Oct 23, 2010

What Brando saw when he looked in the mirror

We just watched Good Will Hunting again and noticed how beautifully shot it was; and marvellously written, although for some reason these facts didn't stop me from dismantling the film a little in my memory. It's one of those movies that looks worse at a distance, because when you think about it, the Shakespeare-reading higher-math-solving street-genius Southie-savant Will Hunting is hokum, a dream figure concocted by two kids a little hot for themselves, the kind of thing Brando saw when he looked in the mirror, and the shrink played by Robin Williams the least professional shrink in the history of psychoanalysis. Which isn't to say that the long-view is the correct one. But while you are in it the whole thing plays like a dream; scene by scene Affleck and Damon write their little socks off*, the backchat between the boys is much filthier and funnier than you remember, and Van Sant's off-centre, blue collar compositions summon his usual muse — the ghost of River Phoenix, patron saint of wastrel youth. The movie feels so vivid with the concerns of talented kids on the threshold — about how to leave home without losing their authenticity, or live up to their potential without feeling guilty about who they're leaving behind.

* There's a fascinating blog post on the script's thematic similarities to The Town— which I noticed in my review — over at blogwillhunting.

'MacRay could be Affleck’s Chuckie left behind by Will in Good Will Hunting, and in places The Town plays like an unofficial sequel about Chuckie’s life story. In that movie Chuckie berates Will for not taking his chance, “Fuck you, you don’t owe it to yourself man, you owe it to me. Cuz tomorrow I’m gonna wake up and I’ll be 50, and I’ll be doin’ this shit. And that’s all right. That’s fine. But you’re sittin’ on a winnin’ lottery ticket. And you’re too much of a pussy to cash it in, and that’s bullshit. Cause I’d do fuckin’ anything to have what you got. So would any of these fuckin’ guys. It’d be an insult to us if you’re still here in 20 years. Hangin’ around here is a waste of your time.”In The Town, Affleck as the leader of a posse of bank robbers has a scene with Jeremy Renner, who plays his surrogate brother, which Affleck said was “heartbreaking in a different way and probably a more common way.”

It was “one guy saying, ‘I have to leave, I have to change, I have to do something different,’ and the other saying, ‘Stay with me, don’t leave me, don’t do that to me,’ and how hard it makes it to make that choice when you have your best friend, your brother … sitting there (saying): ‘I need you, don’t leave me.’”

Both scenes “spoke to that dynamic,” Affleck commented. “And in a larger sense they spoke to the importance of male friendships.”'


  1. All very well said... there's something about this film that really is greater than the sum of its parts. That's what I think, at least. (I run a blog about it -- blogwillhunting.com)

  2. Enjoyed the blog. Do you know who was responsible for what in the GWH script? How it divided up between the two of them?

  3. Hi Tom,

    Sorry not respond sooner -- I wanted to do some more research and poking around, but in the end I honestly don't know. There doesn't seem to be a lot of information out there as to what their writing process involved -- which has led to a lot of speculation that they didn't actually "really" write the screenplay at all. I tend to not believe these ghostwriter conspiracy theories.

    There's a post on Blog Will Hunting that goes into the "who really wrote Good Will Hunting" question, if you are interested. Check it out here: http://blogwillhunting.com/who-wrote-good-will-hunting

    What is established is that the story came out of a writing assignment Matt Damon turned in at Harvard, and there were many, many revisions between that and the final product. (At one point it was more of a thriller.) The duo received a lot of feedback from the studio and various readers (including William Goldman), and a lot of wonderful moments of the film were improvised.

  4. Actually, I just came across something in the introduction (by Van Sant) to the printed edition of the Good Will Hunting screenplay. Apparently they worked out a lot of their stories on cross-country road trips from New York to Hollywood and in hotels on location as actors. Generally Matt dictated and Ben typed, but when in the car, Ben always drove, while Matt jotted stuff down in a notebook.