We see a montage of various books in a dimly lit room. Soft, relaxing piano music plays while a heart-lurchingly handsome young man speed reads through dozens of books. Dawn. Will’s friends come to pick him up in a beat-up car. I think they call him a “faggot.” Will exits the house after Ben Affleck’s character knocks on his window / door / maybe he doesn’t do that and we see that Will lives in a shit hole. He gets in the car and there seems to be some sort of pecking order for who gets certain seats as exemplified by the weasel-like one wanting the front seat. Will is dropped off at Harvard University where he does janitorial work. He pushes around a floor buffer sadly, and at one point peers into a math class in session. The professor is writing a huge equation on the blackboard in chalk and saying something pompous to the class, simultaneously challenging his students to solve the huge equation for some kind of a prize. Maybe an automatic “a” for the semester?
Later on, long after class is over, Will solves the problem on the board in like a second. He leaves and meets up with his boorish friends, further cementing the fact that he lives a double life. At the bar, Ben’s character tried to convince a woman, who I remember as being unattractive although she’s probably attractive, to come over his house to have sex with him. She responds to this request by saying she doesn’t want to mount his, “tootsie roll dick,” implying that he has a small penis. This makes me uncomfortable for two reasons. One, I’m very aware of the fact that I’ve never seen a penis, and that I’m practically crawling out of my skin wanting to see one. This embarrasses me. Two, my parents are watching the movie with me, and every “fuck” and sexual reference sends out a wave of almost palpable discomfort. I think at this point they go to a bar in Harvard, unless that happens later.
Ben’s character notices Minnie Driver’s character from across the room. Let’s just call her Claire for simplicity’s sake. She’s talking to a pompous dude with a blonde ponytail. Ben tries to join the conversation that they’re having about history, but ponytail man shoots him down with a well-worded argument. Will steps in and points out the fact that ponytail clearly just took an intro course to history at school because he practically quoted one of the books taught in History 101 verbatim, and that soon enough he’ll be quoting whatever other author is being taught in class. Basically, Will points out the fact that this guy is a dupe and totally humiliates him. He drives the point home by actually stating the page numbers from the book. How embarrassing for ponytail man. Claire or whatever is obviously impressed, maybe even a little intimidated by this handsome stranger with an endearingly ugly bowl cut and photographic memory.
I think this is the moment when Will mentions, “A People’s History of the United States” as a superior reference for American history, a statement which my dad audibly supports behind me while laying in his bed, but maybe that’s a false memory because I don’t think my dad likes radical literature. In fact, I know he doesn’t, so maybe it was my brother who would have been about 14 at the time, but still more likely because he was precocious as fuck. However, my brother didn’t like watching movies with the family, presumably due to the sexual discomfort mentioned before, so it seems highly unlikely that he was there, leaving the Howard Zinn mystery unsolved for now.
Anyway, now that Will has verbally slaughtered this undergrad with a blonde ponytail, he’s free to talk to Claire. I don’t remember this conversation at all. All I know is that memorable scene where Will spots ponytail guy at another bar and knocks on the window and asks, “Do you like apples?” The man seems hesitant to answer this innocuous question. I can relate to the expression on his face. I know the conflict well where someone asks you a simple question and whatever you answer they’ll use it against you. Fuck them. I should have just stared and never answered at all, instead of some of breathy “yeah” like this guy does. I should have just stared like a goddamn crazy person. “Um yeah,” ponytail says, then Will holds up Claire’s number. “How do you like them apples?” Fuck you. I remember a classmate repeating that line back to me. She laughed so hard I couldn’t imagine that she truly grasped the meaning of the joke. It’s just not that funny. So Will walks away, and they all feel like they had a good night so they drive Will back to his dump to fall asleep. Or maybe they stay out. I don’t know. It doesn’t really effect the plot either way.
The professor predictably figures out that Will has been working on the equations on the board and starts working with him. The math they do together is beyond my realm of understanding, but I remember many high fives and pats on the shoulders. It becomes clear that Will is emotionally unstable, so they have to find him a therapist. Will manages to belittle each psychologist, one by one, for reasons unknown. He pretends to be hypnotized by one, confessing to an incident of molestation that quickly turns out to be untrue. In another instance, after collecting no empirical evidence, he accuses one of being a closeted homosexual. Will verbally assaults one last therapist, the details of which escape my memory, before he comes across Robin William’s character.
Significant conversations that transpire between Will Hunting and the therapist played by Robin Williams, as I remember them:
After a 55 minute long silence, Will speaks.
Will: Who painted that?
RW: Do you… like art?
Will: I guess you could say I know something about art. Do you ever think you’re that man, all alone on that boat, tossed out to sea; unwillingly subject to the cruel waves of time and life thrashing against your poor vessel?
RW: My wife painted that picture.
Will: Oh yeah? It sucks. There’s no sense of depth at all.
RW: Time’s up.
Will: I met a girl the other day.
RW: Oh? Do you like… girls?
Will: (laughing to himself) Yeah. I like girls.
RW: How did the date go?
Will: It was great.
RW: So when will you be seeing her again?
Will: I don’t think I will. Because right now she’s perfect. I don’t want to call her and arrange another date only to find out that she’s not who I think she is.
RW: Maybe you’re worried that you won’t be perfect.
