The film, “Good Will Hunting,” produced in 1997 by Lawrence Bender and directed by Gus Van Sant, tackles problems of the self and the society. It stars Matt Damon as Will Hunting, Robin Williams as Sean McGuire, Ben Affleck as Chuckie (Will’s bestfriend), and Stellan Skarsgard as Prof. Gerry Lambeau. The lead character is Will Hunting, a young genius who fails to realise his talent until it is discovered by the award-winning mathematician, Prof. Lambeau. Robin Williams plays as a psychologist and professor, who agrees to counsel Will to let the boy find his destiny. Some elements of the film appear to be too fictional.
For example, the ability of Will to prove theorems without even obtaining formal education, and the offers he gets from government agencies such as the NSA. Despite these, it importantly hints on the problems the youth are encountering, particularly lack of proper education that could help them find a decent employment. In addition, the film also hints on the inability of Will and his friends to alleviate their poverty, and the ineffectiveness of the government to provide support for a comfortable life. As mentioned, one of the issues depicted is finding a decent employment.
In the article, “The Self,” the author (Book Title pp. 87-220), gives a psychological view of the problem of unemployment as regards its effects on the individual and the implications it has on the society. According to the author, the problem of unemployment has both positive and negative impacts on the psychological aspect of the person. On the positive side, it allows the person some time to be conscious about oneself (188). However, prolonged unemployment could lead one to develop ‘dread and anxiety’ as established in the film. Although the characters in the film are employed, their job in the construction is not permanent.
Therefore, they reflect both positive and negative effects of unemployment. In particular, with Chuckie we see the positive effect of not having a good job as he pronounces longing to find a better life and flee away from his neighbourhood. In one scene he summons Will to head on to a different direction apart from where they are. On the one hand, he deciphers that he and his friends deserve a better life. On the other, he admits that he does not have the capability to rise from their class. This is why he pushes Will to take a step to improve the latter’s life.
In contrast, Will does not care about his present situation. His past memories, full of conflict and pains as a battered child, influence him to withdraw from the society. Thus, he does not recognise his own talents, or even if he does, he fails to think of a better future for himself. Unlike his friend, he is content to stay in his job as a school janitor, and to stay where he is until he retires. Although he has the power to change his fate, Will’s withdrawal from the society makes him fail to recognise what Cooley mentions in his article, “Looking-Glass Self” (231).
Cooley claims that a person has a looking-glass self that gives a social reference of how one appears in the society. It has three principal elements, such as the imagined appearance to others, the imagined judgment from others, and the imagined effect of the appearance. Applying this to the characters in the film, we may say that Will lacks these elements. He does not mind what people may say about him. That is why he is content about his status, and does not wish to get better employment. However, the people in his life affect him emotionally, thus making him realise that he too must undergo change.
According to Author, initiatives from the outside should be present to help someone transcend unemployment (211). In Will’s case, he needs these initiatives to seek for a better employment. The first initiative is the ‘microsocial sphere’, which is constituted by the person’s motive to work for a purpose. Will does not do things for a purpose. He just does them to merely survive. He solves math problems anonymously, and does not seek recognition for them. He is content to labour just to be able to hang out with friends and remain in their company. Under the care of Prof.
Lambeau, he willingly solves equations in lieu of the basic necessities in life. Considering Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Will does not strive for self-realisation. He is narrowed down to fulfilling his basic and emotional needs. In other words, Will lacks direction. He is not aware of his talent, or even if he is, he does not use his abilities to establish a better life. Another initiative that Cooley suggests is the ‘intermediate community sphere’, which is made up of the people around the person. The community where the person belongs, such as the church, neighbourhood, groups, etc. ake up this sphere.
In Will’s case, his friends, Prof. Sean, Prof. Lambeau and Skylark (his girlfriend) are part of this sphere. Chuckie makes him realise that he has to lead a different life apart from them because unlike them, Will has exceptional talent. In the same way, the counsellor, Prof. Sean, and the mathematician Prof. Lambeau share in boosting Will’s morale The trust they put in what Will can do makes him aware of his talents. Also, his girlfriend, Skylark contributes to Will’s belief in himself, and pushes him to accept the challenge of exploring other possibilities in another place.
The third initiative is the ‘macrosocial institutional sphere’ (218). This is the initiative provided by government agencies to unemployed citizens. Services could include offering employment opportunities, counselling, and communication services. In Will’s case, some government agencies like the NSA offers him employment upon discovering his talent through Prof. Lambeau. However, as we can see in the film, only those who have exceptional talent like Will are given a good chance to obtain employment. His friends who lack education remain doomed in the marginalised society.
Like his friends, Will experiences the same until the MIT professor finds out about his genius. Once, he too exists nameless in the unsupportive sphere. Importantly, the film provides a glance at the way many of our youth struggle for a comfortable life. This happens due to poverty, lack of education, and inadequate resources made available by the society. Altogether, these make life unbearable. Lacking in guidance, the youth tend to make their situation worse by committing crimes. In the film, Will is sent to jail when he tries to assault a police officer. Luckily, Prof.
Lambeau takes interest in his talent and helps him get out of jail. From this, we can see that those who have special talents like Will are the ones who more privileged. But what about average people like his friends? For others who do not have special talents like Will, limited resources are found in the intermediate community and macrosocial institutional spheres. In particular, a person who does not undergo schooling has limited intermediate community sphere. The person has limited circle of friends, has no access to academic institutions or libraries, and do not frequent government agencies and organisations to seek for help.
