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An Analysis of Good Will Hunting, a Drama by Gus Van Sant

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The film that I have chosen to analyze is Good Will Hunting which was released on December 5th, 1997 and was directed by Gus Van Sant. This film is an Indie Drama/ Romance film about a kid named Will Hunting who has a genius-level IQ but chooses to work as a janitor at MIT, he lives alone in a sparsely furnished apartment in an impoverished South Boston neighborhood. Since he was an abused foster child, he subconsciously blames himself for his unhappy upbringing and he is unable to maintain either a steady job or a steady romantic relationship. When he solves a difficult graduate-level math problem, his talents are discovered by Professor Gerald Lambeau who decides to help Will Hunting reach his potential. When Will is arrested for attacking a police officer, realizing that Will might have the potential to be a great mathematician, Lambeau goes to Will’s trial and intervenes on his behalf, offering him a choice: either Will can go to jail, or he can be released into Lambeau’s personal supervision, where he must study mathematics and see a psychotherapist to help him with his anger and defensive personality. Will chooses to go with Lambeau even though he believes that he does not actually need therapy. After five psychologists fail to connect with Will, Lambeau finally calls on Sean Maguire to help counsel him. Sean differs from the other five therapists in that he is also from South Boston and pushes back at Will and is eventually able to get through to him and his hostile, sarcastic defense mechanisms. In a later session, Will is somewhat shocked when Sean tells him how he gave up his ticket to see the Red Sox in the 1975 World Series in order to meet and spend time with a stranger in a bar, who would later become his wife. Will is encouraged to try to establish a relationship with Skylar, a young woman he met at a bar near Harvard. After many conflicts, in the end Sean leaves to travel the world, though not before reconciling with Lambeau. The movie ends with the showing that Will has left for a better life as he drives to California for a new beginning with Skylar and a leap into an unpredictable future.

Moving on to the actual analysis, the film opens with pleasant-sounding music as it shows multiple different books opened on the ground along with multiple complex mathematic problems. It also shows the main character played by Matt Damon reading these books being shown. All of this is being done while the cast members are still being shown. Throughout each shot the camera seems to be panning through each shot and in terms of effects everything being shown has some transparency to it and fades in and out of each shot including Will Hunting, who is reflected across the screen along with the math problems with most of the shots being close-ups of his face or extreme close-ups of his eyes. This type of introduction lets the audience know immediately who the film is mostly about and what is so special and unique about Will, which is his level of intelligence, before they even get to hear his name.

The camera then pans across Will’s room and stops in a high-angle long shot in one of the corners of the room. This shot shows Will’s current living conditions and his lifestyle, all he has is a few lightbulbs for indoor lighting, a mattress in one corner of the room, and a small kitchen merged together with the small living room area signifying that Will probably lives in a small house/ apartment building. There is then a quick cut that shows a comparison shot between an old woman sleeping outside with just a single book, while Will is fully awake reading multiple different books which are stacked and spread across his room. A shot of the neighborhood is shown through one of the streets as Will and his friend, played by Ben Affleck, drive away further showing the area in which Will lives and it shows how poor his income level probably is with these living conditions. An extreme long shot is then showed of the whole city of Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts slowly moving inward. This suggests that Will most likely lives on the outskirts of the southern end of Boston. All this information is gathered on Will by the audience within the first four minutes of the two-hour long film.

Throughout the entirety of the film, the director uses many still shots of a variety of close-ups, medium shots, and long shots. Most of these are used either to show a new location like M.I.T, the tavern where the characters hang out, or the building of the therapist, Sean Maguire; or they are used indoors on each character to show their individual reactions/expressions to a certain event. The cutting of the film is rapid, going from one shot or scene to the next in an instant it never really makes much time for a fade away or some other slow cut.

