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Discussion Questions:

1.  Standard Questions Suitable for Any Film


2.  Describe attachment disorder and how it starts. Suggested Response: The basic concept is that if a child's needs are not consistently satisfied by the adults on whom he or she depends, or if the child is abused by his or her caregivers, the child will not learn to trust others. See generally, Attachment Theory Applied to "Good Will Hunting".

3.  If the adults that a child must rely upon don't take care of the child or if they beat the child and violate the child's boundaries, what message does that send to the child? Suggested Response: It tells the child that he or she is not worth caring for and that others cannot be trusted. It teaches the child that only the child him or herself can be relied upon to satisfy the child's needs. It does not permit the child to develop a sense of self-worth. The child, focused on meeting his or her own needs, cannot acquire the ability to feel empathy for others on a very basic level.


4.  What is "affective attunement" and how does it relate to a child learning to manage primitive emotions? Suggested Response: Affective attunement occurs when a caregiver lets an infant know that the caregiver understands the emotion being experienced by the child. Once attachment is securely established, the role of the primary caregiver focuses on helping the infant learn to identify and become comfortable with its own various feelings. The primitive emotions felt by infants are often raw and powerful. They can frighten and overwhelm a baby. Caregivers mirror (i.e. reflect back) the feelings the infant projects and label them with words. This enables the child to make connections between its internal and external worlds. When the infant learns that the caregivers can understand the infant's emotions, the infant's fears and anxieties will be alleviated and the caregiver can teach the infant techniques for managing its emotions. (This process continues through adolescence.)

5.  What were some of the symptoms of attachment disorder from which Will Hunting suffered at the beginning of the film? Suggested Response: Will has trouble developing meaningful and appropriate relationships with adults and women. His only friends are among a group of young men his own age who cannot begin to compete with his intelligence. He cannot master his primitive emotions. For example, if he has a disagreement with someone or if he dislikes them, he will assault them either verbally or physically. He has no empathy for people outside his close group of friends. Will does not integrate his intelligence and his interest in reading with relationships, either personal relationships or work relationships. The reading gives him a sense of mastery and a way to distance himself from people. He uses intellectual tasks to self-soothe.

6.  How was Will different at the end of the movie from the way he was at the beginning? Suggested Response: Sean had provided Will with a secure attachment relationship. Will could attempt to form relationships and felt sure enough of himself to leave Boston to follow Skylar to Stanford.

7.  What does Sean McGuire, the therapist, try to do in the treatment? Suggested Response: He re-parents Will. Sean tries to fill in the gaps of Will's development caused by the abuse and the lack of caring. He provides Will with a secure attachment and with an oral history of relationships that worked by recounting his own. Sean told Will about life's imperfections and that imperfect people could be loved. (Will thought of himself as profoundly imperfect and unlovable. Why else would his caregivers hit him?) Sean talked to Will about what sacrifice means, like a father to a son. Sean hugged Will, giving him the tactile sense of belonging that a child would get from a parent.

8.  What is the difference between the usual situation in which an individual seeks psychotherapy and the situation faced by Sean McGuire when Will Hunting was brought to him? Suggested Response: Will Hunting didn't want to change -- usually someone coming to therapy wants to change.

9.  Sean asks Will to list the people he feels that he has real relationships with. What does Will answer, and how does this relate to attachment disorder? Suggested Response: Will lists several dead giants of Western culture like Shakespeare and Nietzsche. They are dead and cannot betray Will or make him aware of his own feelings of inadequacy.

10.  There are parallel things happening in Will's relationship with the therapist and in his relationship with Skylar. What are they?Suggested Response: Will is learning to trust both of them, alternatively moving closer and pushing them away; two steps forward and one step back.

11.  What did reading and mastering subjects mean for Will psychologically? Why didn't he use his gifts to find friends or in a competitive academic setting? Suggested Response: Will undoubtedly loved to read and learn. But by limiting his friendships to boys who could not compete with him in intelligence and whose interests didn't run to books, he used his intelligence and reading as a way of isolating himself and pushing people away. Had Will been a secure human being, he would have gravitated toward people with whom he could share his learning and his interests. Will certainly could have gotten a full scholarship to some of the best schools in the country, but moving into the world in which others could understand what he understood and had read the books that he had read would be too threatening for him.