In the film, we see that in the beginning Will has only his friends to turn to. He is limited to going to bars, restaurants, and their neighbourhood. However, his social sphere widens as the professor admits him to their society. He then undergoes a big transition through the help of Sean, his counsellor, who guides him to learn more about himself, and to make better decisions in life. The encounter between Will and Sean demonstrates what Goffman elucidates in his article titled, ‘Presentation of Self to Others’ (234). This article describes aspects of a personal encounter.
According to Goffman, during encounter, a person seeks to acquire information about the other. During their first meeting, it is expected of Sean to obtain information he needs before counselling Will. However, there is a reverse. Unexpectedly, Will is able to obtain information about his counsellor, and even borders on Sean’s soft spot. When Sean asks him questions about himself, Will keeps on changing the topic, and throws questions at Sean. Looking at a painting Sean made, Will formulates a view of Sean’s past, particularly with regard to the latter’s wife.
Through this, he is able to draw out the counsellor’s weakness, something that communication specialists would consider too abrupt. In a normal encounter, Goffman cites that people try to please each other or leave a positive impression. In Sean’s case, he does not give an effort to impress Will. Rather, he bares out his real self. Normally, during the first encounter, a counsellor would try to impress the client by showing signs of authority. It is not difficult to imagine a counsellor asking questions to the client, sitting face to face in front of an office table, and writing some notes that could serve as reference.
However, Sean does not believe in this style. What he holds important is the trust and respect he gives his clients and vice versa. He is not afraid to bear out his real self even though he is in front of a client. As mentioned above, the reverse happens. Will wins during the first encounter by making Sean realise how difficult it would be to handle him, and possibly impressing the other with his wit, when Will is able to decipher Sean’s brokenheartedness. But Will’s unwillingness to disclose information about himself does not dishearten Sean.
Instead, it makes him more determined to accept the challenge of handling Will. Will is generally aloof especially to those who would like to offer him help. He projects an image that he is strong and independent. To Skylark, he tries to give a good impression that he is happy, that he comes from a big happy family of thirteen brothers. As Goffman explains, he acts in ‘a thoroughly calculating manner’ (237), trying to manipulate the situation in order to hide his dark past. Goffman also claims that during encounters, people try to ‘control the conduct of others, especially their responsive treatment of him’ (236).
In their first counselling session, Will tries to project himself with pride. At the start he jolts saying, ‘let the healing begin’, to inform Sean that he is not ignorant about the other’s motif, thus discourage him. He indirectly tells Sean that he is not sick like other clients, and so he does not need counselling. Will projects unwanted behaviours in his encounters with counsellors as well as with employers. As Goffman explains, an individual projects behaviours in order to obtain a specific response. By being rude and uncooperative, Will projects unwillingness towards being helped psychologically or being employed.
He wants others to think that he does not need them, that he can stand on his own given his talent and skills. This denial of emotional and psychological needs could be rooted out to Will’s mistrust of people, which springs from his childhood. As a battered child, Will fails to develop mutual trust with others. He projects this attitude towards the people around him, such as his girlfriend, Sean, and Lambeau, and others. He does not want them to know about his past because doing so might result in a bad impression or feelings of pity towards him.
Will’s inability to trust is possibly a result of his trauma as a child. In one scene, Will imagines his stepfather hurting him while he refuses to cry. This attitude shows how strong-willed he is, imagining that his tears would only let the stepfather think that he is capable of feeling hurt. As he grows up, he carries with him this fortitude and the will to be strong even in the midst of chaos. However, his unwillingness to divulge his real self leads others to be eager to discover more about him, thus ‘setting a kind of information game’(239).
Specifically, when he tells Skylark that he has many brothers living in the South, the girl begins to doubt this because he always changes the topic when she asks him to visit them. As Goffman claims, ‘the [audience] is likely to have advantage over the actor’ (239) because the audience can view different aspects of the situation or in technical sense, the audience has a bird’s eyeview of the stage. Compared to Will, Sean is spontaneous with his expressions and projection to others. He does not show apprehension to speak his innermost thoughts to Lambeau, though he considers the other his rival or vice versa.
He is always ready to give his trust, and a part of himself in each encounter he makes. In his class, he emphasises the importance of trust between the client and the counsellor, and this is what he observes in his counselling sessions with Will. Sean’s willingness to divulge himself motivates Will to do the same. He uses his own experiences to draw out commonality with Will’s. Through this, he later wins the young man’s trust. Instead of straightforward questions one normally asks a client, such as how one perceives life, or how things are going, Sean uses his own experiences to allow Will to relate to them.
Particularly, we see how his weakness turns out to be his strength later on. In fact, there is another reverse happening at the end because Will, who pretends to be strong recognises his weakness through Sean’s demonstration of his. In the end, Will confesses his real feelings—his fears and defeats—because he knows he can trust Sean. The friendship between them provides a good result in that Will is able to discern the real meaning of trust and love. Furthermore, his attachment to Sean pushes him to create a goal. The strategy that Sean employs reveals the importance of trust in an encounter and later on in a relationship between friends.
He serves as the driving force to make Will view life at a different perspective, that is, with trust and confidence that in every pain we bear, there is always a lesson to learn, and a hope to pursue. The characters in the film, especially Will and Sean are contrasted to imply conclusions about the self and in general, the society. On the first aspect, they serve to imply the thought that gestures and words can be deceiving. It gives us a lesson that in every encounter we have, we should always search for what is within, and not be blinded by what the person merely projects.
Also, the film importantly shows us a view of the society, especially the youth. More than giving a glance at the economic status of the marginalised youth in today’s society, the film presents the emotional needs of the youth, and the support they need from the society, such as guidance, counselling, and sympathy. Many of our youth today bear the same pains that Will suffers from. If the government or private agencies could only help them, many of them will be highly productive members of the society.