(Credit: Nicolas Genin)

Netflix Flashback: Looking back at Good Will Hunting

“You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”

As Netflix is continuously piling its figurative shelves with reams of original projects, it’s worth reminding ourselves that they started out by sharing some of the greatest Hollywood titles ever made. So, with Netflix Flashback, we’re looking back at some of the platform’s classic films and reminding ourselves just how great they are — next up Gus Van Sant’s 1997 film Good Will Hunting that won big at the 70th Academy Awards due to the brilliant script as well as the stellar performances from the ensemble cast. 

Starring Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver and Stellan Skarsgard among others in lead roles, the film recounts the saga of a misunderstood genius as he battles with the daunting challenges in his personal life. Besides Affleck and Damon winning an Oscar for original screenplay, the veteran actor Robin Williams left the crew in splits with his ad-libs, winning an Oscar for his supporting role. 

The film revolves around the life of a janitor at MIT named Will Hunting who has an innate talent in mathematics and catches the eye of a mathematics professor named Gerald Lambeau when he manages to solve an extremely difficult problem. Lambeau beseeches his friend Sean Maguire, a psychotherapist, to take Will under his wing and help him fight his inner demons. These sessions with Sean helps Will gain a perspective about his meandering ways, his relationship with his friends and peers as well as the girl he likes.

The film is a saga of Will’s self-destructive behaviour and anger towards his own condition that makes him reject all the success that lies in his path. A mathematical genius, Will is a prodigy who is not willing to embrace his talent. This emanates from his deep-seated insecurities and trauma that lie rooted in childhood abuse. His troubled self needs healing which presents itself in the form of the psychotherapist Sean Maguire but Will constantly rejects it.

The film is pertinent as it deals with the case of the subjugated working-class environment where talent is often squashed by circumstance. Will’s journey from the grubby Boston suburbs to the prestigious halls of MIT is – despite being revolutionary – somewhat acceptable to him as he is happy being just the janitor. Will’s self-destructive behaviour is often annoying but one must never lose sight of what prompted him to behave this way. He torments Williams’ character whose personal struggles are as great as Will’s. Together, they find a wobbly rhythm and somehow remain afloat. 

The film does not contain a revolutionary idea. It delves into the psychological intricacies of being human and presents how ugly yet beautiful our minds can be, being somewhat a slice-of-life film. Damon must be appreciated for rendering a sense of delicate sensitivity to the character of Will whose purpose of existence and ability to love and be loved is clouded by the amorphous haze of trauma, neglect and abuse. The troubled and conflicted world of Will Hunting finds an outlet in this brilliantly made film that deserves a watch. 

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