12.  A psychologist with whom we discussed this movie stated that Sean McGuire, in his treatment of Will Hunting, worked a lot in the transference. What did she mean by this? Suggested Response: Sean used transference to fill in the gaps in Will's attachment. Transference is a phenomenon in which patients subconsciously transfer to their therapist the feelings and attitudes that they originally linked with significant figures in their early lives. Sean, in effect, re-parented Will and became the loving caregiver that Will never had.

13.  Why do people with attachment disorder have difficulty developing a conscience? Suggested Response: They rely only on themselves to meet their needs. Not needing others, they have no regard for the needs or feelings of others. It is not just selfishness, it is the way they see the world. They see others as being like themselves, only out for number one. They think that this is the way the world is set up.

14.  What part of the therapy process is left out of this movie? Suggested Response: The many months and years of hard work in the therapy sessions; the advances, the regressions, the regrouping and, hopefully, further advances.

15.  What was going on when Sean got angry at Will, held him up against the wall, and told Will that if he disrespected Sean's wife again Sean would beat him up? Suggested Response: Sean lost his sense of boundary with Will. It was a mistake. Sean put it to good use but he shouldn't have done it.

16.  Why couldn't Will, before his breakthrough, tell Skylar that he loved her? Suggested Response: People with attachment disorder are afraid of intimacy because their caregivers, their first intimates, hurt them. Actually, the fact that Will felt he couldn't lie to her was a step forward.

17.  Why did Will feel no sense of gratitude to Professor Lambeau and take such delight in hurting Lambeau's feelings? There are two independent reasons. There are two independent reasons. Suggested Response: First, there is the class angle. Will had grown up a world apart from and jealous of the intellectuals of the universities. Lambeau was one of these people. The second reason relates to Will's attachment disorder. Lambeau was trying to be a mentor to Will. Most people who had been in a fatherly or parental role for Will had hurt him badly. Until his therapy took hold, Will would push these people away as a matter of self-protection. Will felt no sense of gratitude to Lambeau because he didn't credit Lambeau with good motives for helping him. Unable to give and unable, on a deep emotional level, to conceive of a relationship based on delight in giving, Will could not accept the fact that Lambeau had good motives.

18.  How did the scene of the fight relate to Will's attachment disorder? Why does Will have to be pulled off the man who used to beat him up in kindergarten? Suggested Response: Will was consumed with anger. This is a primitive feeling that he couldn't control. Not having been properly parented, he didn't learn how to manage his emotions.


19.  What did you think of Professor Lambeau? Discuss his positive and negative characteristics. Suggested Response: [This question can lead to a spirited discussion.] The movie's view of Lambeau is that he was somewhat selfish and didn't take into account that Will might be happy doing something other than advanced math. It is clear that Lambeau had his own agenda, which was to make Will into another Ramanujan. [See Links to the Internet for more on Ramanujan.] This would have been a great contribution to mathematics and certainly Lambeau would have gained immense satisfaction and professional accolades for having found Will and mentored him. And, in fact, advances in theoretical mathematics are a good thing. Eventually those discoveries will help society. Sean's problem with Lambeau was that Lambeau was not sensitive to the other aspects of Will's life and personality. Some students will blindly accept the movie's view of Lambeau as a near villain based primarily on a narrow reading of the class critique of the film. Challenging this view can lead to spirited discussions.

20.  The disadvantages and bad luck that Will has in life are obvious. What are some of the advantages that he possesses or fortunate events which occur to him in the movie? Suggested Response: They include: his intelligence; his friend Chuckie; the interest of Professor Lambeau; a legal system that was flexible enough to allow him one more chance on the condition of therapy; having Sean as a therapist; and meeting Skylar.

21.  Was Professor Lambeau trying to manipulate Will or to help him? Suggested Response: Lambeau was trying to help Will to become what Lambeau had always wanted to be, a great mathematician. Lambeau was willing to manipulate Will in order to do that. (Sometimes you have to manipulate people in a nurturing way in order to help them.) However, Lambeau wasn't considering what would be best for Will, the whole person. It is very hard for people to get beyond their own perspectives. That is one of the reasons that Chuckie was such an extraordinary character.

The following three questions should be asked together.

22.  What role does social class play in the movie? Which social classes are we talking about? Suggested Response: The class conflict was working class vs. educated elite which is also sometimes described as town vs. gown. This conflict was essential to the plot and set up several conflicts that had to be resolved: Will vs. his therapists, Will and his friends vs. students, Will vs. Skylar, Will vs. Lambeau, Sean vs. Lambeau. See Class Critique section of the Learning Guide to this film.

