Why Good Will Hunting is a bad movie

So there is this movie that I watched…approximately three times, since the reruns are very frequent and there are a lot of ongoing hype regarding this movie. The first time I saw it I hated it. The second time was today, during an ERP experiment that I participated. At the end of that experiment (thankfully I didn’t finish watching the entire movie) I was shaking with anger. I really can’t understand how anyone could like this movie. There are people who connects with the character because they also had mental problems in the past and had to go through constant therapy. But otherwise, the movie is really for simple-minded people who wants to live life in blissful and smug ignorance about how the world really is, especially regarding geniuses.

Why I hate it the first time.

Coming from China, where the society emphasizes much on effort and hard-working. The movie seems to say that someone who doesn’t need to work hard at a subject, who just does it like some sort of side-hobby, can solve complex mathematical proofs like kids playing board games. While it’s true that there are geniuses who did not have formal training in the subject (and by formal they just mean no consistent schooling) and can understand the subject better than most people, there is not a genius who just do things on the side like a hobby and still beats people who devote their lives into the subject. Even Ramanujan, who was mentioned in this movie, worked his ass off in mathematics, he didn’t just go day job, night partying, and then back and boom, complex problems solved. These people devote their lives in the subject, doesn’t matter if they had consistent schooling or not. THAT’s what made the difference. So this movie, like many American movies, focus very much on talent and not on effort. Which makes it not believable and very much demeans geniuses and lesser people alike.

Why I hate it the second time.

But I know I know, that’s not the main point of this movie. So the second time I ignored that and focused on other aspects. And I found more things that I hated. The second time revealed to me that Good Will Hunting is truly a movie written by amateurs. And it was: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck WERE amateurs straight out of college, and they wrote an amateur script. I would forgive them if they try to call it a family movie for simpler-minded children. But no, they shamelessly sell it as an adult movie. So I’m just going to list all the problems with this movie.

1. cliche cliche cliche: smart person…hmmm… how can I put some flaw into him? make him an asshole? Nah too easy…oh I know! I’m gonna say that he was abused and then orphaned!!! Or alternatively: I want to talk about this boy who was abused as a child… but that’s too boring…Oh I KNOW! I’m going to make him a genius!! that’s going to appeal to the audience! Who doesn’t like geniuses? Why not make him into a vampire who sparkles in the sunlight like diamonds while you are at it? You know teenage girls are gonna suck that shit up. BIG TIME.

2. shallow view of art, science, mathematics and literature: I was fuming when Robin Williams got through to Matt Damon by telling him that all the knowledge in his head doesn’t mean anything until he “experienced them in life.” You’ve gotta be kidding me right? I’m reminded at all the philosopher idiots who tell me that science cannot tell me what a rock is, that is something that can only be experienced. Science can only tell you what rocks are made of, how big it is, how heavy it is etc… but science cannot tell you what a rock IS. Only people who cannot understand science, or do not understand the scientific ways of thinking will claim such idiotic things (more on this subject see my post “I hate debating ignorant philosophers on science”). Geniuses are called geniuses for a reason–they can see things that the average people cannot, and more importantly, they see things DEEPER than most people. They find better solutions to problems. The best example is Darwin (and Wallace but mostly Darwin) who came up with the theory of evolution through natural selection. The simple-minded people who use feelings to see nature see only how pretty nature is, and how well designed, ergo, there must be a designer. Darwin is the one who saw something much deeper and complex–that what is designed is not design at all, but an accumulation from step-wise trait changes in population selection. It’s like that atheist joke: a Christian, Muslim, Jew, and an atheist were condemned to death and went to the guillotine, when the ax came down it stopped before hitting each of the Christian, the Muslim, and the Jew’s necks. All three of them claimed that it is a miracle given by God. Only the atheist realized that the mechanics of the guillotine is faulty and proposed a solution to fix it. This is the difference from the shallow: go with what you feel and the deeper: “what it is all about and how do we go about explaining it as an universal truth.” Good Will Hunting did the opposite: it tries to say that going with your emotions is the better alternative than so-called “book knowledge.” It’s this kind of nonsense that makes people in this country so arrogant as to say: “what has science EVER done for the world?”

