The Externalist Critic & Knowing what it is (like)
In Good Will Hunting Robin Williams [acting as Sean] is a brilliant psychology professor who now teaches at a community college after getting burnt-out with academic politics. His friend, a math professor, discovers that the math building’s janitor, Will (a boy severely abused growing up and an orphan), is solving ground-breaking math problems in the hallway at night. The math professor sends Will to Sean in order to get through his emotional problems so that he can see Will’s brain do wonders for mathematical society. Will has a photographic memory (and so let’s say he knows all the facts there are to know). He is therefore able to rip apart Sean by analyzing a painting that is important to Sean by external standards, a painting that is very important to Sean who lost his wife not long ago. However, Sean thinks that he had no reason to worry about what Will thinks about his painting or the loss of his wife, and has a man to man talk with Will:
SEAN: You’re just a boy. You don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about.
WILL: Why thank you.
SEAN: You’ve never been out of Boston.
SEAN: So if I asked you about art you could give me the skinny on every art book ever written…Michelangelo? You know a lot about him I bet. Life’s work, criticisms, political aspirations. But you couldn’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling. And if I asked you about women I’m sure you could give me a syllabus of your personal favorites, and maybe you’ve been laid a few times too. But you couldn’t tell me how it feels to wake up next to a woman and be truly happy. If I asked you about war you could refer me to a bevy of fictional and non-fictional material, but you’ve never been in one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap and watched him draw his last breath, looking to you for help. And if I asked you about love I’d get a sonnet, but you’ve never looked at a woman and been truly vulnerable. Known that someone could kill you with a look. That someone could rescue you from grief. That God had put an angel on Earth just for you. And you wouldn’t know how it felt to be her angel. To have the love be there for her forever. Through anything, through cancer. You wouldn’t know about sleeping sitting up in a hospital room for two months holding her hand and not leaving because the doctors could see in your eyes that the term “visiting hours” didn’t apply to you. And you wouldn’t know about real loss, because that only occurs when you lose something you love more than yourself, and you’ve never dared to love anything that much. I look at you and I don’t see an intelligent confident man, I don’t see a peer, and I don’t see my equal. I see a boy. Nobody could possibly understand you, right Will? Yet you presume to know so much about me because of a painting you saw. You must know everything about me. You’re an orphan, right?
(Will nods quietly.)
SEAN (cont’d): Do you think I would presume to know the first thing about who you are because I read “Oliver Twist?” And I don’t buy the argument that you don’t want to be here, because I think you like all the attention you’re getting. Personally, I don’t care. There’s nothing you can tell me that I can’t read somewhere else. Unless we talk about your life. But you won’t do that. Maybe you’re afraid of what you might say.
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