GOOD WILL HUNTING: SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS
Additional Discussion Questions:
1. What do you think Will Hunting’s life would have been like if the therapy had not been successful?
There is no one correct response. Here are a few good ones: (1) He would have continued his life with his attachment disorder, being able to make friendships only with males his own age. He would not have been able to have a loving relationship with a woman. He would have continued to have anger management issues and at some point, most likely, he would have killed or severely injured someone and gone to jail for decades or for life. He would have continued to believe, deep down, that the abuse was his fault, even though he might intellectually have known that it wasn’t. He would have continued to use reading and his intelligence to give him a sense of mastery and control to insulate himself from people and put them off. (2) He is such a strong person and is surrounded by so many loving people, his male friends, his girlfriend, that if he could have maintained these relationships, he would have found the inner strength to heal himself.
2. The actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote the script for this movie. Are they trying to say that the highest and best achievement of a man is to “go see about a girl”, to have an empathetic loving relationship with a woman?
No. They are trying to say that an empathetic loving relationship with a woman is one of the highest and best achievements of a man. There are others, like being a good psychologist, a good mathematician, a good auto mechanic, or, like Chuckie, a good friend. Another way to put the answer is that they are saying that at that time in Will’s life, an empathetic and loving relationship with a woman was something he needed to explore.
QUESTIONS RELATING TO ATTACHMENT DISORDER
3. Describe attachment disorder and how it starts.
The basic concept is that if a child’s needs are not consistently satisfied by the adults on whom he or she depends, or if the child is abused by his or her caregivers, the child will not learn to trust others. See generally, Attachment Theory Applied to “Good Will Hunting”.
4. If the adults that a child must rely upon don’t take care of the child or if they beat the child and violate the child’s boundaries, what message does that send to the child?
It tells the child that he or she is not worth caring for and that others cannot be trusted. It teaches the child that only the child him or herself can be relied upon to satisfy the child’s needs. It does not permit the child to develop a sense of self-worth. The child, focused on meeting his or her own needs, cannot acquire the ability to feel empathy for others on a very basic level.
5. What is “affective attunement” and how does it relate to a child learning to manage primitive emotions?
Affective attunement occurs when a caregiver lets an infant know that the caregiver understands the emotion being experienced by the child. Once attachment is securely established, the role of the primary caregiver focuses on helping the infant learn to identify and become comfortable with its own various feelings. The primitive emotions felt by infants are often raw and powerful. They can frighten and overwhelm a baby. Caregivers mirror (i.e. reflect back) the feelings the infant projects and label them with words. This enables the child to make connections between its internal and external worlds. When the infant learns that the caregivers can understand the infant’s emotions, the infant’s fears and anxieties will be alleviated and the caregiver can teach the infant techniques for managing its emotions. (This process continues through adolescence.)
6. What were some of the symptoms of attachment disorder from which Will Hunting suffered at the beginning of the film?
Will has trouble developing meaningful and appropriate relationships with adults and women. His only friends are among a group of young men his own age who cannot begin to compete with his intelligence. He cannot master his primitive emotions. For example, if he has a disagreement with someone or if he dislikes them, he will assault them either verbally or physically. He has no empathy for people outside his close group of friends. Will does not integrate his intelligence and his interest in reading with relationships, either personal relationships or work relationships. The reading gives him a sense of mastery and a way to distance himself from people. He uses intellectual tasks to self-soothe.
7. How was Will different at the end of the movie from the way he was at the beginning?
Sean had provided Will with a secure attachment relationship. Will could attempt to form relationships and felt sure enough of himself to leave Boston to follow Skylar to Stanford.
8. What does Sean McGuire, the therapist, try to do in the treatment?
He re-parents Will. Sean tries to fill in the gaps of Will’s development caused by the abuse and the lack of caring. He provides Will with a secure attachment and with an oral history of relationships that worked by recounting his own. Sean told Will about life’s imperfections and that imperfect people could be loved. (Will thought of himself as profoundly imperfect and unlovable. Why else would his caregivers hit him?) Sean talked to Will about what sacrifice means, like a father to a son. Sean hugged Will, giving him the tactile sense of belonging that a child would get from a parent.