3. Poorly written characters in general.

I’ve already said how cliche the movie is. But just for the main character. I don’t know how many people know this, but even though many geniuses have mental problems, their mental problems is often because they feel alone in being misunderstood. They feel alone that no one can see what they see, understand what they understand. So this movie doesn’t even do justice in portraying geniuses with their problems and had to add something that normal people can encounter–abuses! Will doesn’t have any problems with people not understanding what he understands (in fact he’s ever so smug about it), and he expresses his anger in violence. In real life, most geniuses do the opposite, they often retract into depression. Many of them are suicidal, or their physical health deteriorates due to drugs or drinking (think Mozart, Beethoven, Alan Turing, Edgar Allen Poe etc). This movie seems to try to suggest that the next time you see a genius having problems, it must be something external, never mind the internal stuff. Don’t try to understand things that they understand but you don’t, go with the other “EMOTIONAL” things. That’s what’s gonna help them. Can you say condescending? It’s really no different from when Christians tell me that I criticize Christianity harshly because I must be an angry person, or sinful, or had an unhappy childhood etc etc. It’s when people who refuses to address any of your argument and side tracks. And you wonder why many geniuses are assholes?

Overall, Good Will Hunting is an overrated, amateur movie. It’s a movie for critics who know next to nothing about math, science or art who wants to feel good about watching a geniuses–something they can never be–having mundane problems. It’s a movie that tries to bring geniuses down to the ordinary people’s level, so the ordinary people can feel good about themselves in the fact that they are not geniuses. Reality doesn’t work like that people. Geniuses may not have a perfect life, but they light a beacon for us ordinary folks to come out of the darkness of our simple-mindedness, THAT’S what makes them special. But Good Will Hunting wants you to believe that their beacon is nothing but flashlight, and the darkness is where it is the safest.



17 thoughts on “Why Good Will Hunting is a bad movie

    • Ehhh don’t agree. That one is pretty overrated too. I’m a psychologist so it heavily fictionized schizophrenia as well as ooomphed up how great the wife was. The imitation game is one that finally did a descent job regarding a mathematician.

  1. Aside from the issues of having grown up in the foster system, I see no other purpose for “Good Will Hunting”.

    I mean the idea was that Williams/Skarsgard were suppose to save him from what?… a blue collar profession, where unlike many white collar types, he’s able to spend his adult years with his lifelong friends, originally from those terrible foster care days? In contrast, many white collar workers have few friends or mere acquaintances in the office. What an extended family community that is!

    Remember those mock interviews, offering him an exorbitant $70K/yr for his analytical skills. Does anyone not know that contractors, electricians, plumbers, esp unionized in Boston, earn $30-$50+/hour with benefits and overtime pay. Seriously, that’s easy more than $70K/yr.

    If these were hedge funds plunking down $500K or something of that sort, then ok, this could have been a story about ‘sudden’ wealth and what that all means but c’mon, a normal salary is a joke.

    And finally, if he stayed the academic route, BFD, he’s just another a-hole, now looking for tenure like Skarsgard with his inferiority complex of not being the next Issac Newton. All and all, I didn’t buy GWH’s premise and its execution. All and all, it’s good to know that kids in the foster system suffer but that’s not enough of a premise for this story.

  2. One more salient point against “Good Will Hunting”.

    Minnie Driver’s character was made out to be a near perfect, selfless Harvard co-ed. In general, Ivy League women form long term (read: not one night stands/flings) relationships with either educated and/or well off businessmen.

    The idea that Driver wouldn’t care at all for Damon’s background and/or lack of career ambition, would be a deal killer for the vast majority of Ivy educated women. I mean Priscilla Chan, yes, Mark Zuckerberg’s wife from Harvard, was originally concerned that Mark wasn’t motivated and some lazy guy until he’d proved himself to be a capable entrepreneur.

    Thus, in the real world, their relationship would have been a fit of passion for one semester in Cambridge MA, prior to her acceptance to Stanford Med.

  3. I agree with you about the approach to mental illness. The idea that there must be an obvious external problem is relatively annoying. It would have been better to explore the affect his intelligence/genius on the way he processes things. Although, I have to question your view that mental illness in geniuses must be from their isolation and that they are always unable to relate to those around them. Yes, they see more than the average person. Does that necessarily mean that they are unable to relate to or empathise with the average person? Is term genius solely defined as those who have a deeper understanding and therefore cannot empathise with other people?

    Also, I have a question about your idea that you can understand something without experiencing it. Did you mean that because he has the facts, he understands something? Are you sure you want to go down the path of “I understand something because I read about it”? I don’t mean to be rude but that is what you sound like you’re saying.

    I completely agree with your view that genius does come from working. Even if someone has a natural aptitude for something, they still have to engage in the activity extensively to learn and become a genius. Spending some of your time reading doesn’t quite cut it to get you to that level of ability.

    • “I have to question your view that mental illness in geniuses must be from their isolation and that they are always unable to relate to those around them. ”

      Where have I suggested that mental illness in geniuses MUST be from their isolation. Pretty sure I used “often” and that doesn’t even imply “most” as I’ve specified “many” Where did you get “must” and “necessarily” from reading what I wrote?

      ” your idea that you can understand something without experiencing it.”

