About a Girl
by Kristin Armstrong
Photographs by Jessica Fontenot
I love it when I figure out that my kids have not seen one of my favorite old movies. I suddenly become obsessed with the idea of watching it with them, like somehow it will connect me to them in a new way, or maybe it simply connects me back to myself? It usually begins with me shrieking:
They look at me sideways and say something like, “Uh, that movie is old.”
Yeah, well, so am I (kind of). Then I try to finagle a movie night, which is not the easiest thing to do with a teenager who either has heaps of homework or wants to be anyplace other than with me when the sun sets. I somehow recently got my daughter to watch the classic film “Good Will Hunting.” I know, can you believe she had not seen it before?
We Favored dinner, sat by the fire and ordered up the movie on iTunes. I was in heaven; she was likely in purgatory. When I explained that the screenplay started as a final project for a playwriting class back when Matt Damon was a student at Harvard, she was appropriately intrigued. The film cost a mere $10 million to produce in 1997, so part of it looks pretty dated, especially the fight scene — but, hey, Matt Damon wasn’t Jason Bourne yet, so we will cut him some slack.
I knew I loved this movie when it came out so many years ago. At the time I saw it, I was a year away from getting married and living overseas, two years from having my son. But I didn’t know any of these things, not yet. The scenes carried weight with me then, but nothing like now. Maybe it was because I was sitting on the sofa, next to my 17-year-old daughter and seeing the film through both of our eyes at once. Or the fact that I was missing my 19-year-old son, away at college. Or maybe it’s that I finally have the compassion that becomes the Rosetta Stone for understanding the language of the underdog, whom we have all been at one time or another once we have lived a bit. When Damon, aka Will Hunting, out-intellects the pompous ponytailed Harvard asshole at the bar and gets the cute girl’s phone number, slapping it against the glass of the café window with the iconic “You like apples? How about them apples?” there is a part of every single feeling human that wants to stand up, scream, “YESSSSSsssss!” and high-five or hug the kid.
Or how about when Ben Affleck tells Damon that the best part of his day is the 15 seconds walking up to Damon’s door every morning and thinking that he may not be there, no goodbye, no nothing, just gone. He wants his brilliant friend to use his brain and make a great life, not just work construction and stay tethered to their decaying South Boston neighborhood. A perfect illustration for my about-to-launch daughter about what it means to love someone enough that you are willing to transcend yourself and let her go. There are things that a film can say, staring at a screen and watching another life story unfold, a parable that speaks what we cannot say to each other, or maybe not quite yet.
… Love really does heal people and set us all free.
My undoing came at the end of the film, the scene between Damon and his therapist, Robin Williams, that was the culmination of all their therapeutic work. A breakthrough, a teary hug and the words that have become a mantra of unconditional love: “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.” Years of abuse, neglect, foster homes and attachment issues dissolved by persistent love, humor and acceptance. This speaks to me as a woman, a mother, a friend and as a future therapist. It speaks volumes about how love really does heal people and set us all free. Williams’ death in recent years made this scene all the more painful and poignant, how a person who devoted his life to making other people laugh struggled so deeply to find his own joy and light. I want to say, it’s not your fault either, Robin.
When Will Hunting finally realized and accepted his own worth, he was ready to build a real life for himself. Ready to go on the big job interview, honor his intellect and test his limits. Ready to take the car his friends bought for him and drive out to California to “go see about a girl. Sometimes we have to see a film again, after life and love have tumbled us around a bit, to really understand and appreciate it. Or see it with someone we love and allow it to speak without words what needs to be said from one heart to another without anything lost in translation.
That scene dissolved me, striking my heart center and rendering me speechless in a way it never did 22 years ago, when I was young and thought passion was everywhere, in everyone, and love and connection were so easy to find. That is the kind of love I want at long last for me, and I want it one day for my children — to be this person, to be with this person. The kind of person who will work through her crap, remove the debris and the resistance she has built against love, and bust through to the other side of fear and limitation and really, really live.
To be the kind of person who has the courage to venture into the unknown, and go and see about a girl.