On that note, most of the scenes seem to be pretty long with some being fairly shorter than others. For example, the therapy sessions, or any other time Will and Sean are together, are one of the scenes that last longer than others; I imagine that the reason for this is to constantly remind and show the audience the increasing bond between the two characters and how important the relationship to both characters is for the film, since it mostly depends and revolves around the connection that Will and Sean have. In a sense, the relationship between Will and Sean, for me at least, can be related to a father and son relationship; Throughout the film, it seems that Will begins to look up to Sean as a father-figure as he learns more and more about his personal life and hard times and starts to realize the importance of his life and that he should take control of his own life, making something of himself instead of doing what others want him to do, such as Professor Lambeau. On the other hand, throughout the film it seems that Sean sees Will as a son, which can be shown multiple times when Sean tries to protect Will by trying to talk Lambeau out of forcing Will into a decision he does not want to make. Sean tries his best to convince Lambeau that Will should lead his own life and do whatever he wants to do with his life and be free. Also, with both Will and Sean growing up with an abusive childhood, Will could see Sean as the father he never got to have, and Sean could be trying to be a better father figure to Will than his own father was to him.

In terms of the lighting used in Good Will Hunting, it is sometimes used to represent the differences in socio-economic status between Will’s lifestyle and others. For example, in settings such as Will’s personal place, the janitor’s office where he works, and the South Boston Bar that he often visits are all dimly lit settings that seem more desolate than places such as MIT, Sean’s office, or the places that Lambeau sets up for Will which, in contrast, are generally more brighter and the colors appear to be more apparent overall. To showcase the wealth and higher social class of these places there is a warmer looking effect compared to the bleaker looking effects in Will’s poorer and lower social class lifestyle. As mentioned before, the use of light in this way indicates the differences of social-economic status and the opportunities, or lack thereof, that the status’ have.

Also, throughout most of the film, Gus Van Sant uses a lot of natural colors to create a sense of empathy, or sympathy, for Will that the audience feels. In places where Will seems more comfortable or happy, the colors are warmer and more invitational to the audience. For one example, there are multiple scenes where Will is either in Skylar’s room at Harvard or in Sean’s office and the color has a amber look to it, which just so happens to be the color of the cover of the film and is the dominant color that Gus Van Sant uses throughout the film to represent Will. This lets the audience see Will for who he truly is instead of the cool kid persona that he pulls off when around other people. Another example of natural colors used in this film is whenever Will is under his persona, like in the famous scene where Will first meets Sean in his office, the color shifts from being warm to cold whenever Will starts analyzing the artistic style of a painting that is hung by the window. As Will is analyzing the painting, he is also analyzing Sean’s life and as he gets closer and closer to the painting the cooler and cooler the light gets until he is done with his speech; afterwards, the sunlight shines brighter in the scene which causes Will to have a different expression, therefore, creating a mood shift within the shot.

The editing of Good Will Hunting was very good in that it, as noted before, used a type of kaleidoscope effect for Will in the opening credits of the film as well as include a montage to establish Will’s character at the same time; instead of the normal quick cuts used throughout the film Gus Van Sant uses the kaleidoscope effect to transition from shot to shot. Another editing technique that Gus Van Sant used in the film can be seen whenever he would cut to other characters even if they were not talking; for example, there is a sort of parallel edit used whenever Will is at the arcade with a few of his friends and then all of a sudden there is a shot of Lambeau and Sean at a restaurant having drinks while talking about Will, which suggests that the two experiences are happing at the same time and it fits together. There are multiple examples where this type of editing is used throughout the film; some examples include scenes like, at the end of the film when Will is leaving, but he is dropping off a note when Sean’s paralleled with Chuckie at Will’s apartment. Another one is whenever Skylar is at the airport waiting for Will to show up and then it cuts to Will sitting on a park bench watching the planes leave, creating the sense that even though they both want to be together, they will not end up together. Another scene that uses this is whenever Will is at the interview for the National Security Council and he begins to tell a story but then it is cut to Will’s face in Sean’s office telling the same story. This type of editing is used nicely to create a continuation of events within the same sequence of shots or scenes.

Another editing technique that I noticed is very subtle, but it is a good use of using a sound effect. In the beginning of the film, during the bird’s eye view of the city, the sound of a school bell is synced with the cuts of different shots, going from the bird’s eye view, to a shot of a bridge, to a shot of the front of M.I.T. Even though this is a very subtle editing technique, I think that it is a nice touch to signify changes between different shots or scenes.

