We are left with two films, one battle, and one unrelenting Ben Affleck. Good Will Hunting felled Gone Baby Gone while Mystic River sent shockwaves through the tournament with its upset of The Departed. Dennis Lehane didn’t quite achieve his dream of sending two works to the finals, and Mark Wahlberg will have to reconcile his failure to reach the final showdown of his hometown championship. One battle stands between us and the finish, between the unbearable anticipation and a beautiful coronation. This ultimate battle will be fought fairly and passionately, pitting dem apples against some bad apples; child abuse vs. child abuse; Damon and the hometown heroes vs. Eastwood and his gang of wily veterans.
In the land of the Sox and Southie, the land of Larry Legend and Landsdowne Street and Legal Seafoods, the land of Fenway and the Freedom Trail, it comes down to a resilient spirit, a measured optimism carrying you forward. How does that apply to movies, you ask? Moving on!
GWH and Mystic River both enjoy almost universal acclaim, having achieved critical and commercial success that endures despite both having been out for more than a decade. The fifteen Oscar nominations between the two films reflect their all-around excellence as well as the inherent difficulty in declaring a winner. A wise man once wrote: “Keep in mind that this competition takes into account more than box office numbers and awards totals. We want to know which movies get at the heart and soul of our city, though this of course requires high entertainment value and impressive performances.” This rings true here as well, but of course both movies offer said entertainment value and numerous standout performances, with Damon, Robin Williams, and Stellan Skarsgård all knahkin it out of the pahk in GWH and the powerhouse trio of Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, and Tim Robbins leading the way in Mystic River. All of these things considered, determining a winner comes down to “the heart and soul of our city” part of the criteria, so let’s see which movie best defines the City On a Hill.
WARNING: Gross generalizations and triteness may follow.
To keep it broad, we often think of Boston as a city filled with hard people, resilient individuals capable of endurance stretching back to the days of our forefathers, fighting simply for their self-sovereignty against a harsh empire (No, I am not referring to the 2004 Red Sox.). If we were to wage this war with real-life figures, people like David Ortiz and Paul Revere and heroes of the 2013 Marathon would probably come up, all embodying the ability to dig deep in times of crisis in order to keep themselves and those around them safe and free. You may be asking “what the hell is he talking about?” or “what’s all this melodrama got to do with two really freaking good movies?” I’ve asked for patience before, and I’m happy to do so again.
It’s nearly impossible to argue the quality of these two movies in terms of screenwriting, editing, cinematography, and so on. As a result, we’re left with contemplating their stories and their characters, which go hand in hand. We’re left with Will Hunting, Jimmy Markum, and those around them. Let’s start with Jimmy. to be blunt, Jimmy Markum is a GREAT character, so kudos to Dennis Lehane once again. Jimmy has done bad things and does questionable things, so it’s easy to label him as one of those “hard people” without much upside. The full picture, however, reveals a man unyielding in his love for his daughter and his family, driven to the brink of insanity when forced to consider the repercussions of his actions and inactions leading all the way back to his childhood friend Dave Boyle’s (Robbins) abduction. In his final moments of the story, it becomes clear that he can’t escape the violent cycle plaguing him and his family, no matter how much vengeance he seeks and enacts.
Will also finds his past haunting him, and his upbringing distorting his belief in his potential, but he proves able to move forward more efficaciously than the players in Lehane’s story. Early on, we see Will get in a fight, and he’s GOOD at hitting, and he LIKES hitting, but eventually he — with the help of his friends — begins to appreciate the value of his boundless youth and intelligence. Jimmy doesn’t have those luxuries, at least not to the degree Will does, and perhaps even more importantly he doesn’t have a support network as strong as that of our site’s namesake. He has his goons and lackies and his family, but not the brothers he seems to need. GWH is littered with geniuses and unending potential, but the movie ultimately accredits the little things — the sleeptime farts and the chats by the water and the British girls you happen upon at a bar rather than the Fields Medals or the high-paying government jobs. Sean and Gerald took vastly different paths despite both having sky-high capabilities, yet they end up laughing together in the end. Chuckie and the rest of Will’s gang of misfit boys don’t have the same potential as their pal, and they know it (Is that not the most underrated movie speech ever?), but they still manage to push Will forward, out of Boston.
GWH shows us forward progress, facilitated by brotherhood, while Mystic River laments the stagnancy of individuals miring in a detached world. One could argue either representation as an accurate portrayal of modern urban environments, but we at GWW tend towards the more hopeful side of things. We can accept the “hard, resilient people” as a staple of Boston-based stories, but that does not exclude the characters from having the capacity for hope and self-improvement we witness at the climax of GWH.
Both movies nail their Bostoniness, whether it be with a Sox game playing in the background or shots of the Charles and Citgo sign, or through the minute interactions between Jimmy and his neighbors, friends, and associates. The accents are funny but also either accurate or authentic, and the tendency of the films’ characters to withhold their feelings rings all too familiar to those of us Boston-bred. People everywhere shy away from sharing their emotions and acting in a completely open and honest manner; this is nothing new. But if I’m going to be in charge of deciding which movie contains the most of my city’s essence, and I AM IN CHARGE, then the movie is sure as hell going to illustrate a hopeful portrait of our men and women. Even if Damon and Minnie Driver didn’t quite work out in real life, their onscreen romance is still more than enough to move an audience and proudly represent our city. There may aways be a collective chip on Boston’s shoulder, but her ability to foster communities’ growth and evolution should be reflected in her individual inhabitants as well. Will tries his darndest to stay safe and comfortable forever, but the people around him won’t let him do that. Gerald initially tries to force Will out of his cocoon, but Sean and Chuckie get it right by pushing Will to escape on his own terms, with the spirit of Boston that raised him still wholly intact.
To live in a community, one that welcomes you with open arms but compels you to push forward, to define your self and your success as you like it. What’s more Bostony than that?
Winner: Good Will Hunting
Thanks for reading!