Wednesday, September 20, 2006

As My Tail Lights Fade

I saw the film Good Will Hunting again a few days ago. I'm not sure why I return to it periodically (Manohla Dargischaracteristically slices and dices the plot in her recent feature on Matt Damon). I think the movie seduces me with the idea that we are all like Will Hunting and have infinite talent to contribute toward human progress and personal happpiness, but it is only our inner demons -- eradicable with a hug from a working class therapist -- that hold us back. As we attempt to prop up our flagging will and drive toward some goal, these kinds of stories raise hope.

But should they raise hope? What does a fictional genius character from South Boston who prefers to lay brick than work at McKinsey ("McNeil" in the movie) or the NSA say to me as I struggle with my more prosaic challenges and potential? Can repeated viewings bleach out the meaning and play instead to our over-stimulated emotional sensitivities? I don't know about the deeper question of the influence of fictional narratives on our lives, but the scene in the movie in which Affleck sets Damon straight and causes him to start living with courage rather than in fear always gets to me. I know it doesn't happen in a single conversation with a best friend, but it seems plausible as a turn that life could take.

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