Good Will Hunting Movie Review
Good Will Hunting is a film about a young macho man named Will Hunting from a blue-collar neighborhood in South Boston. With an attachment disorder developed from abuse and neglect in his rocky childhood growing up in foster homes, Will works menial jobs such as a janitor for MIT and a construction worker. Despite this, he is an impassioned reader, an autodidact without any formal higher education. Consequently, he has exceptional intelligence yet refuses to apply his genius to find work but often applies it to maintain stability and predictability in his life whether it be beneficial or degrading for his well-being in the long run. The movie takes the audience on a journey through Will’s growth as he repulses and struggles and learns to break free from his fears of abandonment, opens up to others, takes risks, and moves on. I chose this film because it explores and exemplifies a plethora of interpersonal communication as Will and others effectively utilize them to eschew actions that lead to uncertainty, maintain and seek loyalty, masquerade inner feelings, keep romantic relationships at a standstill and advance them, establish meaningful rapports, and much more.
From the get-go, Will’s blue-collar roots are juxtaposed with wealthier white-collar counterparts at MIT and Harvard. Social class has a pronounced effect on how one communicates. Specifically, this is reflected in the vocabulary, slang, and grammar used (Adler et al., 2020). Will and his Southie (South Boston) friends are given a crude and seemingly uneducated Boston accent. They defer to using choice words in almost every casual dialogue as well. This class difference is exemplified in a scene at a local bar where a stiff-necked student from Harvard, Clark, who is under the presumption that Chuckie, Will’s best friend, is uneducated, attempts to insult his intelligence to impress a group of girls. However, Will interjects and shows that he is smarter and more educated than Clark, eventually mocking him for “[dropping] a hundred and fifty grand on a f*ckin’ education [he] coulda' got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library (Miramax, 2015b, 02:48-03:04). This encounter also hones in on another communication theory: the idea that people who are raised not object to authority tend to resort to relying on what is accepted, think less critically, and are less assertive (Adler et al., 2020). Before remarking on how much Clark spent on his education, Will realizes that Clark is merely regurgitating and near-plagiarizing what he had read from accomplished scholars in his argument. Conversely, Will is more original, assertive, and confident in his contention and goes a step further to evaluate Clark’s intentions. Evaluation is one of the main stages of listening. It is when one makes a value judgment on the motive, credibility, and/or sincerity of the message and/or the speaker (Adler et al., 2020). Will realizes that Clark's true intention was to embarrass his friend Chuckie and impress the girls. Moments before ending their conversation, Will comments on the banality of Clark’s ideals and worldview saying that “... at least [he] won’t be unoriginal” as opposed to Clark (Miramax, 2015b, 03:05-03:22). These snide remarks are an important trait of Will’s presenting self - an example of how one regulates and attempts to control how others perceive them (Adler et al., 2020). As one of many defenses to mask Will’s inner feelings, he often resorts to verbal assaults or even physical assaults. This anger serves to guard his inner self, but as the movie progresses, he becomes less violent and begins to open up.
One of the most noticeable traits that some characters exude in this film is high uncertainty avoidance. Uncertainty avoidance is a measure of how much a certain culture is willing to tolerate unpredictability (Adler et al., 2020). Low being very tolerable of unpredictability and high being the opposite. A prime example of this is when Will’s high uncertainty avoidance gives him pause in contacting his newfound love interest, Skylar, for a second date. In a session with Will’s therapist, Sean (whom Will slowly warms up to), Will discloses that he went on a date with Skylar. Sean inquires whether Will is going out again and Will responds with “I dunno” and that he has not called her. Will goes on to say that “… [she’s] beautiful. She's smart. She's funny. She's different from most of the girls [he’s] been with.” When Sean tells him to call her, Will replies with “Why? So I can realize she's not that smart, that she's f*ckin' boring? Y'know--I mean…this girl is like f*ckin' perfect right now, I don't wanna r--ruin that” (Miramax, 2015c, 00:13-00:50). Another instance of Will’s unwillingness to take risks or tolerate change is evident in the scene where Skylar asks him to move to California with her. The conversation devolves from Will being defensive to Will using direct aggression after Skylar says that Will “[lives] in this safe little world where no one challenges [him] and [he’s] scared sh*tless to do anything else but defend [himself] because that would mean [he’d] hafta' [sic] change” (Miramax, 2015d). Defensiveness is when one reacts by counter-attacking another in the face of criticism or contempt to protect their self-worth and direct aggression is a confrontational method of communication where one directly attacks another’s position or dignity (Adler et al., 2020). This aforementioned scene captures Will’s behavior as he exhibits both defensiveness and direct aggression. Will proceeds to defend his fears of abandonment and hurl personal attacks at Skylar. Ultimately, terminating their relationship.
By contrast, another important aspect of interpersonal communication is initiating relationships and establishing a rapport with someone. An important, perhaps the most important and impactful, relationship in this film is the one between Will and his therapist Sean. Will is especially distrusting and lacks sympathy - compassion for another person’s mishaps (Adler et al., 2020) - when it comes to people outside his exclusive clique of friends. Thus, Will and Sean initiate their relationship on a bitter note with Will showing no sympathy for Sean’s misfortunes. Upon a comment made about Sean’s late wife, Sean decides to self-disclose to Will what his life has been like, emphasizing how Will’s perceived image of Sean mirrors his lack of empathy (Miramax, 2015a). Self-disclosure is when one reveals little-known significant personal information to another (Adler et al., 2020). This plays a significant role in helping relationships grow. Likewise, this act of self-disclosure is one of the most powerful scenes in the movie and a stepping stone for fostering respect and sympathy for one another in Sean and Will’s relationship. Although not immediately, this interaction helps Will grow comfortable and trusting around Sean, and eventually, he begins to open up to him.
The communication techniques and theories covered thus far are only some of the many seen in Good Will Hunting used to initiate, maintain, and terminate interpersonal relationships. The importance and utility of understanding interpersonal communication and how people relate to one another cannot be stressed enough. In the vast expanse of communication techniques and nuances, having a strong understanding of them makes all the difference in how effectively one communicates.