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Analysis of Developmental Theories Utilized in The Movie Good Will Hunting

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The movie “Good Will Hunting” is based on Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a twenty-year-old self-taught genius, who has a job as a janitor at MIT. Will comes from a low-class neighborhood in South Boston, living in a bad house with violence and crime all around. Professor Lambeau put a math theorem question on the chalkboard for his students to solve, however, when the problem is solved, Lambeau sets out to find this mystery person. He soon finds out that Will was this person. The next day, Will and his buddies, Chuckie, Billy, and Morgan, get into some trouble fighting some guys and Will gets arrested and has a court date. During this arraignment, it is announced that Will has quite the rap sheet including multiple accounts of assault, theft, resisting, and much more as well as learning he had been through multiple foster homes growing up, some with physical abuse. Lambeau meets with Will, explaining he will be set free under two conditions: 1. Work on advanced mathematics with Lambeau and 2. Meet with a therapist, Sean Maguire, who has a similar background to will. You find out through these meetings that Will has an attachment disorder as well as a fear of abandonment and uses many defense mechanisms.. Will begins seeing Skylar more often, getting more confident in himself and the relationship, but when Skylar asks him to go to California with him, he immediately pushes her away and tells her he doesn’t love her-which Maguire sees as a defense mechanism for Will to protect himself. After a breakthrough in one of the sessions, Will begins to turn his life around by getting a job at McNeil, however, he realizes he wants to go after Skylar in California and leaves South Boston for good.

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There were multiple developmental theories utilized throughout the movie Good Will Hunting. One of the developmental theories that are used for Will Hunting in the movie is Freud’s Ego Defense Mechanisms. This theory means protecting oneself from anxiety, guilt, or fear by using one or more defense mechanisms. Will uses the mechanism of “Displacement”. Displacement is the redirection of an impulse (usually aggression) onto a powerless substitute target. During the film, it is discovered that Will is an orphan who went through physical abuse in some of the foster homes he was placed in. Knowing this background, the audience understands better why Will did some of the things he did. An example of Will using displacement in the movie is when he takes all of the aggression he was shown by some of his abusive foster parents as a child and is constantly attacking others with words or fighting.

Erikson’s Theory of Development can also be applied towards Will’s character throughout the movie starting with when he was a child with Stage 1: Trust vs Mistrust leading to Stage 6: Intimacy vs Isolation. Erikson explains the Trust vs Mistrust period as this “If a child does not experience trust, he or she may develop insecurity, worthlessness, and general mistrust to the world”. The first stage of Erikson’s theory can be applied because Will was abandoned by his parents when he was a baby and grew up an orphan moving around to different foster homes. He did not get the trust from his parents that he needed to at that young of an age which caused him to grow up with mistrust to the world and people around him. In the movie, Maguire has a monologue that says, “Why is he hiding, why does he not trust anybody? Because he was abandoned by the people who were supposed to love him the most. He pushes people away before they have a chance to leave him. It is a defense mechanism”. Erikson’s Intimacy vs Isolation period can be described as “Young adults seek deep intimacy and satisfying relationships, but if unsuccessful, isolation may occur”. This stage can be applied to Will because he met a girl named Skylar and became very intimate with her in a short period of time, however, she was leaving to go to California from Boston. Skylar asked Will to move with her, but Will using his defense mechanism of displacement begins yelling at her, saying he does not love her and pushes her away and begins to isolate himself from her.

Another main character that can be applied to using Freud’s Ego Defense Mechanisms is Sean Maguire, Will’s therapist. Sean lost his wife of 18 years and had not dated anyone since she passed. During one of their sessions, Will brings up his wife and says, “Maybe you married the wrong women”, which triggers the anger in Sean about losing his wife. He replies saying, “If you ever disrespect my wife again, I will end you. You got that chief?”. Maguire uses the same mechanism as Will, displacement. He took his anger of losing his wife and Will disrespecting their marriage out on Will by pushing him against a wall and threatening him. There are many other influences throughout the movie that impact the main character, Will Hunting. One example of an influence from society is Will’s lack of a college degree. Erikson’s Theory of Development can be applied to this feeling by using Stage 4: Industry vs Inferiority. This stage is a social stage, meaning if we experience unresolved feelings of inadequacy and inferiority among our peers, we can have serious problems in terms of competence and self-esteem. This stage is shown in a scene at a bar with a conversation between Will and a guy named Clark. It is let out that even though Will is very smart, he does not have a college degree. Clark then proceeds to talk about how he can’t wait to see Will in a few years serving food to his family at a fast-food restaurant. Clark is seen as the society at this point. He implied that just because Will did not or was not going to have a college degree that he would not go anywhere in life.

Will grew up in South Boston, or Southy as they called it in the movie. As he grew up, he was passed around many different foster homes, but now lives in a worn-down house, in a bad, low-class neighborhood with lots of violence and crime. All of this influences Will because he grew up thinking he was not good enough and was not going to go anywhere in life, that he was going to live in Southy for the rest of his life with his group of friends. This has to do with Stage 4 of Erikson’s Theory of Development as well. Growing up the way Will did, no strong family support, low-class neighborhood/SES, and not much trust for the world all go along with the Inferiority part of Stage 4. Overall, the film Good Will Hunting showed many of the developmental theories we have learned in class throughout the semester. I really liked how Matt Damon and Robin Williams portray the relationship between Will and Sean. They had a lot of passion and put everything they could into bringing those roles to life. Being able to apply what I have learned this semester has been really interesting. I would have never looked at this movie the way I do now without the knowledge I have about Freud and Erikson’s theories. This movie is one of my favorites. It has been very enjoyable relating this movie back to the developmental theories and gaining a whole new perspective on the background of Will and how it affected his life growing up.

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One parallel I have personally with the movie is my boyfriend. He grew up in a low-class neighborhood, not great parents growing up and eventually he and his brothers were put in foster care for a year and adopted by his aunt and uncle. He was very slow to trust his aunt and uncle after first moving in with them as he and his brothers had only depended on themselves for so long. When my boyfriend and I started talking, he was closed off and not great at communicating and expressing his feelings, but eventually knew he could trust me and he began opening up. After we began dating, he felt as though he could trust me enough to tell me about his childhood and what he had gone through and had to do to get to the point in his life that he was at. It was a very big step for him as he had not shared his story with many people at that point. This relates to Will because Will was an orphan and grew up only depending on himself as he felt as though he could not trust anyone else. But he began meeting with Sean Maguire and let himself open up to the girl, Skylar, and his whole life changed when he accepted what he went through and began to turn his life around.

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Analysis Of Developmental Theories Utilized In The Movie Good Will Hunting. (2021, May 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 10, 2023, from
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