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Analysis of a Hero's Journey in Good Will Hunting

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Good Will Hunting, a film where the most brilliant mind at MIT belongs to the janitor. While facing obstacles and having help from others, including a psychology professor, Will Hunting realizes he is holding himself back from happiness. Throughout the film, there are different recognizable characters and storylines for every viewer, an idea that goes back to Carl Jung. He believed every human mind shares collective unconscious memory. This is the Archetype concept, which in Good Will Hunting is the hero’s journey, a classic story structure that follows twelve steps.

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Step one is the “ordinary world” which introduces the hero’s everyday life. This is where we find our genius hero, Will Hunting, living as a janitor who spends many days getting in trouble with the law. Will represents two common archetypes that align together; the hero archetype (the principal character that endures trials), and the orphan archetype (which establishes an emotional connection). Everyone’s familiar with orphaned heroes; they litter the pages and screens of beloved stories like Harry Potter and Oliver Twist. Comparing such stories with Will, their common hero archetype is illustrated by the process of overcoming obstacles to achieve goals. This is observed in Will overcoming the obstacles of his abusive past and a class system to achieve and become more than is expected.

The second step, “a call to adventure”, occurs when Will encounters the herald and stays out of prison. Will solves a complex mathematical problem on a university chalkboard while taking a break from mopping the floors. This prompts Professor Lambeau to seek him out and Professor Lambeau’s archetypal role is established as the herald. The herald archetype is a character who signifies that change is coming for the hero. This is indicated when Professor Lambeau finds Will being held for assaulting a police officer. He steps in and Will avoids jail provided he works with Lambeau and routinely sees a therapist.

The next step is ‘refusal of the call’. Will’s alright to work on math with Professor Lambeau, but he won’t attend therapy. It’s apparent he is refusing the guidelines as he uses his intelligence to deter five therapists. It seems no-one will work with him, until Sean.

Step four, ‘meeting the mentor figure’, who is typically older and possesses a more considerable breadth of knowledge than others. Mentors help heroes along their journeys, and they tend to teach heroes how to help themselves. This role in Good Will Hunting is filled by Sean Maguire, a sympathetic therapist helping Will steer through his psychological problems. Sean completely alters Will’s outlook on life.

The fifth step, ‘crossing the threshold’ is where the hero leaves their ordinary world and crosses into their adventure. This step occurs at a Harvard University bar when Will meets Skylar. After a great date with Skylar, Will never calls her back because he’s terrified. This introduces Will’s adventure as this causes him and Sean to have a meaningful discussion about Will being completely guarded. This is him crossing the threshold and discovering there is something he needs to change about himself.

Step six, ‘tests, allies, enemies’, is the time in which the hero explores their new world and faces trials. In Harry Potter, this is when Harry befriends Ron and Hermione and becomes enemies with Draco. However, in Good Will Hunting step six isn’t as defined as in Harry Potter, as it blurs with step seven, ‘approach to the inmost cave.’ An enemy is discovered when Lambeau gets impatient with the progress made by Will and Sean and shows he only cares about Will’s math skills, not his happiness. After this conflict, an ally is clearly defined, and you see Will finally approaching his ‘inmost cave’ or his goal. This is when Chuckie states while talking to Will “It’d be an insult to us if you’re still here in 20 years”. This conversation is the first time someones honest with Will and tells him that there’s more out there than the life he’s living. This presents Chuckie as the ally archetype, a character that assists the hero on their journey while providing something the hero lacks. Common examples include knowledge or distractions, but Chuckie provides courage and advice to Will. Chuckie is by Will’s side through all his challenges and drives him where he needs to go. He is the person that spurs Will on to live a broader life and that makes him a true ally.

Step’s eight is ‘the ordeal’, which is a painful experience that a character encounters. A famous example is in The Lion King; Simba feels guilty when his father dies. Will’s ordeal is where he gives in to the fears lurking in his mind and tells Skylar that he doesn’t love her. Step nine, ‘the reward’, happens just after when Sean mentions Will’s history of abuse and tells him, “It’s not your fault”. These words cause Will to cry as his abuse hasn’t previously been talked about directly. As this moment occurs, there’s a shift in Will, and he has a monumental mental breakthrough.

After this breakthrough Will’s on the tenth step, ‘the road back’. He starts progressing with his life once again, going to therapy and trying to get his life back on track.

This brings us to the last two steps of the journey ‘resurrection’ and ‘return with the elixir.’ The resurrection is when the hero is shown to have fundamentally changed, and this is seen when Will becomes a new more courageous person, packs up his bags, and leaves the city. The concluding scene of the film is the twelfth step of the journey where the hero brings with them the object of their quest. In The Matrix, Neo brings forth the knowledge of truth and delivers a message, in Good Will Hunting Will drives off with his new mindset to be with Skylar.

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To conclude, a hero’s journey is a classic story structure that everyone recognizes, and Good Will Hunting accurately portrays the archetypes twelve steps. 

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Analysis Of A Hero’s Journey In Good Will Hunting. (2021, March 18). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 9, 2023, from
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