23.  One person is a bridge between the two socio-economic classes shown in the film. Who is he? Suggested Response: Sean. After his treatment, Will Hunting will also be able to move in both worlds.

24.  Is discrimination against a person because of the socio-economic class they belong to any less destructive than racial discrimination? Suggested Response: There is no one answer to the question. The point is that they are both very destructive to self-esteem and pervert the cultures of both the oppressor and the oppressed.

25.  Evaluate the character of Lambeau's assistant, Tom. Suggested Response: He seems to be a caring, mature, adult who accepts his demotion from being Lambeau's favored student to being the coffee boy with good grace and without losing his affection for Lambeau. He even tries to intervene with Will to get Will to treat Lambeau better. Will, the child with attachment disorder, is not willing to go out of his way for anyone except his peer family of friends.

26.  Why is the character of Will Hunting portrayed as being brilliant? Even people who aren't particularly smart have attachment disorder. Suggested Response: One reason is that it drives the plot. Will's mathematical genius attracts Professor Lambeau, who gets him out of jail and to the therapist. However, Will could have been a great violinist or artist or even Lambeau's nephew with no particular talents. A plot could have been constructed without intelligence being Will's gift. The better answer is that it shows that intelligence, even great intelligence such as Will Hunting's, cannot break through psychological illness based on childhood trauma.

27.  Will Hunting was able to look at Sean's picture and describe Sean's character with enough accuracy to really upset Sean. Will was able to do this because of two reasons. One was because Will was so smart. What was the second one? Suggested Response: The picture was not only a window into Sean's emotional state, but it showed what Will was experiencing as well.

Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:

Child Abuse

1.  Is a child ever responsible for the abuse perpetrated upon him or her by an adult? Suggested Response: No. It is the adult who has the responsibility not to abuse a child. Adults are more powerful, older and more experienced than children.

2.  Describe the effects of the beatings and parental neglect suffered by Will. Suggested Response: They made him distrustful of people other than males his own age. They made it so that he could not form genuine attachments to adults, especially women. They made it difficult for him to control his anger.

3.  What percentage of children who are sexually abused report the abuse? Suggested Response: About 10%.

4.  Approximately how many girls will be subject to unconsented sexual contact by an adult? Approximately how many boys will suffer this fate? Suggested Response: The rule of thumb is one in three girls and one in six boys.

5.  Describe the mechanism by which child victims of physical abuse come to blame themselves for the abuse. Suggested Response: See Why Abused Children Blame Themselves section of the Learning Guide.

6.  Describe the mechanism by which child victims of sexual abuse come to blame themselves for the abuse. Suggested Response: See Why Abused Children Blame Themselves section of the Learning Guide.


7.  Explain the importance of promptly giving an infant consistent attention and gratification of the basic needs for food, sleep, warmth, etc. Suggested Response: See Helpful Background Section, paragraph 5.

8.  Why was it important for Sean to describe his relationship with his wife to Will? Suggested Response: An important part of parenting is to provide children with role models and a fund of stories to guide them in decisions they make in their own lives. Will had never seen a strong, empathic and loving relationship between a man and a woman and didn't know what it was like. Sean provided him with that knowledge vicariously. Will used that emotional knowledge to gather enough trust to follow Skylar to the West Coast.

9.  When a child is physically abused by a parent, what are some of the internal scars that are left? Suggested Response: They are lack of self-esteem and self-blame for the abuse. In extreme cases, the child will develop attachment disorder.


10.  Do you know anyone who has a marriage like the marriage that Sean described? Is it possible? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to the first question. The answer to the second question is "yes", there are many marriages like that.

11.  Can marriages and romantic relationships between people of different classes, such as Skylar and Will, work out? What is special about these marriages? Suggested Response: This question is great for developing class discussions. Some kids will say that it's impossible and others will say that it can be done and has been done millions of times. Whether one thinks that it is possible or impossible, the differences can make a marriage or a relationship more difficult. There is less in common and there are more compromises to make. All couples bring different "scripts" to their relationships based on their families of origin. Some of the scripts reflect emotional dynamics (loud, demonstrative, argumentative vs. restrained, cool, polite). Some scripts may be class-based and others may simply be differences in approach. In addition, the relatives may have problems with class-based differences.

Romantic Relationships

12.  What did this movie teach you about romantic relationships? Suggested Response: You have to be willing to risk and you have to be willing to love. Your partner needs to be able to take risks as well.

