We could pick any number of scenes with which to define the wonderful life and brilliant career of Robin Williams.
Indeed, in the past week I’ve read and listened to so much about how he made us laugh with moments of outrageous, brilliantly manic genius that brought laughter across generations. Or those moments of uber-sentimentalism that seem now to resonate so much – carpe diem and all that.
I say unashamedly that I’m a fan of Robin Williams; that I used to sit and howl at the TV at this strange man in bright t-shirts and braces on Mork & Mindy, that I loved his turn as Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning Vietnam and even thought he made a pretty good Theodore Roosevelt in Night at the Museum.
And maybe in future editions I’ll return to some of these moments.
But for now, I think of this, from Gus Van Sant directed, Affleck & Damon writen drama: Good Will Hunting. The story of Matt Damon’s prodigiously gifted yet woefully troubled youth (the eponymous Will Hunting) from the wrong side of the Boston tracks. Williams plays Sean Macguire, the therapist handed the unenviable task of trying to treat the hard-assed young genius.
The culmination of their numerous sessions begins with Will walking in upon an argument between Sean and long-time friend and rival Prof. Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgaard). He instinctively, and somewhat awkwardly, knows it is about him they are arguing.
“That stuff goes back a long way, between me and him,” Sean says, protectively; keen to show that Will is not to blame for the antagonism upon which he stumbled.
It’s a moment of prescience. To this point we’ve seen the relationship between Will and Sean develop through the numerous therapy sessions. Will the hard nut, can’t-be-arsed kid who knows he’s the cleverest guy in whatever room he happens to be in, versus the softly spoken, been-there-done-that Doc aware that he’s going to require the patience of the perennial Job to make any kind of headway. Of course, there develops a certain connection between the two, a certain, occasionally awkward paternal, possibly avuncular relationship that gradually reveals vulnerability and indeed, volatility in both protagonists. Will, the tortured genius with the terrible past, has built barriers and created a tough, at times heartless persona which threatens alienation from those who care and indeed his own freedom.
It also threatens to get the better of his therapist, as we witness in one earlier session in the movie.
In Sean we are presented with a man suffering his own life crisis; a man dealing with grief and beset by a sadness which sits upon his shoulders, tugs at the beard hidden corners of his mouth and reflects within melancholic eyes. Will, in one of his more smart-ass moments decides to tug at the thread of this vulnerability with his own, entirely inappropriate, probing into the relationship of Sean and his late wife. Of course he’s trying to get a reaction, trying to let Sean know that he’s the really smart one and, while there may be some kind of connection between them, ultimately he’s going to prove too tough a nut to crack. The reaction he receives however, is a moment of startling aggression as Sean overpowers and then threatens, with raw, unfettered anger, his young patient.
And it is upon this meeting of minds that we reach the culmination; that moment when a somewhat more reticent Will walks in upon his two mentors arguing over his future. A moment which prompts a slightly embarrassed Sean to tell him that it’s not really about him.
Not his fault.
There’s a moment of banter; again permeated by the overarching sense of awkwardness. Will knows his sessions are reaching a conclusion, Sean seems still to be uncomfortable that he’s failed to make the breakthrough he might have hoped for.
He holds a folder; Will’s file.
“Want to read it?” he asks Will.
Will asks if he’s had any experience with that.
We get a glimpse into the file, photos of a child’s body, horribly beaten and bruised. The conversation reveals that both have been victims of domestic abuse as children; both of whom have carried the scars and the trauma ever since. The scene is deathly quiet; just the sound of the paper in Sean’s hands and the soft words of the protagonists. Will continues to act tough in the face of his past, declaring he’d always tough out the severest of punishments because:
“You know, Fuck Him.”
But in Sean we have the contrast. A man, much older, wiser and none the happier for it, a widower weighed down by his own grief and the terrible sadness he feels for the boy before him. Like a father searching for a way to connect with a wayward son we see Sean’s desperation to reach out and the trepidation to do so.
He takes a tentative step forward, tells him the words, the pictures, everything in the file that tells the story of Will’s life – it’s all meaningless. There’s only one truth.
“It’s not your fault,” he says.
“Yeah, I know that,” Will replies, off-handed, as though he’s heard it all before.
“Look at me son,” this new, surrogate father speaks “It’s not your fault.”
Will’s reply is even more off-handed – I know what you’re trying to do, he seems to be implying, and it won’t work. Not with me.
He repeats the line: a mantra. It’s not your fault; Will now getting angry; the tough kid not wanting to be fucked with. As Sean moves closer we’re taken back to that earlier scene, Will provoking Sean, Sean over-powering him. Will’s vulnerability growing starker.
It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.
Will breaks; tears flow and a lifetime of anguish and pain, buried deep behind the anger and the toughness, pour from him; a boy in need of a shoulder upon which to cry.
And cry he does, upon Sean’s sagging but strong shoulder.