Education and intelligence. While similar, almost synonymous, these two concepts are quite far apart. Both relate to acquiring knowledge, but work differently: education is more about acquiring intelligence through scholarly means, whereas intelligence relates more to knowledge acquired at birth or through general life lessons. For many, there is a moral dilemma existing between both concepts, asking which is the best: to be educated or to be intelligent? Is it better to attain degrees from the best schools, to learn from the best and strive for academia, or is it better to focus your learning on life experiences and what we already know? This can because a sensitive issue for some. However, such a debate is important in the world of education, and is very interestingly represented in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting.
Good Will Hunting, written and
directed by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, features the character of Will Hunting
(Damon), a young delinquent with frequent problems with the police.
However, while working as a janitor in a
school, he solves a complex math problem that Professor Lambeau (Stellan
Skarsgård) left on a blackboard in a hall as a challenge for his students.
While he is initially chased out by the professor, who immediately views him as a
punk putting graffiti on the board, the professor soon realizes the answer is
right and tries to find Will. However, once we meet Will's friends, including his
brother Chuckie (Affleck), it is obvious Will is not well educated, rather
that he is naturally very intelligent and learns everything he reads instantly.
For example, he quotes a book perfectly to intimidate college students who seek to
bully Chuckie for his lack of education. Already, the debate is visible in the
film in that scene, where education is portrayed through haughty students who seek
to bully those
lower than them (those less educated) and intelligence is
seen as a nice man with good intentions, but with a criminal record all the same.
Neither side is perfect, but both sides are clearly seen, and later characters
exemplify this debate.
Professor Lambeau represents education. Once he
catches up to Will, the youth has already been jailed. The Professor pays his bail
and he convinces Will to do complex mathematics with him, all while taking
meetings with a psychoanalyst as a condition of his bail. This is where Lambeau
becomes the incarnation of education. He believes that Will has immense potential,
which is wasted by his attitude and his recklessness. He is also, as seen late in
the film, jealous of Will's natural gifts, which make Will
better than him
in Lambeau's eyes. He also seems to project his own insecurities about
potential unto Will. Lambeau organizes job interviews,
taking risks for
Will to attain a high paying career and a place in
good society, jobs which
Will initially refuses. Education here is seen as an extensive labour to obtain
knowledge and maybe even fame.
The character of Chuckie, on the other hand, can represent intelligence in different ways than Will, whose genius is natural. Chuckie is neither an educated man not is he gifted with intelligence like Will. He is loud, boisterous and is the first to jump into hating people who think themselves better than others. However, unlike what would be expected of the character, he actually encourages Will to take the big jobs offered by Lambeau in the end. Not for financial reasons, but because he wishes that Will would use his intelligence for something great instead of wasting it. To this end, both he and Lambeau focus on Will's potential, but both for different reasons.
Will is torn between such concepts by his own social views. Like Chuckie, he detests people who think themselves better than others, but he gets along well with Lambeau once they talk of mathematics. Will is afraid that the girl he likes will reject him because of his social standing; so earlier on, he lies to her about parts of his identity. This shows that education is important to Will, for while he is brilliant, he is unschoole or at least self-taught and an autodidact. His gift is entirely that of intelligence. He does not wish to fit in with people who are educated, however, as he very frequently distances himself from Lambeau and others. Will's problems are more deeply rooted than his knowledge, but very few characters see this, including him.
When we are introduced to Sean Maguire (played by the late Robin Williams) he acts as a middle ground between intelligence and education. He is an educated man who went to high-ranking universities, but he also hates the pompous attitudes of his colleagues, preferring to teach in a local, more grounded college. The therapist's interest in Will is entirely to help him figure himself out as a person rather than to see him use his intelligence for any form of reason. He even encourages Will to get the girl instead of focusing on getting a high-paying job. He chooses to focus on Will as a person whose potential is not defined by merely his education or his intelligence.
This is perhaps the biggest message to take from this movie in terms of intelligence versus education. In the end, the movie teaches that one should not be defined by his or her gifts or by one's prowess in school, but rather by what the person chooses to do with these gifts.
Interestingly, Good Will Hunting was
originally written without school in mind at all. In the first script written by
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, Will Hunting, while still not a very educated boy, ran
from different problems.
We came up with this idea of the brilliant kid and his
townie friends, where he was special and the government wanted to get their mitts
on him. And it had a very Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run sensibility, where the
kids from Boston were giving the NSA the slip all the time. said Damon to the
Boston Magazine. They were convinced to change the script to fit a more grounded,
school setting. In fact, the only scene that remained intact from the original
script is the meeting with the therapist, Robin Williams' character. Therefore,
while it was not originally intended as such, Good Will Hunting shows
interesting perspectives in the debate of education versus intelligence, choosing
to depict both sides, reaching a middle ground and accepting that there are other
things in life.
Nanos, J. (2013) Good Will Hunting: An Oral History, Boston Magazine, retrieved from the Boston Magazine website in March 2016