Maybe it’s because we all imagine ourselves as overlooked geniuses, one blackboard away from someone recognizing our undiscovered brilliance.
Maybe it’s because life is easier when we think of ourselves as psychologically damaged.
Maybe it’s because we’ve always dreamed of having a group of friends as ride-or-die as Chuckie and Co. — ones so loyal they’ll follow us into a street brawl without us even having to ask.
Maybe it’s because Minnie Driver is super foxy in this film, and all men cling to the idea they’ll one day be saved by a beautiful, intelligent, self-made woman with a British accent who, despite her privileged English upbringing, is still down to drink beers and crack blowjob jokes with you and your dirtbag friends in some shithole dive bar.
Or maybe we just really miss Elliott Smith.
Whatever the case, Good Will Hunting remains one of the most beloved films of all time among men, even now, 20 years after its initial release. If nothing else, it’s often cited as the film that moves men to tears.
It’s easy to understand why — combine all the reasons listed above, and you have the ultimate male fantasy. For all his psychological torment, Will Hunting is a young, handsome man with near limitless intellectual capacity (especially in his chosen field, mathematics); a hot, successful girlfriend; two mentors and a cadre of devoted drinking buddies. His life might suck, but it has infinite potential, and we’d trade it for ours at a moment’s notice.
In honor of the film’s 20th birthday this December (Will is 20 years old at the start of the film, by the way) as well as its emotional resonance, which can’t be contained by borders, MEL found Good Will Hunting zealots the world over — from Valencia, Spain, to Newcastle, Australia, to Karachi, Pakistan — and interviewed them about just what it is about this movie that makes men connect with it so deeply and universally.
Jay Willey, 40, Edmonton, Alberta
I first saw Good Will Hunting in 1998, when I was 21. (Dead serious: I’ve probably seen it 150 times since.) I was blown away. I’m not an emotional person, but this movie got to me so much. I had this mixture of joy, tears and understanding when it ended.
Good Will Hunting gets to the heart of the frustrations we feel in life. Everyone can relate to the anger and frustration Will had in him. He’s this incredibly gifted person, but hides it because he was an orphan and abused and feels unworthy. That’s the dichotomy of life: The world demands you prove your worth, yet forces you to be humble at the same time.
I still feel like Will at times — like I don’t fit in, even at 40 years old.
Wasi Uddin Siddiqui, 17, Karachi, Pakistan
It completely changed my perspective on life and career, specifically about my dream of getting into an Ivy League school. Professor Lambeau [Stellan Skarsgard’s character] has a vision for the career Will should have, but in the end, he chooses the girl. The film is ultimately about goals — we arrogantly try to control our future, but other plans await us.
Men in particular like this movie because it’s about the unique struggles only they deal with. Will has all these career expectations placed on him, but the film shows that true love can guide you to a saner path.
Mustafa Zargar, 29, Baramulla, Kashmir (India)
Good Will Hunting is my all-time favorite movie. I first saw it in 2012. It was recommended by a colleague while we were discussing films worth watching, and my initial reaction was simply, “Awesome.”
I was a network associate at Cisco at the time, and I wanted to keep obtaining professional certifications. But I missed the opportunity to “see about the girl,” so to speak, both metaphorically, in terms of not experiencing life to its fullest, and literally — the actual girl married someone else while I was pursuing career goals. I was a workaholic, and Good Will Hunting taught me to choose life over career.
I’m a freelancer now, so I don’t work as hard and I give more attention to the people around me. I’ve become a world traveler. I go on picnics with friends more often than before. I give less of a shit about money.
I’m a practicing Muslim, and the film speaks to what’s preached in Islam. Work and earn only as much as you need. Don’t forget real life while busy with work. Life is more important than worldly chores.
Rafa Espinosa, 30, Valencia, Spain
I first saw the movie 13 years ago, when I was 17, as part of a cinema segment in my philosophy course. The teacher chose it because of its humanity, and to get us to think about the possibilities in life.
It opened me to the idea that we all have this incredible potential for strength. Back then, I was a shy young boy. My quotidian self wasn’t at peace because I lacked inner strength. My training in dance, yoga and martial arts changed that, and I was able to enjoy life much more. I experienced more and meditated a lot. Now, I’m 30 and I’m studying fine arts at Polytechnic University of Valencia, and for the first time, I’m pursuing my passion — dance.
Like Will, I’ve stopped running from my true self.
Adam Barton, 39, New South Wales, Australia
I saw Good Will Hunting in theaters when it was released. I was 19 years old and was instantly hooked. I went through the rollercoaster of emotions that Will does, and even shed a tear during the infamous “It’s not your fault” scene. For a movie to draw me in like that is rare. In hindsight, Will was discovering himself at the same time I was discovering myself. That was a huge part of the appeal for me.
I’ve seen it plenty of times since — maybe 20 times altogether — and still love it just as much as I did then. Good Will Hunting is pretty much The Notebook for men. It has laughs, mateship and masculinity, but also makes you want to cry.
Watching it is almost a form of therapy for men. As guys, we tend to hide from our feelings. To see a character we relate to in Will — we all think we’re smarter than we actually are, right? — who has this rough exterior become vulnerable and accept his problems is something all men confront.
Plus, he’s literally in therapy for much of the film. Maybe that helps us realize we have these issues we should be dealing with. And that it’s okay to be vulnerable and have a good cry every now and again.