Good Will Hunting and the Artist’s Journey

First, let me say thanks to everybody who stuck with these blog posts through the serialization of The Artist’s Journey. And a special thanks to everybody who actually ordered the book. I hope it’s helpful.

Matt Damon expressing Will Hunting’s gift in Good Will Hunting

But let’s get to Good Will Hunting. I watched the movie for probably the tenth time on TV a few nights ago. I thought, Wow, this is the Hero’s Journey/Artist’s Journey exactly.

Do you remember the movie? (It came out in 1997 and launched Matt Damon’s and Ben Affleck’s careers. As co-writers they won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay that year.)

Here’s a quick recap:

Matt Damon is Will Hunting, a “wicked smart” prodigy at math. We know this because he solves with ease a problem that has been stumping the best minds at M.I.T.

But Will is a janitor. He works at the university with a mop and a floor buffing machine.

And he solves the problem anonymously. Will posts his solution on a public board in the hallway of the Math Department, but he doesn’t sign his name or leave any indication that he is the genius responsible.

Talk about “Refusal of the Call.”

Further, Will is a fierce adherent of the blue-collar, South Boston Irish street ethic of being a tough, chip-on-his-shoulder, bar-brawling kid.

In other words, he has buried his gift beneath layers of denial.

His artist’s-journey-in-potential is so far underground Will doesn’t even know it’s there.

Then two things happen.

  1. Will is compelled into psychotherapy with Dr. Sean Maquire (Robin Williams) as his down-to-earth, just-as-tough-as-he-is shrink.
  2. Will meets the beautiful, brainy Harvard undergrad Skylar (Minnie Driver) and falls for her.

Both these characters represent models and mentors that Will could follow to initiate his passage out of denial. They see his gift and passionately encourage him to embrace it.

But Will will have none of it.

In hero’s journey terms, Will is smack in the middle of the ordeal of initiation (or self-initiation).

He resists.

He denies.

He rejects.

The school year ends. Skylar heads cross-country to Stanford Medical School. Will breaks up with her.

He knows what he should do.

He can see the end of his hero’s journey and the start of his artist’s journey. They’re staring him in the face, thanks to Sean and Skylar.

But he’s stuck in the South Boston code of street honor.

He can’t and won’t break free.

Ben Affleck plays Will’s Southie best bud Chuckie. Chuckie knows Will better than he knows himself. One morning, in the most powerful scene in a movie packed with powerful scenes, Chuckie unloads on his friend.

The scene takes place beside a pickup truck with the pals’ hard hats sitting on the hood and the construction project they’re laboring on in the background. Both drink beers from cans as the scene unfolds.

Chuckie asks Will what happened to his girl. Meaning Skylar.

“She left for California,” says Will. “Medical school. A week ago.”

The pals talks for a few more beats. Will says he has no plans to follow Skylar (i.e. pursue his own destiny.) Instead, he says, his intention is to stay here in Southie. He’ll keep hanging with his buds, get married eventually, have kids, take them to ball games and do everything over the next twenty years that Will and Chuckie have always done.

CHUCKIE

Look, you’re my best friend, so don’t take this the wrong way.

But in twenty years, if you’re still livin’ here, comin’ over to my house

to watch the Patriots games, still workin’ construction, I’ll f**kin’ kill

you. That’s not a threat, that’s a fact. I’ll f**kin’ kill you.

 

WILL

What the f**k are you talkin’ about?

 

CHUCKIE

Look, you got somethin’ that none of us—

 

WILL

Oh, come on! Why is it always this, I mean, I f**kin’ owe it to myself

to do this or that? What if I don’t want to?

 

CHUCKIE

No. No, no, no. No, f**k you. You don’t owe it to yourself. You owe it

to me. ‘Cause tomorrow I’m gonna wake up and I’ll be fifty. And I’ll

still be doing this shit. And that’s all right, that’s fine. I mean, you’re

sittin’ on a winning lottery ticket and you’re too much of a pussy to

cash it in. And that’s bullshit. `Cause I’d do anything to f**kin’ have

what you got. So would any of these f**kin’ guys. It’d be an insult to

us if you’re still here in twenty years. Hanging around here is a

f**kin’ waste of your time.

 

WILL

You don’t know that.

 

CHUCKIE

I don’t?

 

WILL

No. You don’t know that.

 

CHUCKIE

Oh, I don’t know that. Let me tell you what I do know. Every day

I come by to 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? It’s for about ten seconds from when I pull up to the curb to

when I get to your door. Because 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 nothin’. Just left. I don’t know much, but I know that.

 

A few more scenes intervene and then we see Chuckie and his buds pull up behind Will’s house in their beat-up cruiser. It’s early. The guys are picking Will up for work, just like every other morning.

Only this time when Chuckie knocks, Will is gone.

Cut up the interstate and Will’s equally beat-up Chevy Nova, heading west for California and Skylar.

In other words, Will’s hero’s journey has ended.

