government agency, the NSA, but amidst all of that, there was the story about a math genius and his relationship with a shrink.
Castle Rock were the first company to buy the script, but they left the project over creative differences. Desperate for help and guidance, the pair turned to their close friend Kevin Smith, but rather than offer to direct it, he went one better.
Smith personally handed the script to Harvey Weinstein in his Miramax office. The famous producer ended up buying the movie from Castle Rock for more than $1 million in 1995.
2) The belief in their talent
"Now, in fifty years, there's one thing that's been missing. And uh... I would like you to give me a blow job." - Skylar
Given that Damon and Affleck were both struggling actors that were desperate to crack 'the scene', they showed remarkable maturity, conviction and restraint when it came to selling the property.
After being led in circles by the executives at Castle Rock, both men felt that certain studios and executives weren't even reading the script that was in front of them. Rather than be deterred, the pair decided to write full sex scenes between the characters Sean (played by Robin Williams) and Will (played by Matt Damon) right into in the script. Why? Well, they felt that if someone gave them some feedback regarding the scene, it would be a sign that they cared about the material.
It wasn't until Harvey Weinstein of Miramax noticed these sex-scenes that the duo heard some constructive criticism. The Miramax honcho said that he wanted to produce the film, as long as they agreed to remove the sex scene. The ball was now rolling, all they needed was a director.
Would you believe that Mel Gibson was originally attached to the project, but after he spent months developing it, Damon and Affleck politely asked him to step aside. A very ballsy move, especially given Gibson's clout in the business , but the pair were rewarded.
The Oscar-winning director of Braveheart kindly moved aside as Gus Van Sant stepped behind the lens.
3) Improvisation made some scenes more special
"Son of a bitch... He stole my line." - Sean
During a recent discussion, Gus Van Sant revealed that some of the iconic lines in the film were actually improvised. Again, kudos to Damon and Affleck for not being dogmatic and stubborn about every single word in the script. In fact, Sean's final line after discovering Will's letter which informs him that he's left town, was created on the spot.
Another fun anecdote is that Casey Affleck's character , Morgan O’Mally, was almost entirely improvised. Van Sant says “I like the idea of the actors improvising and when they’re doing it, I don’t stop them,” Van Sant said. “If they are really liking their own improvisation, they’ll encourage themselves and then they’ll continue. I think the ones that were really standing out were like Casey Affleck"
4) It's one of the great representations of friendship
"And why does he hang out with those retarded gorillas, as you called them? Because any one of them, if he asked them to, would take a fucking bat to your head, okay? It's called loyalty." - Sean
Good Will Hunting is timeless because it addresses certain topics that men simply refuse to talk about.
Dreams, fears, loves, hopes, weaknesses, heartbreak, loss, family and friendship. They're all here.
To Will, Sean is much more than a therapist. though. He's a friend and a surrogate father when he needs one the most. Unlike Lambeau , Sean gets Will because they're essentially the same person, two men that were victims of parental abuse and who are trying to cope with tragic loss in their life.
Like Chuckie, Sean would also defend Will to the hilt, especially when says to Lambeau "He pushes people away before they get a chance to leave him. It's a defense mechanism. And for 20 years he's been alone because of that. And if you push him right now, it's gonna be the same thing all over again and I'm not gonna let that happen to him. It's not about you, you mathematical dick! It's about the boy! He's a good kid! And I won't see you fuck him up like you're trying to fuck up me right now! I won't let you make feel like a failure too!"
The only family that Will can rely on are his friends, they'd do anything for him, even if that includes dealing out a harsh truth.
5) Mental Health
"You'll have bad times, but it'll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren't paying attention to" - Sean
After a film is released, it's very easy to associate some sort of subliminal meaning or hidden quality to it. That's what good art does, it allows you some sort of perspective on the world, and if you're very lucky, it can even stay with you.
Everyone in the world has their issues, not everyone talks about them.
If there's one message that you can take from Good Will Hunting, it's that talking about any problems that you're struggling with is always a positive step.
6) This scene
"Your move, chief" - Sean
Words can't describe just how moving, inspiring and all-encompassing these moments are.
Clip via - BiSONN16
7) Robin Williams
"Woulda been nice to catch that game, though." - Will
In a career of remarkable performances, it was this role that saw the wonderfully gifted actor win his Oscar. His tragic passing has been well discussed, but it's his performance as the compassionate, world-weary and savvy therapist that he'll be most remembered for.
It's arguable that Sean is the best character in the film because like Will, he's damaged, hurting and cynical about the world, but unlike his patient, Sean sees the bigger picture and has peerless wisdom and life experience to fall back on.
Without even trying, he manages to perfectly summarise everyone's romantic issues with one profound line: "You're not perfect, sport, and let me save you the suspense: this girl you've met, she's not perfect either. But the question is whether or not you're perfect for each other."
What's brilliant about Williams' performance though is that it never come across as mopey, preachy or condescending, he's just a man that's trying to help a kid. Why? Because Will is Sean.
Whether or not he's talking about baseball, farts or the meaning of life,every single word that Sean says is incredibly powerful and poignant.
Clip via - Miramax
8) Its redemptive qualities
"I gotta go see about a girl" - Will
Like any good film, it's possible to take any amount of lessons or messages from Good Will Hunting, but the overriding one is that nobody, no matter how smart, brave or tough they are, can survive without help.
Everyone needs someone to talk to, whether that's a friend (Chuckie), partner (Skylar) or therapist (Sean).
Also, there will come a moment in everyone's life when they're pressured into making a particular choice. Will could have joined the NSA or various private companies, instead he's "gotta go see about a girl."
Sometimes, it's ok to go against the grain. Never let people dictate what you're going to do with your life.
9) Its legacy
"In 20 years, if you're still livin' here, comin' over to my house, watchin' the Patriots games, workin' construction, I'll fuckin' kill ya. That's not a threat, that's a fact, I'll fuckin' kill ya" - Chuckie.
At the time of its release, Good Will Hunting made $10 million on its opening weekend and eventually totaled $225 million, the seventh biggest release of the year.
The box-office recognition paled in comparison to its critical acclaim though, the movie garnered a whopping nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director, on top of its two wins for Robin Williams and, famously, best screenplay.
In case you missed it, here's Matt Damon reminiscing about one of the most iconic scenes in film history. How do you like them apples?