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Critical Analysis of the Film Good Will Hunting - Essay Example

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Firstname Lastname Professor Petit MDSA01 November 29, 2011 A Critical Analysis of the film Good Will Hunting Introduction The view of mathematics in overall culture, and specifically in the arts, has changed only a little from the time when Plato set the basic tone…
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Critical Analysis of the Film Good Will Hunting
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Critical Analysis of the Film Good Will Hunting

Luckily, mathematics has been spared the symbolism of forbidden knowledge, troubled with ethical dilemmas (Frankenstein, Faust, Rappacini). Quite on the contrary, the film Good Will Hunting strikes a balance, and its mathematicians are portrayed as more multifaceted than those in the works referred to above. Good Will Hunting is in effect not about mathematics. It is about the touching story of a young man's struggling to outdo his Dickensian childhood, to find his place in the world, and to attain closeness with others. The main character, Will (the title is a play on his name), is a tough and supernaturally gifted orphan from Boston's South Side. He works as a janitor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and cannot resist showing anonymously his solutions to (apparently) perplexing mathematical problems. The identity of the solver is revealed just about the time that Will (Matt Damon) is arraigned for taking part in a street brawl. His following court-ordered supervision by a mathematics professor and Fields Medallist Professor Lambeau, (played by Stellan Skarsgard) includes psychological counselling. This sets the plot in motion. The way Will feels about himself, the woman he courts, about his remarkable gift and his background are looked into detail through an interaction with his psychologist (portrayed by Robin Williams) whose a background also turns out to be similar. So what is the role of mathematics in all this? Alfred Hitchcock's metaphor of the "McGuffin" rings in the head: an object or idea that drives the plot and with which everyone in the film, but not the audience, is preoccupied. In films by Hitchcock, the McGuffin might be a hidden treasure, or someone's identity. This film's McGuffins are Will's talent and the mathematics problems the he has a knack of solving so easily. It is quite possible that Will could have been gifted in physics, biology, in languages and faced similar issues in his life. Indeed, his intellect is drawn larger than life, so that he can learn organic chemistry, talk about economics, and even defend himself in court, with an ability to cite precedents. So why mathematics? One of the reasons is that mathematics is alleged to be vague that few can do it. In fact, this is amongst the few remarks about mathematics that this film makes, with which a mathematical audience will strongly disagree. Under the opening credits, the first frames of the film are of a mathematical text out of focus and blurred, as if seen by a general reader who cannot understand it. The mathematics referred to later on ranges from simple graph theory, through basic linear algebra to Parseval's theorem (mispronounced in the film) and to what seems like some deeper graph theoretical results. Mathematics mentioned persistently, but in no scene is it presented articulately. Will's gift is valuable, possibly because it is so rare. Mathematics highlights the major differences between Will and the academics. Will is a tough street youngster. His gift is well-regarded but not envied by his friends. Had his gift been in rock music or sports, the plot could not have turned on the choice Will has to make between his background and his destiny. The culture of mathematics doesn’t fit well with that of blue-collar South Boston. And it is not predominantly "our fault". Professor Lambeau goes to great lenghths to keep Will out of jail, to get him a decent job which ... Read More
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