      Depending on what you mean by “experiencing” but in the context of what the Robin Williams character implies, of course. That’s what most astronomers are: they do not directly experience something that for most part of human history they cannot experience, but they have understood it. Ancient Greeks have understood that the earth is round without directly seeing or experience the roundness of the earth. Mathematicians can understand very difficult concepts without directly experiencing the concept itself. And you can of course understand why earth is round by reading these people’s science.

      If you however mean ANY kind of experience with our senses, then of course not. We need our senses to collect data or to read a book.

      Your question is once again framed weirdly like your other objection. It really sounds like you have a mind of compartmentalized thinking (if somebody suggested its this, it MUST necessarily be this and cannot even slightly be that). First you used “CAN” (which, of course you CAN) then you said: “Are you sure you want to go down the path of “I understand something BECAUSE I read about it”? If I have to explain to you why those two statements are not the same, then I don’t mean to be rude but I don’t think it’s possible for us to have a fruitful philosophical debate regarding this.

      “I completely agree with your view that genius does come from working.”

      Not only, be careful.

  4. I think what you’re overlooking here is that Will’s intellect isn’t really the main idea of this film. Yeah, he’s wicked smart, but the point is that his intelligence isn’t getting him anywhere: he’s a janitor. He’s mopping floors, and no one knows/cares that he’s smarter than all the kids at the college he’s working for. And then someone notices, and cares. But his intelligence still isn’t fixing his life. He got arrested, and quoting high-level texts didn’t save him. He’s still in the same position he started in until he fixes what was really holding him back. The point isn’t that he’s a genius that has normal issues. The point is that him being a genius doesn’t matter if he can’t deal with these external conflicts. And he does have internal conflicts too, hence the half of the film involving the therapist. The overall theme of the film isn’t intelligence; it’s about moving on from the past in order to make the most of the future.

    And hey, I’ve been known to hyper focus on the small details of films. It drives my friends crazy, which is partially why I stopped doing it for the most part. But if you’re too busy criticizing the technicalities, you’re going to miss an amazing film about life and love and experience. It’s a good movie. Just take the time to at least try enjoying it.

    • Several problems with your analysis:

      1. There was no indication that will had any issues with being a janitor, he CHOSE to be a janitor and it was very obvious from the film that he was proud of his choice, because he looks down upon the people who went to Harvard being lesser intelligence than him, he wanted to make a point that going to these schools don’t mean anything—they don’t mean you would be smarter than all the rest, which was one of the core theme of the movie. So that isn’t an external conflict, the conflict for will throughout the film has been internal—that all of his “dickheadedness” was to hide the abuse he has experienced that he wanted to cover up.
      2. This is made obvious by the fact that the hero of the movie is the therapist, not the mathematician who discovered his level of genius (he was portrayed as a dick too, and later admitted that the therapist was smarter than all of them—another ridiculousness of the film). The mathematician also clearly shown that he didn’t care about will, only his intellect, the therapist was the one who cared. It was obvious from the film that most likely there were many others like the mathematician in will’s life who has taken notice of his genius, and he rejected them all, proudly.
      3. To add to the above, a person who has external conflicts wouldn’t go work in a prestigious university and then actively monitor chances to display his intellect. Will works in Harvard as a janitor and then goes to solve these problems. A person with real external conflicts wouldn’t do such a thing—he’d be too disoriented to work, which will clearly didn’t have issues doing.

      So sorry, your analysis isn’t convincing at all.

    • “An amazing film about life love and experience”

      Problem is I don’t find it amazing at all, I find it to be an amateur movie. My focus also isn’t just “technicalities.” Technicalities would be the mathematicians who discusses the problems that are not actually that hard or how will managed to become a janitor in Harvard, the only “technicality” I went over was genius vs working, and it’s an important one. The rest of what I talked about are criticisms regarding the core of the film and how the story has been laid out, remember it won “best original screenplay” possibly one of the most undeserving ever. The level of storytelling is just slightly better than twilight and I’m very serious about this. And twilight is also about life love and experience if you want to look at it that way. If this film is your threshold for “an amazing film about life love and experience” I would have to say it sounds you are missing out in some real experiences in life and love in films! 😉

      • To dajolens:

        The one on top of my head from the last decade or so is: Manchester by the sea, absolutely gorgeous and brilliant movie (the story, the character, the dialog, the cinematography, the music, all perfection or near-perfection) and possibly the last of its kind for a while. Movies are getting more and more political now. PC culture is ruining everything.

      • I’ve just seen “Manchester by the sea” today. That really is an excellent movie, thank you for the recommendation. I’m more optimistic about the future of movies, but you’re right: this quality in story-telling is rare.

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