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One of the Best! This movie is on TWM's list of the ten best movies to supplement classes in Health, High School Level.

SUBJECTS — Medicine (Psychiatry); U.S./1991 to Present,
        Romantic Relationships; Fighting; Friendship; Male; Role Model;
        Talent; Breaking Out;

Age: 14+; MPAA Rating -- R for strong language, including some sex-related dialogue; Drama; 1997; 126 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.

Special Note: TWM strongly suggests turning down the sound during three short scenes containing sex-related dialogue. See Possible Problems section.

Description: Will Hunting is a tough but brilliant young man from a working class neighborhood whose life revolves around low-skilled jobs, hanging out with friends, fighting, arrests for minor crimes, and, secretly, reading everything he can get his hands on. He suffers from a mild form of attachment disorder caused by abuse when he was a foster child. His intelligence is exceptional, and he can easily solve problems of higher mathematics that elude famous math professors. The movie presents Will's changes as he is discovered solving a math problem presented to the best math students at a prestigious university, forced into counseling as a condition of probation, and finds a girl whom he loves.

Rationale for Using the Movie: By showing the successful treatment of a person with attachment disorder, Good Will Hunting provides a basis for studying the origin and treatment of this psychological condition as well as the effectiveness of talking therapy and the insights offered by modern psychology. The movie serves as a springboard for discussions about the role of dependence, independence and interdependence, and about the importance of empathy and emotion in relationships.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: This is an enormously popular film among young people and as such they are willing to put considerable effort into discussion, research, and writing assignments addressing the many important factors within the story.

Possible Problems: Several: This film contains profanity and sex-related dialogue. Teachers should review the movie carefully and be sure to get parental permission before showing the film. There is a violent, but not gratuitous, fight scene. Some scenes show Will in bed with his girlfriend, but they are not actively making love.



Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points

Using the Movie in Class:
      Introduction to the Movie
      Discussion Questions


Helpful Background
--- Attachment Theory
--- Dependence to Interdependence
--- Why Abused Children Blame
--- Class Critique
--- Literary Analysis

Additional Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Additional Assignments

Other Sections:
      Links to the Internet
      CCSS Anchor Standards
      Selected Awards & Cast

WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.


Discussion Questions:

After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.

1.  Will resists therapy until he finally sits in the park and listens to what the therapist, Sean, played by Robin Williams, has to say. What in this out-of-office encounter changes Will's mind? Suggested Response: Will feels contempt for the other psychologists and has no faith in therapy altogether. When he senses the truth in Sean's emotions, Will is drawn to him. Sean is not just giving Will therapy, he is expressing his genuine feelings about trust and love and the condition of being human. Will is moved by the man's personal story and empathizes with his intelligence and his suffering. Also, both Sean and Will are "Southies" and can thus identify with one another.

2.  The scene in which Sean presses onto Will the notion that "it is not your fault" has a serious impact on Will and is a breakthrough in his therapy. Why is this? Suggested Response: Will, as many victims of abuse, somehow feels that he must have done something to deserve such treatment. Sean is assuring Will that the abuse he faced as a child was solely the consequence of severe disorder on the part of his foster parents and had nothing to do with the boy he used to be or the man he is now.

3.  Chucky is a true best friend to Will. Which scene best shows this quality? Suggested Response: There are two good answers. In the scene at their work site, Chucky tells Will that he does not want him to be living this lower class life; that he has a gift which will be wasted should he remain in South Boston. In another scene, Chucky discovers that Will has left town and shows through facial expression both a keen sense of the loss of his best friend and a sense of joy at the fact that Will has left town.

4.  Class differences can undermine a relationship between a man and a woman. What do you see in both Skylar and in Will that will cause their relationship to get past the distinctions caused by class? Suggested Response: Answers will vary. Will was clearly aware of the class differences; he knew that Skylar was living on inherited money. However, Will's intelligence, which she holds in awe, surpasses class difference from Skylar's point of view and suggests that love transcends class.

For additional discussion questions, click here.



Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1.  Research attachment disorder and prepare a written or oral presentation on the causes of this psychological disorder and a potential process for recovery. Relate any of the symptoms to Will's behavior in the film and address methods of recovery, which can also be related to Will's experience.

2.  Research and prepare a written or oral presentation on the history of "talk therapy" and its effectiveness against emotional disorders. Be sure to include in your report the various schools of thought in how therapy should be conducted.

3.  Write a detailed narrative about Will's life in California with Skylar: include a description of choices he will have to make and what will become of their relationship. In your narrative, describe action (including dialogue), reveal thoughts (including internal monologues), describe observations by the characters, use descriptive language (including images of people, places and things), and compare one thing to another.
To prepare for this assignment, have students complete TWM's Exercise in "Showing Rather than Telling" When Writing a Narrative. Also check out the Narrative Writing Lesson Plan.

4.  As Sean helps Will, Will also helps Sean face his own emotional problem. As a result, Sean decides to change his life and see what he may discover for himself. Write an essay in which you explain why Sean is able to take this step and how Will helped Sean to go forward with his life.

For additional assignments, click here.


Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

The "It's not your fault" scene is a powerful dramatic condensation of a therapist's work with a child who has been abused or neglected. It evokes very strong reactions in many people, especially adults who have benefitted from this type of therapy. It might also evoke strong reactions in neglected or abused children who identify with Will.

Teachers will enhance the quality of class discussions if they have students read this section of the Learning Guide as a homework assignment. Have them look up and write definitions for any words that they don't immediately understand or go over the difficult words in class. For a printable version of this section in Microsoft Word® format, click here. Teachers should feel free to cut and paste this section and edit it or supplement it so that it will be more appropriate for their classes. Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.

Parenting Points: If you have seen the film, you may want to draw your child into a conversation on what it may be that causes Will to leave Boston and feel OK about taking the risks of heading to California.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Thanks to Froma Burack, Psy.D., for writing the section on attachment disorder. Thanks to Dr. Betty Bardige for review and comments.

Last updated October 2, 2015.

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