Blantantly stealing a youtube comment (bottom of the barrel i know) more so i can reliably look at it later more than anything. its still a really interesting analysis of one of the many great scenes in one of my favorite movies.
This scene is fascinating to dissect and really shows the writers know how counselling works. I doubt anyone's interested but here's my very long in-depth analysis of the scene.
This is Will's first session here. It feels important to him that he shows how strong and tough he is and that he doesn't need therapy. You see it all the time with kids in counselling, there's that way of strolling round the room as though you're a) testing the space is safe, the way an animal will in unfamiliar territory b) asserting dominance by strolling round again, almost like an animal leaving its scent and c) looking for weaknesses to attack: he chooses the books he keeps.
"United states of american history volume 1" said in a sneering manner. Keep in mind all this time Sean is just sitting there still in the centre of the room, while this kid just waltzes around sneering at things, imagine how it'd feel for someone to do that walking round your bedroom? That's the feeling Will is trying to push onto Sean. Will then notices the army picture, he has some level of respect for that, it's not something he can attack so he ignores it and brings his eyes back to the books. "Jeeesus."
And then lighting a cigarette, the ultimate way of asserting his dominance, "**** your smoking rules, you can't control me just like non of the other therapists could." He then schools Sean on what the correct history book to read is "I know more than you do, you're stupid compared to me."
Sean shoots back with Noam Chomsky book to say "I equal your intelligence". A moment Will again ignore, barely even taking in what Sean says. That's something this scene gets perfect: the filter people can have on their minds, Will simply filters this out and says "you people ******* baffle me."
That's my favouite line of the scene because what it shows you is what all these books feel like to Will. They're not just books in a room for Sean's use, Will interpret them like bragging, like a load of medals Sean has hung on the wall to show off his intelligence. Firstly, Will wouldn't like that and has to criticise because Will needs to be the one to show of his intelligence and dominance but secondly...just the idea that that's how Will sees it. It might be correct that Sean has all those books on shelves to make himself look smart and respectable, but there are tonnes of ways Will could've interpreted it...yet he saw it as that: these books are a threat, they are this stranger therapist showing off how much better he is than me, I don't like that. Tells you a world about how Will's mind works that he sees a load of books on a shelf like this.
"You surround yourself with them and they're the wrong ******* books." Another great line. "surround yourselves with them" like these books are armour, a fortress for Sean to hide behind. Just the idea Will sees it that way says so much about him...but they're the wrong ******* books, because Will need to show he knows better and is smarter.
"So what are the right ******* books." Does two things a) Sean shows he doesn't mind swearing and not uptight in that same way all the other therapists were. b) he's challenging Will's point in a way that gentle and not at all confrontational. Will ofcourse can't list the right ******* books because he doesn't exactly know himself, it was just a comment he made to try and make Sean feel stupid so he says "whatever will blow your hair back."
"I ain't got much hair left." This is where Sean start employing humour, largely poking fun at himself because he recognises that Will doesn't want to be made to feel small and it might set him off. It shows he can take Will's insults, he's strong enough to manage them without either breaking down or reacting angrily to them. It shows Sean is resilient to cope with Will, which begins stage two of their interactions. Will is no longer just trying to assert his dominance, he's know also testing if Sean is strong enough to bear him, or if he's weak like the other therapists and will give up on him. This is all unconscious so Will won't know it's what he's doing, but he's now starting to test if Sean is good enough to manage someone with as much emotional baggage as Will. Want proof for this fact? Remember later in the film where he tells Skylar that he reckons she'll leave him if they get too close because everybody leaves him? That's what he's expecting Sean to do, so he tests it. "If I go on the attack, if I show Sean my very worst, will he give up on me?""You're better of shoving that cigarette up your arse." Sean's attempt to stop him smoking done with light humour. Will responds with humour but refuses to stop smoking. Sean shows he won't just completely ignore it, but he realises Will isn't ready to let go of that total dominance and power he needs to feel yet, so he laughs and just accepts it. It's almost like a compromise "I've pointed out I don't like you smoking but I'm willing to accept it this first session if it helps you settle in."
