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Will Hunting’s Psychological Catharsis in Good Will Hunting

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Gus van Sant’s 1997 film Good Will Hunting tells the story of a conflicted college aged kid from the rough neighborhood of South Boston with a troubled past, that also happens to be a closet prodigy in the realms of mathematics who picks up a job at M.I.T as a janitor where his savant is noticed by a professor, while simultaneously struggling to escape from a wall of internal repressed emotions that constrain this protagonist from breaking free from a multitude of boundaries in his life hindering him from progression, not breached until he meets an equal in a psychology teacher. Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is praised by his peers for being “The Smart One” in his group of delinquents and is given the opportunity of a lifetime from a professor which he doesn’t take very seriously due to preconceived notions, to work alongside MIT mathematicians trying to solve advanced combinatory math equations and receiving a get out jail free card at the same time after he committed assault. Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard) a prestigious mathematician realizes Will is the anonymous person who solved an age-old mathematics equation with ease which stumped all other predecessors on a chalkboard in the hallway of M.I.T while catching Will answering more equations while he was on janitor duty prior to being convicted and offers Will this agreement after attending Wills court appearance. The agreement has a second condition which will is hesitant to agree to that also forces Will to see a therapist named Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) who is the professor Lambeau’s old college roommate. Will is hesitant a lot in this film from, denying high-level job offers, to ending a shot at love prematurely with his first serious girlfriend Skylar (Minnie Rider), and the various defense mechanisms Will flexes throughout his therapist sessions with Sean that eventually crumble in one of his last pivotal session with Sean. This final session is the defining scene in which Sean has finally pinpointed all the defensive layers Will has fortified leading to an emotional Catharsis of realization rooted from Wills abuse filled childhood that lead Will to never step out of his comfort zone through life. The directors composition of various psychological references that make consistent correlations to each other throughout this film, the heartfelt acting, and the execution of visual cues highlighted by alternating editing technique characterize the vital roles in adequately conveying Will Hunting’s climatic metamorphosis from his archetype of rationalizing every decision out of his comfort zone, to Will taking a shot at love by making the rash last second decision of driving to across the country to California in hopes of reuniting with his love Skylar represent the overall ideological perspective Will is about to adopt as his new philosophical outlook on life.

The scene starts off in a commotion in Sean’s Office displaying Professor Lambeau standing across from Sean making an arrogant claim directed at Sean, implying that Sean is trying to undermine Lambeau’s goal of using Will to make leaps in mathematics since Sean won’t write off Will as a person who is deemed psychologically coherent enough to fit into the norms of society without more consistent therapy. Professor Lambeau implies that his reputation is at stake based on his manipulation of the situation, while Sean cares more about the psychological well- being of Will making an argument that Lambeau pushing Will to hard in a direction of a projected fulfillment that is not based on Wills happiness but Lambeau’s, could lead Will to a negative regressive stage. Lambeau in contrast calls Wills friends all gorillas and think if he quits his path that he has set for Will he will end up in jail. Sean, who grew up in South Boston like Will, has a retort to Lambeau who is more privileged, which is purely based around the idea of loyalty attached to his hardened South Boston group of friends who would fight till the end for each other. Since Will only understands this form of loyalty since he was an orphan growing up who was abused by his foster parents who were supposed to be the people who loved him, but instead abused him caused Wills built up defense mechanism of pushing people away before they got a chance to hurt him by getting to close. While both characters realize the volatility of the fragile psychological framework that Wills mind is in, they both have completely different perspectives on the issue of the right direction for Will to go in from this point in the film based on how the light of life has hit them from different angles in a metaphorical sense and how the shadows casted by their decisions when they were younger reflect on their current standing in life made through their life paths they have chosen in their time of existence. At this point Will arrives to Sean’s office for his therapy appointment onlooking through a blurred window remaining unnoticed while listening in on the conversation as Professor Lambeau starts taking jabs at Sean by inciting that he’s making Will think its ok to be a failure just like Sean was because Sean chose a life with his wife who had passed recently, as opposed to Professor Lambeau who’s sole purpose in his life was getting a prestigious medal. Sean declares he’s not a failure and he hates the thought of professor Lambeau making Will ever feel this way. As the argument between the two becomes more heated it reaches a pinnacle as Professor Lambeau go’s on about how Will needs to be pushed like he pushed himself and Sean declares “He’s not you!” at this point Will appears in the door way to Lambeau’s surprise when Will announces he could comeback later leading to an awkward situation where Lambeau declares he was just on his way out as he grabs his coat.