RW: Sometimes it’s those little imperfections that make someone attractive. My wife use to have this problem where she would fart in her sleep. Sometimes she’d angrily ask me, “Honey, was that you?” I would just say, “yes, dear.”
Will: She used to wake herself up?
RW: Yes! Sometimes she’d fart so loud that she would wake herself up. I don’t know this woman that you’re dating, but I can tell you something right now: she’s not perfect, and neither are you. The question is whether or not you are perfect for each other.
Will: Well, what about you? Where’s your wife now? I don’t see a ring on your finger. What happened with that? Did you catch her fucking another guy or something?
RW: My wife is dead! This session is over. Get out.
RW: I stayed up all night tossing and turning thinking about this meeting today. Thinking about how you would dominate me and pretty much shit on anything I have any sort of remote attachment to because you’re a bully, but then I realized something that made me rest easy: you’re 20. You’ve never experienced anything. If we discuss Greece, you can talk about Hellenic art and the Peloponnesian war, but you’ve never seen the splendor of the Pantheon. If we discuss love, you can talk about Dante’s Beatrice, but you have no idea what it’s like to truly love somebody. To give yourself over completely to another person and stand by their side, through everything. And then, when she develops cancer, you don’t know what devotion is, standing by her bedside, night and day and be there the moment that she dies. You just don’t know these things yet. You’re just some punk kid.
Will: I’m an orphan, I think. And my step-father used to beat me. I remember he used to come home, drunk, and he’d say, “boy! Get in here. I need to teach you a lesson.”
RW: Yes, me too. My father used to say, “wrench or belt?”
Will: What did you say?
RW: Because fuck him, that’s why.
RW: It’s not your fault.
Will: Yeah, I know.
RW: No, it’s not your fault.
Will: Yeah, thank you.
RW: It’s not your fault.
Will: Don’t fuck with me, man.
RW: It’s not your fault.
Will: I said, don’t fuck with me!
RW: It’s not your fault.
Will meets up with Claire. She’s working on her biology homework in some outdoor eating place. Of course, Will knows all the answers. I’ll never understand why Matt Damon didn’t make her character an artist or musician or something. At least she’d have something different to say, some other perspective besides just being worse at everything than Will. It’s like comparing apples to shittier apples. Soon after this, Will will stop speaking to Claire because she asks him to move to California with her. How does she know? She just knows, she says. Will shows signs of insecurity, expressing his fear that she’ll get bored of him. She says she wants to meet his 15 brothers, referring to a lie Will told her on their first date, and Will reveals that he doesn’t have 15 brothers, but he does have a step-dad that used to beat him. Then he stops speaking to her.
Claire is desperate to help him, which prompts a late-night phone call after they’ve broken up. “I love you,” she says into the phone, totally going out on a limb. How can she just do that? He doesn’t respond, of course. She goddamn repeats it. God, she’s so brave. She’s really putting herself out there to be crushed by this lunatic. Later, Will tells Robin Williams that they broke up. He seems emotionless about it. Maybe, just maybe, under the stony exterior of every boy that has broken our hearts is a Will Hunting. Just some poor soul who really feels, he just doesn’t know how to express it. We’re actually truly special and they love us, they are just too paralyzed by fear to be aware of it.
Meanwhile, Will is still under the tutelage of the Harvard math professor. The professor’s wiener-y assistant takes Will aside at one point and says, in close to a whisper, that Will is very fortunate to be so close with the professor because not everyone is so lucky. Damn. This movie is very much about people being hurt by Will’s existence. They all play such nameless roles. The very fiber of this film deals with sociopathy. All the disposable characters that form the outline, the husk of this human being. I sort of hate Will right now. As I’m watching as a thirteen-year-old, wishing to God that I could espy a penis at some point, I have no idea that I would be exclusively into penises attached to people similar to Will Hunting.
There’s really only one real story line to wrap up now. Ben and Will. Will has stopped going to therapy (I think?) and stopped getting lessons from the professor. He’s doing manual labor. Ben gets angry at Will. Will’s like, “What’s wrong with manual labor? It’s an honest job that I do with my hands. it pays me. I can rest easy at night knowing that I did the job well.” Ben starts to say something, but Will cuts him off, “Don’t tell me to do it for myself. I’m sick of people telling me to do it for myself.” Ben responds: “No. Don’t do it for yourself. Do it for me. Because I don’t have a choice. I have to be out here working like this, but you don’t, and I would give anything in the world to be in your position. So next time you make a decision, think about me because every morning when I pick you up for work, I pray to God you won’t be there.” I think this hits Will hard. He really does love Ben’s character, and the idea of thinking about another human being is probably pretty novel and alien to him.
We get a few points of view and some Elliot Smith now. The therapist walking to his mailbox and finding a note, “I’ve got to go see about a girl.” “He stole my line, ” Robin Williams says. Ben shows up to drive Will to work. He’s not there. Ben gives a half-smile, no doubt because he’s ambivalent about the loss of his best friend. One of Ben’s friends takes the front seat, smiling to himself. The last shot of the movie is Will’s car driving to California to see Claire. I hope that Claire, this admirable brave soul, can reject him when he pops in on her life again. Stay away, please please don’t love him. He’s not good enough for you. Please stop loving him.