Very macho talk about lifting. Sean shows Will he's not weak. In comes the filter on Will's mind after Sean points out he benches 285...that's more than Will so he ignores the comment and changes the subject. This moment is also where the session start to derail. Will doesn't want to be made to feel small and weak...the idea that Sean is physically stronger makes him feel exactly that. Will needs to address the balance by quite cruelly attacking Sean now so he goes for something very personal: a painting.
As he's staring at it you hear Sean ask. "You like art? You like music?" he feels nervous that Will is going to attack his painting so he's trying to draw the subject away, Will repsonds by telling it's a piece of ****. A pretty damning statement but Sean shows he's tough enough to take it. It's not quite had the effect Will was hoping the attack would have so he sticks the knife in further.
He criticises the skill of the painting, which Sean is still able to bear so he goes deeper and attack the emotions behind it. He starts psychoanalysing: he starts using Sean's own profession against him, that's as harsh as an attack as you can get. He also uses it to suggest Sean became a therapist because he ****** up his life. But again, Sean takes it on the chin. "Bingo!"
I should also point out, Will has succeeded in getting Sean out of his chair by now. Wandering round the room was important for asserting Will's power but it also delays the session from really starting. If they both sit down together, Sean's going to start probing his feelings and that's dangerous waters for Will, he doesn't want that...he's now got Sean out of the chair as well and now that's happened, there's no hope of this session ever really starting.
So still, Will hasn't wounded Sean so he takes a punt "maybe you married the wrong woman?"
"maybe you should watch your mouth."
His attack finally lands. That slight grin you see on Will's face here tells you everything. It's the same grin that anyone who has worked in a school will know. You can almost read Will's unconscious thoughts here as "I've finally found the chink in his armour. I've finally broken him down. Now I can make him lash out and give up on me the same way everyone else does, which means I won't have to sit in this chair with him and delve deep into my uncomfortable feelings, because I'd rather not think about them. I've proved I'm tougher than him, I've proved I was right to think no one can stand me when I show them my worst, and I've also proved I don't need therapy. Victory!"
He makes the final blow and Sean finally loses it. Will looks a bit afraid at first but then his smirk returns and he mockingly says "time's up" meaning "another therapist I've broken, I win!" This is the part of the scene people seem to be misunderstanding. Sean's success isn't that he shows Will he won't put up with his ****, because all the other therapists showed that too, they wouldn't put up with his **** so much so that they refused to see him ever again. Sean's success is that even when Will throws everything he's got at Sean, even when he's downright cruel and stirs Sean into violence, even then, Sean will still see him again.
That's an incredibly powerful thing. Sure, it's important that Sean has set some level of boundary that Will won't break in the future "do not insult my wife." but the reason the work can begin after this is because Sean will see him again. It's the very message will wasn't exepcting "I won't give up on you. Even when you're the biggest little **** ever, I won't give up on you. I will forgive you, I won't hold a grudge, and we'll come again next week to repair our relationship." That's a hugely powerful message that he shows in his actions, a message we could all do with experiencing at somepoint. Will is used to people leaving him and now here's finally someone who won't. From here on Will can't really wonder "what if people hate me deep down? What if a time will come when Sean will see my real side and realise he doesn't like me anymore?" Sean has already seen the very worst of the worst from Will and he still wants to see him again. That's Sean's success: not that he lashes out, but that he can repair the relationship even when it's taken to breaking point.
because of all the support you've all given me, I decided to make a youtube channel to post more polished, more in depth videos analysing scenes like this one from Good Will Hunting. I'm working on making this scene into a video right now but go ahead and subscribe if you're interested. There's other stuff I'll be doing too, including any films you'd be interested in me analysing. You've all been so positive in the replies and I'm genuinely grateful for all of that.
My channel is called My Little Thought Tree and here's a link You need to login to view this link