13.  Compare the relationship between Will and Skylar to the relationships with women of Will's three friends. Suggested Response: What we are shown of the relationships that the friends have with women is that they are very shallow. Will's relationship with Skylar has the possibility of becoming a strong empathic loving relationship.

See the second Quick Discussion Question.


14.  Why is fighting dangerous? Suggested Response: Your opponent might be like Will Hunting and unable to manage his anger. If he wins, he might not be able to stop until you are dead or seriously injured. In the fight on the basketball court it was a good thing Will didn't have a weapon and it was a good thing that his friends pulled him off when they did. Otherwise, the guy who beat Will up in kindergarten would have been dead.


15.  Both Will and his friend Chuckie were extraordinary in some ways. We know that Will was incredibly intelligent. How was Chuckie extraordinary? Suggested Response: Chuckie was mature and nurturing beyond his years. He could see that what was good for Will was beyond his own horizons. He did not react defensively to this but instead he encouraged Will to reach his potential. Chuckie proved himself to be a true friend to Will because he encouraged Will to do something that would inevitably take Will away from their friendship.

16.  Were Professor Lambeau and Sean McGuire friends? What does this story show about their relationship? Suggested Response: They were friends because of the tie of personal history. Their friendship was complicated by competition. It was not a strong active friendship like that between Will and Chuckie but there was a bond of shared experiences and affection. At the end of the movie, they appeared to reconcile.

17.  Sean described Chuckie's relationship with Will as that of family, implying that he was absolutely loyal to Sean. Is absolute loyalty a good thing in a friendship or even in family relationships? Suggested Response: There are limits to loyalty: ethics and morality. What is to be given without question is love and affection. One should not do something unethical to support a close friend or family member. (For example, Chuckie should not have supported Will in starting the fight against the man who beat Will up in kindergarten.) However, unless the friend or family member has done something heinous, love and caring for them as a human being should not be withdrawn. Even if they do something terrible, like participating in genocide, a strong argument could be made that they still deserve affection as human beings if they repent and seek to make amends. See Quick Discussion Question relating to the movie Sometimes In April.

Male Role Model

18.  It has been said that male maturity involves being responsible, caring and emotionally available. Which of the characters in this film most completely approached that goal at the beginning of the film? What about at the end? Suggested Response: At the beginning of the film it was Sean McGuire. He was a man who understood that maturity meant being in touch with his feelings. He was responsible and caring. The second character to approach this goal was Will's friend Chuckie. While he participated in the male culture of cruelty with girls and with Morgan, he was a caring friend to Will. He acted in a responsible and caring manner when he encouraged Will to break out of the Southie lifestyle and engage his possibilities. At the end of the movie, after the psychological treatment, Will had a shot at also becoming responsible, caring and emotionally available.

19.  No one in this film is perfect. But who is the best male role model in this film? Why? Suggested Response: The best male role model is Sean McGuire. See response to preceding question.


20.  Did Will Hunting have a responsibility to himself or to society to develop his talent to solve math problems? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question.

21.  [For students who have seen or read Amadeus.] Compare Professor Lambeau to Salieri in Amadeus. Suggested Response: Both Lambeau and Salieri saw genius in another person that easily surpassed anything that they could hope to accomplish. However, whereas Salieri tried to undercut Mozart, Lambeau only tried to mentor and help Will become a great mathematician.

Breaking Out

22.  Often, characters who break away from their home cultures and explore new ways of relating to the world find resistance from their friends and family. How are the events of this movie different than that situation? Suggested Response: Will's family was Chuckie, who saw that Will's future lay outside of Southie and who encouraged him to make the break.

23.  During most of the movie, what was keeping Will from entering the new (for him) intellectual/academic culture? Suggested Response: His attachment disorder made him fear developing meaningful relationships with adults and women. Will had created a situation with his life of low skilled jobs, a group of three male friends, and reading alone. This world felt safe to him. (There were also dissatisfactions which is why he solved the math problems on the chalk board at MIT (a cry for recognition), why he pursued a relationship with Skylar, and why he continued in therapy with Sean.) However, if Will really committed to this new culture he could not be sure to control the situation. He would have to interact with people of intelligence (though almost all would not be as intelligent as he), who were trained and who demanded relationships that were different from than the relationships of his status quo.

Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)

Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)

See Questions under the "Male Role Mode", "Friendship" and "Romantic Relationships" categories above.

Last updated December 16, 2007.

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