Good Will Hunting is one of my favorite movies for many reasons. It has some of my favorite actors, feel-good themes of love, forgiveness, hope, etc., and it allowed my teenage self to go, “See? School is a waste of time! Look how smart he is, and he doesn’t go to school.” However, my favorite take-away from this movie is this: intelligence without emotional maturity is useless.
The viewer watches the main character, a genius (literally) by the name of Will, struggle with his maturity throughout the film. In fact, the first scene is silent as we see the Will’s disheveled home, items strewn across the yard and the house in disrepair. In the center of it all Will sits reading, surrounded by books in stacks around the room. The film early and repeatedly establishes the juxtaposition of his intelligence and his lack of maturity. By scene 3, he sees an intimidating, impossible-looking math problem. A montage of Will doing different janitorial duties later, he solves it. Over the next 30 minutes of the movie, we see Will’s lack of maturity and his intelligence in multiple settings: at the university and among his fellow rather immature friends. Perhaps the most memorable moments are his fist fights, the discovery of his solving the theorem by the professor, and my favorite, his literature-slash-smarts battle with a student at the local bar in defense of his friend.
Will is simultaneously proud of his intelligence and unwilling to do anything about it. He has no interest in growing in maturity, because of his upbringing, specifically the past abuse in three different foster care homes from which he had to be removed. Will has skated by on his intelligence but has had no one really help him mature or provide structure and opportunities for him; therefore, Professor Lambeau’s arrival and that of his therapist (Robin Williams) becomes meaningful and helpful: they are the mature, patient, parental figures he has needed since his childhood. Similarly, his girlfriend Skylar pushes him to not take his intelligence for granted, but to use it. These new people in his life make it abundantly clear to Will how gifted he is and what an absolute waste his immaturity is making his intelligence out to be, how unsatisfied, aggravated, and bored he will be if he does nothing about this gift he has.
We see his big shift at the end when the camera zooms into his friend’s face and sees him smile. Will has done the mature thing and chases Skylar down, something the viewer may not necessarily see as immediately mature, but his desire to work, to be vulnerable, to do something with initiative versus his perpetually passive way of living he had done up to this point—this shows his change. He is finally willing to be with someone that is going to push him. Skylar has made it clear she will not let Will waste his talents and live a life they both know will only lead to constant frustration for Will, and he chases her down anyway. He chooses to mature.
This film reminds me of a quote by Mark Twain, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” I always enjoy watching movies that celebrate intelligence and reading. A lot of entertainment on the screen focuses on the big explosions, sexual exploits, mystery and shock and drama, but this movie has always been so refreshing because I get to see intelligence celebrated. The central message is so clear: intelligence is valuable and should never be wasted. However, it dives deeper into that message by illustrating how intelligence gets wasted by having a lack of maturity, and that you cannot reach maturity without healing whatever emotional wounds one may have. It is not enough to sit by and be hurt. When gifts, such as intelligence, go unused, the bearer of that gift becomes frustrated (as seen in Will’s physical aggression) and unhappy (as seen in Will’s need for intellectual stimulus and drama, and his reliance on vices (alcohol, cigarettes, slovenliness, etc.). This message of using our gifts and talents is something I think every person, not just the 90s kids, should hear over and over again.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ashley Yarbrough is a writer, mother, teacher, gardener, and many other things. She writes about it all here. Feel free to take a look!