9. What is the difference between the usual situation in which an individual seeks psychotherapy and the situation faced by Sean McGuire when Will Hunting was brought to him?
Will Hunting didn’t want to change — usually, someone coming to therapy wants to change.
10. Sean asks Will to list the people he feels that he has real relationships with. What does Will answer, and how does this relate to attachment disorder?
Will lists several dead giants of Western culture like Shakespeare and Nietzsche. They are dead and cannot betray Will or make him aware of his own feelings of inadequacy.
11. There are parallel things happening in Will’s relationship with the therapist and in his relationship with Skylar. What are they?
Will is learning to trust both of them, alternatively moving closer and pushing them away; two steps forward and one step back.
12. What did reading and mastering subjects mean for Will psychologically? Why didn’t he use his gifts to find friends or in a competitive academic setting?
Will undoubtedly loved to read and learn. But by limiting his friendships to boys who could not compete with him in intelligence and whose interests didn’t run to books, he used his intelligence and reading as a way of isolating himself and pushing people away. Had Will been a secure human being, he would have gravitated toward people with whom he could share his learning and his interests. Will certainly could have gotten a full scholarship to some of the best schools in the country, but moving into the world in which others could understand what he understood and had read the books that he had read would be too threatening for him.
13. A psychologist with whom we discussed this movie stated that Sean McGuire, in his treatment of Will Hunting, worked a lot in the transference. What did she mean by this?
Sean used transference to fill in the gaps in Will’s attachment. Transference is a phenomenon in which patients subconsciously transfer to their therapist the feelings and attitudes that they originally linked with significant figures in their early lives. Sean, in effect, re-parented Will and became the loving caregiver that Will never had.
14. Why do people with attachment disorder have difficulty developing a conscience?
They rely only on themselves to meet their needs. Not needing others, they have no regard for the needs or feelings of others. It is not just selfishness, it is the way they see the world. They see others as being like themselves, only out for number one. They think that this is the way the world is set up.
15. What part of the therapy process is left out of this movie?
The many months and years of hard work in the therapy sessions; the advances, the regressions, the regrouping and, hopefully, further advances.
16. What was going on when Sean got angry at Will, held him up against the wall, and told Will that if he disrespected Sean’s wife again Sean would beat him up?
Sean lost his sense of boundary with Will. It was a mistake. Sean put it to good use but he shouldn’t have done it.
17. Why couldn’t Will, before his breakthrough, tell Skylar that he loved her?
People with attachment disorder are afraid of intimacy because their caregivers, their first intimates, hurt them. Actually, the fact that Will felt he couldn’t lie to her was a step forward.
18. Why did Will feel no sense of gratitude to Professor Lambeau and take such delight in hurting Lambeau’s feelings? There are two independent reasons. There are two independent reasons.
First, there is the class angle. Will had grown up a world apart from and jealous of the intellectuals of the universities. Lambeau was one of these people. The second reason relates to Will’s attachment disorder. Lambeau was trying to be a mentor to Will. Most people who had been in a fatherly or parental role for Will had hurt him badly. Until his therapy took hold, Will would push these people away as a matter of self-protection. Will felt no sense of gratitude to Lambeau because he didn’t credit Lambeau with good motives for helping him. Unable to give and unable, on a deep emotional level, to conceive of a relationship based on delight in giving, Will could not accept the fact that Lambeau had good motives.
19. How did the scene of the fight relate to Will’s attachment disorder? Why does Will have to be pulled off the man who used to beat him up in kindergarten?
Will was consumed with anger. This is a primitive feeling that he couldn’t control. Not having been properly parented, he didn’t learn how to manage his emotions.
