As the story goes, Will Hunting (Damon) is a janitor with a harsh past who just so happens to be brilliant -- so brilliant, in fact, that without schooling, he can solve difficult math problems MIT students and professors struggle with. With the help of his friend (Affleck), the math professor (Stellan Skarsgard) and a psychologist (Robin Williams), Will comes to terms with his past and finds a way to make the most of his potential. He also -- spoiler alert -- decides to shelve lucrative professional opportunities on his plate and head to California to reunite with the woman he loves (Minnie Driver).
But it wasn't always this way. The film became what it is today because of helpful feedback from Rob Reiner and Terrence Malick.
If you've perused the trivia for 'Good Will Hunting,' you already know that it's hogwash that some people say William Goldman wrote the script. At a seminar in 2003, he explained how Matt and Ben had a whole side-plot in the film about the F.B.I. lusting for Will to do spy work, and Rob Reiner sent the new writers to Goldman to reassert that the side-plot wasn't necessary: "Get rid of the F.B.I. stuff. Go with the family, go with Boston, go with all that wonderful stuff."
The same page also mentions how director Gus Van Sant, eager to up the drama even more, almost ruined the script by convincing the duo to change the script and have Chuckie (Affleck) die in a construction accident. Thankfully, once he saw it written out, Van Sant agreed that it was a terrible idea.
And that brings us to Terrence Malick. Tom Shone recently talked with Matt Damon and the two discussed, at length, the writing process for 'Hunting.' Damon discussed how the idea grew out of his own life, the bidding war the script inspired and what happened once Hollywood had its hands on the script.
Referring to the Van Sant changes, Damon said: "Gus came down and said 'I want to do a draft where Chucky, Ben's character, dies on the construction site.' And Ben and I were just mortified. 'What are you talking about?' 'I want him to get crushed like a bug.' We said 'Gus what are you talking about? You cant just fucking smush Ben. That's a terrible idea.' Gus said 'no I really want to see what would happen.' ... Ben and I did a whole draft, with a wake and everything. ... then Gus read it said 'okay its a terrible idea let's go back to what we had.'"
But then he went on to discuss how Malick helped them change the ending:
"We had it in the script that my character and Minnie's left together at the end of the movie. Terry didn't read the script, but we explained the whole story to him, and in the middle of the dinner, he said, 'I think it would be better if she left and he went after her.' And Ben and I looked at each other. It was one of those things where you go: of course that's better. He said it and he probably doesn't even remember that he said it. He started talking about Antonioni. 'In Italian movies a guy just leaves town at the end and that enough.' And we said of course that's enough. That's where we come from. If you just leave that's a big enough deal. It doesn't have to build up to anything more."
All in all, if Reiner and Goldman hadn't offered their sage advice, if Van Sant didn't ultimately agree with Ben and Matt and if Malick never gave them his two cents, 'Good Will Hunting' would have been about a kid who is heavily courted by the F.B.I., mourns the loss of his best friend to a freak accident and then runs off into the sunset with the love of his life.
Would they have nabbed those Oscars with that incarnation?