The Film: Good Will Hunting (1997)
The Principals: Director: Gus Van Sant, Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Stellan Skarsgard, Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver, Casey Affleck, Cole Hauser, John Mighton.
The Premise: 20-year-old orphan, Will Hunting (Damon) from South Boston, has a genius level IQ but has never had it nurtured due to an abusive childhood. He’s grown into an intellectually superior, but severely emotionally defensive manual laborer who likes to solve complex mathematical proofs while mopping the floors at MIT. Will also has a history of legal and criminal problems. It’s that history that finds him before a judge after assaulting a childhood bully and slugging a cop. When Will’s stunning solutions to two of Professor Gerald Lambeau’s (Skarsgard) proofs catches his attention, Lambeau intercedes on Will’s behalf for the judge on the condition that Will not only accept Lambeau’s tutelage in highly complex math, but also see a therapist. Will dismantles several therapists before Lambeau has to go to old friend, Sean Maguire (Williams), a shrink who has checked out of life since the death of his wife two years prior. Sean is more than a match for Will’s defensive techniques; and once their sessions start to show some progress for Will, Sean also finds himself having to come to terms with his own issues.
Is It Good: I sincerely hope you don’t need me to tell you that the film is excellent. I mean, what doesn’t work in this movie? Damon is fantastic, Williams gives the performance that finally got him the Oscar, Skarsgard is superb as the intellectually haughty douchebag – but well-intentioned – Lambeau, and Minnie Driver is good in an Oscar-nominated supporting role as Skylar. Director Gus Van Sant nicely pulls together the disparate elements of Will’s relationship with his friends and Lambeau’s and Sean’s complicated history, as well as Sean’s and Will’s chess match in their sessions. Script by Damon and Affleck got them gold statues and shotput them to the A-List, which Damon has maintained a death grip on with his performances over the years, and to which Affleck got burned by but has recovered quite well behind the camera on projects like Gone Baby Gone and The Town. All around the film is great, so that doesn’t need to be rehashed by me. You already know this.
I bring the film up today because of a couple of things I didn’t pay much attention to or didn’t know after revisiting it last night and checking it out on Wikipedia this morning. One is the character of Lambeau’s sycophantic assistant, Tom, as portrayed by Dr. John Mighton. One thing that I really thought about last night was that this is really one of the better and understated bootlicking roles in recent memory. I noticed it before, but never really paid it much mind. Mighton is great as Tom, who comes across as being willing – no actually hopeful – that Lambeau would turn to him at any moment and tell him to drop his pants and bend over so Lambeau could shoot a hot load of discreet and combinatorial math into him and onto him. Tom’s got such a pathological need to stroke Lambeau’s ego – and probably something else – that it’s disturbing.
Tom’s ick factor doesn’t come from any perception of his sexual orientation, but his utter and passively aggressive minion complex. Because there’s certainly nothing wrong with playing for the other team of course, but I’m thinking that anybody would look at Tom and think, ‘Dude, have some fucking self respect fer chrissakes…” He even tried to prop up Lambeau’s colleague, the one who got demoralized during one of the sessions where Will schooled him. “Anybody can get lucky. You’re a brilliant man…” Just…ick..but it’s great. I’m also surprised, considering that Will could and did eviscerate anyone and everyone in the movie, that Tom never crossed his sights. Maybe Will felt sorry for him, or maybe his superior perceptions simply skipped right over him. Because had Will taken even thirty seconds on Tom, the guy’s psyche would have looked like somebody who fell into a live wheat thresher.
I didn’t know that Tom was portrayed by Dr. John Mighton, who, in reality, is a mathematician and playwright. Not only does Mighton have a Ph.D in Mathematics from the University of Toronto, but also a Masters in philosophy from McMaster University. He’s also a fellow at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Science. That joint was named after John Charles Fields…as in the Fields Medal you may recognize from the movie. Mighton also picked up some hardware for his plays, including three Governor General Awards and the Siminovich Prize. And he reportedly advised Damon, Affleck and Van Sant on the script for the movie. I thought Mighton was just some character actor who gave an oddly creepy supporting role and was never seen again. Little did I know.
Random Anecdotes: The farting wife thing was ad libbed.
Cinematic Soulmates: Dead Poets Society