Friday, August 6, 2010

Day 120: Where there’s a Will

Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is a janitor’s assistant at the prestigious MIT (Massachusetts Instititute of Technology) in Boston, boozing and brawling with his friends (the Affleck brothers) when he’s not mopping the famous halls of fame at this insitution. Will anonymously solves a formulae set for the gifted students one moment and is arrested by Boston’s finest the next, for uncontrollably pummelling the head of a young male.

So begins the Gus Van Sandt film Good Will Hunting, a movie that centres around the gifted yet flawed genius that is young Will Hunting. Saved from another spell of incarceration by the professor who set the formula, Will is sent to spend time with teacher of psychology, Sean (Robin Williams) plying his trade a million metaphorical miles away from the rarified heights of MIT at Bunker Hill College. Will and Sean are both from the same 'hood, “Southy”, Boston’s, wrong side of the tracks; they understand each other, probably a little too well.

But Sean is not the only person to enter Will’s life and teach him a thing or too, before long he has a love interest in the form of an English student from Harvard, Skylar (Minnie Driver). And so, a young man at war with himself - torn between his “noble” and unpretentious Anglo-Irish, orphan heritage and his outrageously beautiful mind that opens doors at the other end of town - is set on the quest to see if he can become complete, made whole.

Good Will Hunting is a fine script and the rags-to-riches story of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s rise and rise through the film industry on the back of this flick that they starred in and wrot, it's the proverbial stuff of which Hollywood dreams are made.

A whiff of uncertainty, doubt and unbelievability has lingered though as to the credential of Matt n‘ Ben as the real writers of this film. It’s always been touted that William Goldman (Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, Misery, All The President’s Men, The Princess Bride, A Bridge Too Far and Marathon Man) is the real person behind the keyboard that deserves the kudos. Heck, even that Will, devotes a page or so to the unsolved riddle in his book, aptly titled ‘Which Lie Did I Tell?’

Goldman refutes the idea, claiming that he was a script doctor on the screenplay for a day, pouring scorn on those who question Matt and Ben’s Academy Award win, only in the next breath to say “Now I’ll tell you the ‘real’ truth. Every word is mine...” adding “...Not only that, I’m the guy who convinced James Cameron that the ship had to hit the iceberg...”

The screenplay is worth it’s Oscar, whoever wrote it. The scenes in particular between Robin Williams‘ therapist (for which he won the Best Supporting Actor statuette) and Matt Damon’s reluctant charge/challenge are dexterous and deft screenwriting by a person or persons at the top of their game, and I mean TOP. The stuff is the writing equivalent of those aerobatic display teams of the airforce that perform death-defying acts, thousands of metres up in the sky, except it’s not just all show pony stuff, it’s moving and touching one moment, articulate, eloquent and witty the next, then devestating and violent in the next beat.

As William Goldman says in his book, one of the biggest contributing facts to the cause that the two young bucks hadn’t written that script was that they wrote nothing else five years after; maybe their respective acting careers left little time and/or room for a laptop? In fact, in the thirteen years since GWH, Damon has only written one other piece, Gerry (2002) and Affleck co-adapted Gone Baby Gone from the Dennis Lehane novel; whichever way you cut it, that’s small beer when you have such prodigious writing talent.

There are moments in Good Will Hunting that are sentimental tosh, Stellen Skarsgard’s professor is very awkward (writen and/or performed) and my jury is very much out on the strange acting talent that is Minnie Driver, but by an large I’m a fan of this Redemption Plot film.

For a Redmeption Plot it is, and Lord knows I want to know if redemption is available to all?

Day #120 Tip: Beyond redemption? I hope not
Schindler’s List, The Hustler and The em’ all and all are the story type that is the Redemption (or Reformation) Plot.

The Redemption Plot is not necessarily the story of a “bad” man or woman who comes good, it’s often the tale of a character who has one particular facet or character trait that is out of whack with the rest of their being, which generally is that of an otherwise decent person.

Norman Friedman, in his ‘Form and Meaning in Fiction (University of Georgia Press, 1975) says this: “...he (the protagonist) is doing wrong and he knows it, but his weakness of will, causes him to fall away from what he himself knows to be the just and proper path.”

This is Will Hunting: scrapping, drinking, carousing in and out of juvenile detention and all the time, he feeds his brain which is the size of a planet, but resfuses to do anything with it. Friedman goes on to talk about the key that unlocks this plot form “The problem then becomes one of devising the means of forcing his hand, making him choose the alternative course.

Whys is it that Oskar Schindler sells enamel utensils to the Nazi’s one day and buys Jews back from them the next? In The Verdict, how is it that self-centred, washed-up, alcoholic attorney Frank Galvin transforms into the man who defends someone who can’t defend themselves and gets his life back on track into the bargain? How does Will Hunting redeem himself?

Will’s problem is that he has a head crammed with knowledge but little experience of life, the Robin Williams character, Sean, points this out to him “So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michaelangelo, you know a.lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling...”.

Sean and Will’s love interest, Skylar, are the agents of change that confront Will and “force his hand”.....stay in your head or experience life.

McKee refers to archetypal story structures like the Redemption Plot as “genres”, but for once I have to disagree with Hollywood Bob. No one goes movie shopping for a “redemption story” to the best of my knowledge, but this like the other models I’ll talk about overv the next week have served the writer well down through the ages.

The Redemption Plot is a great and popular subplot in the crime story: Al Pacino’s LAPD detective Will Dormer is up for redmeption in Insomnia as is Harrison Ford’s Philly cop John Book in Witness. I’m a great fan of redemption and I truly do believe - in writing and in life - that redemption is available to all.

Tomorrow, “a plot of thought”, The Education Plot.

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