After Will hears a segment of this confrontation between the two men about his psychological diagnosis of being abandoned Will attempts to turn the therapy session on Sean about the troubled relationship he has with Lambeaugh by taking the role as the shrink in a joking manner until he notices a file on Sean’s desk that catches his eye leading him to question its significance. Sean notifies Will that it’s his personal file that he needs to send back to the judge for the evaluation of his psychological diagnosis. Will then hypothesizes his self-diagnosis of attachment disorder announcing it to Sean and has interest if Sean had experienced anything like Wills owns past indicated by the photos of the brutal beatings Will experienced in his file in relation to Sean’s 20 years of psychological practice and in personal experience. Sean then reveals he was beaten by his drunken father growing up which leads to the two lonely characters trading stories of preferred forms of abuse which starts to make Sean more relatable to Will. At this point Will tells Sean that his diagnosis go’s perfectly along with the reason of why he broke off things with his girlfriend Skylar for no good reason except for the demons that haunted him which Sean didn’t know. Sean ask Will if he wanted to talk about it which in turn Will quickly shuts down the idea. Sean then looks at Wills files and communicates to him that all the things associated to his file couldn’t be blamed on him in one powerful statement of “it’s not your fault.” Will attempts to escape the situation acknowledging this notion saying “I know” in a manner to appease Sean’s diagnosis but so Will could also escape the emotional turmoil that came with this touchy subject, but like a broken record Sean repeats this phrase recognizing how Will approaches various situations defensively after many sessions of therapy. Eventually Will responds in a violent manner, but Sean expected this outburst over strengthening him repeating the phrase of “Its not your fault” until Will burst out into tears. Sean puts out his arms to hug Will and Will returns the action as he is cradled in Sean’s arms as if Will is his son. Will then belches out a cry of remorse as he says” I’m sorry!” with tears drenching his face before the scene cuts. This moment rights here is the defining moment in the film that shows for the first time in the whole film an instance where Will lets somebody in and loses his egotistical tough guy act. Wills preconceived notions of the world he had assimilated over time as fact in his head have been shattered which change the way the protagonist Will approaches his life in future events. The rest of the film supports this notion as Will has a final session with Sean where he’s made progress in his pursuing some jobs that interested him, his close group of friends scraping money together for him to get his first car, and his last note addressed to Sean noting to him to apologize Professor Lambeau about the job he had lined up for Will because he made the decision to “go see about a girl” which is a line Will stole from Sean in an early scene from a therapy session of the film where Sean talks about the moment he made a decision that implied that he knew that he found the one he truly loved in his wife as opposed to turning down tickets to a super historic red sox game with his friends at the time. The drive to California across the country to make things right with Skylar after Will had regressed into a safe zone by cutting things off with Skyler is meant to translate into a psychological victory of the protagonist overcoming his fears at the end of the movie as the viewer is meant to imagine a happily ever after ending when Will surprises Skyler in California.

The acting of Robin Williams and Stellan Skarsgard during the depicted argument between Sean and Professor Lambeau over the fragile nature of Will was just as important as the role of Robin Williams and Matt Damon when Will finally knocks down his walls. The complex varying outlooks Sean and Lambeaugh have on this boy are both reflections of younger versions of themselves that they see In Will. The grandiose manifestation of perceived outcomes of how Wills future ought to be regarding this perceived notion can be seen passionately displayed as the two actors are at each other’s throats yelling back and forth in frustration. The passionate debate between the two old colleagues which Will is able to view through the window hidden with an unbiased standpoint shows Sean has Wills best interest as opposed to the hubris displayed by Professor Lambeau who seems sought out to manipulate Will in the name of having his name attached to a mathematical prophecy compared to the likes of Einstein. The steadily rising emotion evicted by these two men set up for Matt Damon to express a side of Will he hadn’t yet shown the audience through almost the entirety of the film. The emotional display by Robin Williams of how much his character cares for Wills basic right to live his life by his own accord makes him vulnerable to Will which makes it easier for Will to mirror this emotion as the scene transgresses into how the two communicate with each other about their similar misfortunate upbringings until the pivotal turning point.

The similarities that the two boy geniuses who popped out of the unconventional neighborhood of South Boston had in relation to them both being abused was really amplified in this scene by not only acting but also by using editing techniques to present an abstract visual representation of a flashback as perceived from a child’s point of view of the imminently approaching decisive moment of an unescapable beating by a physically abusive parental figure. The way the director Gus Van Sant does this is by showing this obscure parental figure slowly ascending a flight of stairs representing Wills multiple abusive foster father figures and Sean’s Alcoholic dad who took out daily beatings on his whole family. The closer this male figure gets to the child the louder the sound of footsteps get decisively done in editing while being juxtaposed in relation to another editing decision via a visual cue when the figure is almost all the way to the top the stairs transforming the child’s view into an eerie horror movie like kaleidoscope vision of the same figure. This makes me think of how the child versions of these two characters vision would be altered as they were being swung on into an unconscious perception of their realities until they blacked out. The coloring of the lighting in this theme is cold and seems to be a common theme through out the film made intentionally by the director to show times of sadness while in contrast scenes with more warm lighting have positive connotations that can be attributed such as Will actually being himself cracking up at a joke in Sean’s office, good times he has spent with Skylar, or happily having a beer with his buddies in some college bar.

The emotional rollercoaster of a scene in Sean’s office that depicts Wills transformation in Good Will Hunting from being an egotistical troubled youth with no direction due to fear to an upstanding young man with a head on his shoulders who has a serious approach on the direction he is going in life is perfectly communicated by the directors creative take on the compositional arrangement of the psychological correlations among various scenes that were tied together so precisely, the heartfelt acting to support these compositions, and the just right amount of editing techniques to communicate with an audience we leaving them informed as to how Will’s life will progress even though the ending of the movie is open for interpretation. Good Will Hunting is a film about an orphan finally entering the realm of adulthood trying to find his place in the world after a rough start and this iconic scene really shows his transgression in ideology that reflects on his circumstances from self-hate to self-love that projects on his new venture into the void of young love with no regrets.

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Will Hunting’s Psychological Catharsis In Good Will Hunting. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 25, 2022, from
“Will Hunting’s Psychological Catharsis In Good Will Hunting.” GradesFixer, 06 Aug. 2021,
Will Hunting’s Psychological Catharsis In Good Will Hunting. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 25 Jan. 2022].
Will Hunting’s Psychological Catharsis In Good Will Hunting [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Aug 06 [cited 2022 Jan 25]. Available from:
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