His artist’s journey is about to begin.

The thing about movies (and novels too sometimes) is they end when the hero’s journey ends.

The artist’s journey is relegated to what happens after FADE OUT. After The End. After Happily Ever After.

Why, I wonder.

I suspect it’s because the artist’s journey is not cinematic. It’s internal. In Will’s case it’s him continuing his evolution as a mathematician, which is . . . what? A guy in an academic setting toiling over formulas and equations.

That’s my life.

And it’s yours too.

The hero’s journey is dramatic. It’s theatrical. It makes a great movie or a novel.

But for Will Hunting, and for you and me, the real journey starts when that Chevy Nova makes it to California.

THE WAR OF ART

Read this one first.
It identifies the enemy—what I call Resistance with a capital “R,” i.e. fear, self-doubt, procrastination, perfectionism, all the forms of self-sabotage—that stop us from doing our work and realizing our dreams.
Start here.
Everything else proceeds from this.

The-War-of-Art

DO THE WORK

Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

do the work book banner 1

THE AUTHENTIC SWING

A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

The-Authentic-Swing

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.

noboybookcover

TURNING PRO

Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

Turning-Pro

16 Comments

  1. Mary Doyle on July 18, 2018 at 6:18 am

    You’re right – this is a perfect example of The Hero’s/Artist’s Journey! I’m going to have to watch it again – thanks for this one!

  2. Jeff Korhan on July 18, 2018 at 6:23 am

    I gotta go see about a girl.

  3. Joseph Badal on July 18, 2018 at 6:44 am

    Genius and inspirational. Thank you.

  4. John on July 18, 2018 at 6:45 am

    My first car was a Chevy Nova. And then yesterday, I woke up and I was 62–no, 63. And…
    Shit.

  5. Carl Blackburn on July 18, 2018 at 6:51 am

    Steven…thanks for taking us along on your artist’s journey. I’m enjoying the sights and insights.

  6. BarbaraNH on July 18, 2018 at 7:43 am

    Oh, Steven , you bring tears to my eyes with your relentless clarity, insight, courage, generosity. Jeepers, thanks.

  7. Beth on July 18, 2018 at 8:06 am

    So true! That’s why when I’m writing I feel like I’m Miles Davis with my back to the world. But at least he was playing music with his band. I wonder if there’s a way I can “play music with my band “, adding value to the world, even when I’m in the dark writing cave with a small spotlight on my work in progress.

  8. Robin Saex Garbose on July 18, 2018 at 8:58 am

    Great analysis. Loving your new book. However, when I hear about Good Will Hunting, I can’t help but think about below story, which feels pretty credible to me:

    https://pagesix.com/2018/04/29/mit-grad-claims-he-wrote-good-will-hunting-script/

  9. Anonymous on July 18, 2018 at 9:24 am

    WOW – and there it all is like it or not.
    Thanks

  10. Tom (from Boston) on July 18, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    It’s ““wicked smaht.” 😉

  11. Jule Kucera on July 18, 2018 at 3:13 pm

    And this is why I love Wednesdays.

  12. Julie Murphy on July 18, 2018 at 9:33 pm

    I hadn’t realized it was time for me to rewatch Good Will Hunting—thanks. Also jogged my memory about my people from Hungry Hill in Springfield.

  13. Mariana on July 19, 2018 at 3:25 pm

    Lord god, I could recite the dialogue to that movie in my sleep. My twin daughter, Nina played the dvd just about everyday for 2 years in our apartment livingroom. Great parable about the very human fear of moving away from your culture, your comfort, your “family”, etcetera, to become yourself, facing the fears and the gifts that only you were given to use.
    Thank you for your great blog and your exceptional books.

  14. Bobby Vee on July 23, 2018 at 1:13 pm

    Jeez, Steve. You are pretty good at this.

  15. Shann on July 25, 2018 at 7:07 am

    Your writing offers tremendous value, thank you. “I chose the wrench”

  16. Jerry on August 18, 2018 at 8:11 am

    My first time here (at this site). The field is beckoning. What shall I write? I just finished reading Bagger VanceI Got it from The Free Little Library down the block. Saw the movie a few times but really as a great as it was it was NOT the book! Although I look forward to watching the film again after reading the book. Perhaps IT was there and I just missed it?

    Just stopped back at the Free Little Library and picked up Eyeless in Gaza by Aldous Huxley. Looking forward to the read. I have thought of writing often but the reader in me always wins. I now think my aversion (fear?) of writing stems back to earlier school years of unpleasant English classes and/or teachers. Usually I start with a great title and also end it there. There is probably a book called Titles composed of all the ones I have considered, explored and not written.

    I feel inspired today. I see the field open and ripe with possibility for positive contributions to the world. To me seeing the future and writing it clearly is the best I know of an author. Bagger Vance has shown me the need for today. Fascism is a plague constantly lurking in humanity. The sport of combating fascism is a game worth playing for me (and in me). You?

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