Freeze Frame #9 & #10: Good Will Hunting

A movie with some very smart dialogue, delivered by actors who clearly relish the material. Standout examples include Will’s monologue about why he shouldn’t join the NSA, Sean’s speech about regret, the scene in the bar when Will blows away a cocky Harvard student… the list goes on. However, my two favourite moments from the movie both involve no dialogue.

The first is a scene with Matt Damon who plays Will Hunting, and Stellan Skarsgard who plays Gerald Lambeau, a mathematics professor who takes Will under his wing. One of the movie’s plotlines is about how Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), his shrink, and Gerald Lambeau, both try to play a father figure in his life, in their own ways. Gerald believes that Will has great potential which he must actualize, and pushes him in that direction. Sean believes that Will first needs to learn how to trust, open himself up to the possibility of both love and hurt, and learn to be happy. The more obvious side to take is that of the shrink, so the more obvious ploy would’ve been to make the professor some kind of impersonal, pushy jerk. But the movie smartly sidesteps that ploy, and the way it does that is to add a simple five second postscript to an otherwise ordinary scene.

Will and Gerald are working on a proof on the board. It’s mostly silent – the communication is through equations on the board. After a particularly nifty piece of math, they both sit back, satisfied, and look at what they’ve accomplished on the blackboard. And while they do that, Gerald reaches out and ruffles Will’s hair. To me, that simple gesture is what humanizes Gerald beyond all measure.

Aside: You have to understand: ever since I read To Kill a Mockingbird, ruffling someone’s hair has been, for me, the de facto expression of one’s affection. So, while I find it a very significant moment, it might not be so for others.

The other great moment comes right at the end. In a scene that comes shortly before it, Will tells Chuckie how he doesn’t see why he shouldn’t be a bricklayer all his life. Chuckie’s response to that is beautifully put:

Look, you’re my best friend, so don’t take this the wrong way. In twenty years, if you’re still livin’ here, comin’ over to my house to watch the Patriots games, still workin’ construction, I’ll fuckin’ kill you. That’s not a threat. Now, that’s a fact. I’ll fuckin’ kill you.

A little later in the same scene, he says:

Every day I come by your house and I pick you up. And we go out. We have a few drinks, and a few laughs, and it’s great. But you know what the best part of my day is? For about ten seconds, from when I pull up to the curb and when I get to your door, cause I think, maybe I’ll get up there and I’ll knock on the door and you won’t be there. No goodbye. No see you later. No nothing. You just left. I don’t know much, but I know that.

It sets things up for the last scene, when Will finally gets his act together and goes off to California, and see if he could maybe win Skylar back. And Chuckie finds out about it the way he wanted to: he goes to Will’s house one morning and knocks on the door, and he isn’t there. No goodbye. No see you later. No nothing. The camera just stays on Ben Affleck’s face for a few seconds, as he processes this, realizes that his friend is gone, and celebrates and mourns it in equal measure. The movie gives these two people enough time together to build up to this moment; this is a fitting payoff, and well-earned.

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3 thoughts on “Freeze Frame #9 & #10: Good Will Hunting

  1. Mad?Who?zinsane2 says:

    Was a nice little treat, having these Freeze Frames show up today under “Recent Comments”.

    This is obviously an awesome movie replete with many many wonderful moments. But what I started to wonder about, by the time I came to “The camera just stays on Ben Affleck’s face for a few seconds,” was: Whatever happened to Ben Affleck these days? I mean, where is he? Or, have I been living under a rock?

    He’s one of my favorites (and I’d totally love it if he and buddy Matt made more movies together). I watched (half of) Daredevil (for the first time, from my TiVo queue) last night and quite enjoyed his chemistry with both co-star Favreau and love-interest Garner, who became his girl right after this (it’s rumored/reported). Small wonder, coz in this movie, they really look “in love”. Do you recall that scene where blind Ben (unable to take no for an answer) follows her out of the cafe when exits with the quip “I didn’t give it” in response to his “I didn’t get your name”?

    What ensues is a cute little martial arts sequence as if between two stray kittens playing in the park — with the smitten one trying his best to befriend the guarded-yet-interested one.

    While catching his breath between one of their manic see-saw romps (with the other kids — I mean “real” kids — in the park curiously looking on), Ben gasps, “Does every guy have to go thru this much just to get your name?” And she retorts right back (also gaining the upperhand in the process, knife(?) pointing at his jugular now), “Try asking for my number.” Then smiles widely and says, “Elektra Natchios. That’s my name.” (Which, when Ben reports back to Jon, has him going, “Sounds like a Greek dip!” LOL.

    (Coming back to the topic of this post) “Gerald reaches out and ruffles Will’s hair” — read alongside your Mockingbird memory — makes me wonder… what would Will have felt like, were he, er, a bird? Having his “hair” (feathers?) ruffled would not be perceived as a comforting gesture of affection, would it? 😛

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