The actors in Good Will Hunting do a phenomenal job at portraying the personality of their characters. Anything from their spoken language, facial expressions, postures, and even their style of clothing represents the type of character that they are, and it is easy for the audience to pick up most of these things. For example, going back to socio-economic status, Professor Lambeau uses more sophisticated language than either Will or Sean, saying Perrier instead of club soda. Professor Lambeau also does not casually swear as much as Sean or Will and his friends would. This makes Lambeau stand out as an individual who like to show off his level of education or intelligence and it also shows that he is most likely a well-respected professor and that he holds a higher social status above other people. Someone like Sean would belong somewhere in the lower-middle to middle social class and often swears on occasion.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Will and his friends use very informal language with a lot of swearing around each other and work a low-income job. However, Will, throughout the film, shows that he uses a mix of informal and sophisticated language and is able to switch back and forth between them without second thought. There are multiple instances where Will does this throughout the film, but my personal favorite is about 15-20 minutes into the film whenever Will and his friends go to a Harvard bar and Will shows off his intelligence to one of the students that was making fun of Chuckie by reciting text from a book that the student was copying. Afterwards, Will gets Skylar’s number and in the next scene Will sees the student sitting in a Dunkin’ Donuts and Will goes next to the window, shows Skylar’s number, and says I got her number, how do you like them apples.

In terms of clothes worn by the characters, Will mostly wears a dirty, ripped up t-shirt with jeans and sometimes a rugged jacket, which again shows his poor socio-economic status; Sean mostly wears a simple button-up shirt with khakis which shows his middle socio-economic status; and Lambeau mostly wears a suit and tie or a suit jacket with a scarf which shows his wealthy, high socio-economic status.

Going into the subjective point-of-view of some of the characters, I would start off with Will. From Will’s point-of-view, I think that he obviously knows how intelligent he is and he is not afraid to show it off when he feels like he needs to, he is however afraid to apply himself to a better lifestyle, though this could just be that he does not think school is necessary and is fine with where he is at, so I think that he probably does not like change all that much and likes things the way that they are and is okay with the current life he has. From his perspective, at the beginning, he is just doing everything to stay out of jail and go along with Lambeau, but as time goes on and as he spends more time with Sean, Will begins to see the amount of value that life has and is willing to apply himself more than what he used to. From Sean’s point-of-view, he sees Will’s potential differently than Lambeau and believes that instead of forcing Will into a life that he would not necessarily want, they should let him find his own way and do what he wants; saying that there is more to life than a field’s medal and that Lambeau is being manipulative. This can be explained during two scenes, one where Lambeau and Sean meet at a bar around an hour and 15 minutes into the film, and another during an argument between the two around an hour and 45 minutes into the film. As one could probably tell, from Lambeau’s perspective he wants Will to practically be like him and be like one of the great mathematicians changing the world with his gift, forcing him into a life and trying to take him under his wing.

I think that the point or the moral of Good Will Hunting would be to not let people tell you who you should be in life, your life is yours and you should live it the best way you see fit. Will is kind of in the middle of a tug-of-war match between Lambeau and Sean, one saying things differently than the other; as one could see, Will sides more with Sean and wants to lead his own life, not let Lambeau lead it for him.

Overall, Good Will Hunting is great, and it is one of my personal favorites. I believe that this film deserves every bit of recognition and popularity that it got including winning an Oscar for best writing/ screenplay and was nominated for best picture, best director, and best music. I for one think that it should have won best picture, director, and screenplay because I believe that it still is one of the best movies from that time. I have talked about some examples of the great editing and camerawork that was done in this film along with the lighting, the point-of-view of some of the main characters and how they contribute to the film, and what I believe to be the main point/ moral of the film. Gus Van Sant repeatedly uses color to represent different moods and settings going from a warm amber to a cool or bleak blue. He also repeatedly uses music in the same way, to represent the different moods of each of the characters and different scenes surrounding that mood, most being uplifting and pleasant. Good Will Hunting is a prime example of just how great of a director Gus Van Sant can be and there are many more examples shown is this film that prove that beyond what I have discussed.

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An Analysis of Good Will Hunting, a Drama by Gus Van Sant. (2018, November 05). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from
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