QUESTIONS RELATING TO OTHER ASPECTS OF THE MOVIE
20. What did you think of Professor Lambeau? Discuss his positive and negative characteristics.
[This question can lead to a spirited discussion.] The movie’s view of Lambeau is that he was somewhat selfish and didn’t take into account that Will might be happy doing something other than advanced math. It is clear that Lambeau had his own agenda, which was to make Will into another Ramanujan. [See Links to the Internet for more on Ramanujan.] This would have been a great contribution to mathematics and certainly Lambeau would have gained immense satisfaction and professional accolades for having found Will and mentored him. And, in fact, advances in theoretical mathematics are a good thing. Eventually, those discoveries will help society. Sean’s problem with Lambeau was that Lambeau was not sensitive to the other aspects of Will’s life and personality. Some students will blindly accept the movie’s view of Lambeau as a near villain based primarily on a narrow reading of the class critique of the film. Challenging this view can lead to spirited discussions.
21. The disadvantages and bad luck that Will has in life are obvious. What are some of the advantages that he possesses or fortunate events which occur to him in the movie?
They include his intelligence; his friend Chuckie; the interest of Professor Lambeau; a legal system that was flexible enough to allow him one more chance on the condition of therapy; having Sean as a therapist; and meeting Skylar.
22. Was Professor Lambeau trying to manipulate Will or to help him?
Lambeau was trying to help Will to become what Lambeau had always wanted to be, a great mathematician. Lambeau was willing to manipulate Will in order to do that. (Sometimes you have to manipulate people in a nurturing way in order to help them.) However, Lambeau wasn’t considering what would be best for Will, the whole person. It is very hard for people to get beyond their own perspectives. That is one of the reasons that Chuckie was such an extraordinary character.
The following three questions should be asked together.
23. What role does social class play in the movie? Which social classes are we talking about?
The class conflict was working class vs. educated elite which is also sometimes described as town vs. gown. This conflict was essential to the plot and set up several conflicts that had to be resolved: Will vs. his therapists, Will and his friends vs. students, Will vs. Skylar, Will vs. Lambeau, Sean vs. Lambeau. See Class Critique section of the Learning Guide to this film.
24. One person is a bridge between the two socioeconomic classes shown in the film. Who is he?
Sean. After his treatment, Will Hunting will also be able to move in both worlds.
25. Is discrimination against a person because of the socioeconomic class they belong to any less destructive than racial discrimination?
There is no one answer to the question. The point is that they are both very destructive to self-esteem and pervert the cultures of both the oppressor and the oppressed.
26. Evaluate the character of Lambeau’s assistant, Tom.
He seems to be a caring, mature, adult who accepts his demotion from being Lambeau’s favored student to being the coffee boy with good grace and without losing his affection for Lambeau. He even tries to intervene with Will to get Will to treat Lambeau better. Will, the child with attachment disorder, is not willing to go out of his way for anyone except his peer family of friends.
27. Why is the character of Will Hunting portrayed as being brilliant? Even people who aren’t particularly smart have an attachment disorder.
One reason is that it drives the plot. Will’s mathematical genius attracts Professor Lambeau, who gets him out of jail and to the therapist. However, Will could have been a great violinist or artist or even Lambeau’s nephew with no particular talents. A plot could have been constructed without intelligence being Will’s gift. The better answer is that it shows that intelligence, even great intelligence such as Will Hunting’s, cannot break through psychological illness based on childhood trauma.
28. Will Hunting was able to look at Sean’s picture and describe Sean’s character with enough accuracy to really upset Sean. Will was able to do this because of two reasons. One was because Will was so smart. What was the second one?
The picture was not only a window into Sean’s emotional state, but it showed what Will was experiencing as well.
Write an extension of the story describing what happened to Will and Skylar in their first year in California.
Write a new ending for the story assuming that Will had not gotten treatment; what would have happened to him?
Write an extension of the story describing a reunion between Chuckie and Will, 20 years later.
Write a scene (not necessarily derived from this movie) which highlights class conflict.
See additional Assignments for use with any Film that is a Work of Fiction.