Good Will Shunting – Why There Are Some Facts Of Life We Might Be Better Off Not Finding Out.
Back in 1997, people warmed to the touching story of Good Will Hunting. Not so much the film itself, which is a bit schmaltzy and for most people is the sort of movie you watch late at night when a few too many glasses of wine have made you a bit weepy anyway. Personally, I go for Apollo 13 when I’m in that condition.
No, it was the back story behind the film that warmed the cockles of the public’s heart. The inspirational story of two young actors, childhood friends, who penned a script. A script that so impressed Robin Williams that he agreed to appear in the movie for free.
Like many people, I took great succour from this tale. I believed it because it was a beautiful story of human triumph and people like beautiful stories of human triumph. I took heart from it for many years, but eventually my sceptical hind brain began to rebel against it. “How come” my hind brain would ask “How come Ben Affleck, the man who co-penned that unbelievably popular movie thought that ‘Gigli’ might be a good idea? It’s about a lesbian who falls in love with a hitman for fuck’s sake.”
I swatted aside those niggling hindbrain itches with the time honoured technique of justification. “Jennifer Lopez wanted to make the movie. She was his missus at the time. It was either do the film or have limited access to J-Lo’s considerable charms. Plus Al Pacino and Christopher Walken got it wrong too, and they’d been in the business much longer than Ben Affleck.” A sort of truce was established between my soft and mushy heart and my stony and cynical hindbrain. That truce was broken by a book.
It was a bloody good book mind, and I don’t regret reading it, but it did put the final nail in the coffin of the “unknown childhood pals made good” fantasy. The book was “Adventures In The Screen Trade” by William Goldman. He wrote “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “All The President’s Men” and “Marathon Man”, among others. In this book he revealed that he actually wrote the screenplay for “Goodwill Hunting”. I checked the internet and there didn’t seem to be any hint of him being sued to smithereens for saying this, so I had to conclude that his statement was true.
Life is full of little disappointments like that. Little revelations that erode the tiny rainbow coloured bubble we all have at our core and that helps us to get through the really, really bad days. The first one is the discovery that Santa Claus does not exist. This is a terrible thing, unless you are German. If you are a little German child, discovering that Santa Claus does not exist also means that you discover that The Krampus also does not exist.
Christmas is essentially a Teutonic pagan festival and the way it is celebrated in Germany, good little boys and girls get presents and bad little boys and girls get grabbed by the heels and dragged to hell by The Krampus. We decided to leave out the Krampus part because children aren’t stupid and will only fall for it the first time. After that, they will take the solid fact that they are never dragged into hell by their heels as confirmation that they are good, whether they are or not.
The next seismic shift in a young person’s perception is when they are taught the “Facts of Life”. When I was a child in 1970s Britain, this happened when you were about ten via a series of films called “Living and Growing”. These featured drawings and animations that featured very hairy people who would not have looked out of place in the original 1972 edition of “The Joy Of Sex”. It was all very clinical and biological and was my initial introduction to the idea that girls weren’t just weird boys with longer hair who wore skirts and were obsessed with making daisy chains when the weather was nice. There was a great deal of smirking and giggling when we were shown these films. At that age we thought sex was silly and comical. Which it sort of is if you think about it objectively without the prism of hormones to view it through.
The final piece of disillusion for many adults, the biggy if you will, is the realization of the non-existence of God. As I have written before, all of the religion fell out of me in a big, ugly lump when I was about 17. I became, as the old joke goes, a Prolapsed Catholic. While my deeply religious Catholic School was diligently teaching about The Almighty, it was to its credit equally diligently teaching me Science. Science won, I’m afraid.
Faith was something I could manage very well as a child. As a young adult, I found it impossible. Believing things for the sake of it is impossible once Empiricism has lodged itself in your skull. Faith is, to paraphrase Terry Pratchett, like trying to open a locked box with a crowbar that is actually inside the box.
I miss believing in God. It made life a lot more certain and more meaningful. I’d like to think if there was a God that when you died, you’d pop up next to him on his sofa in front of a video console where he’d put his arm around you and say something like “I can’t believe lung cancer got you, Dude. Didn’t you see all those warnings on the cigarette packets?” Whereupon you’d both collapse with laughter and spend a pleasant eternity titting about and having a good time.
Maybe one day experience might pummel my brain to an extent where it’s malleable enough to believe again. I do hope so.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2014