When the Nation Suffers a Loss…
I don’t typically make note of celebrities passing away. At the risk of sounding insensitive, occasionally I’m not surprised. The vessel of genius and the celebrity world can be a dangerous apparatus conducive to tragic endings- we admire our idol’s ingenuity, and often try to avoid the thought of how that ingenuity is generated. Yet when I heard that Robin Williams passed away yesterday, I felt as if a close family member had died. I cried and lamented several times throughout the day. I kept seeing touching homages, I watched the news coverage of C SPAN, CNN, and read all the celebrities tweets paying their respects. During the overwhelming influx of news, details, and so forth, I tried to understand why I reacted the way I did. I never met him. I only knew him through the characters that he played, and through his hilarious interviews on late night talk shows. I suppose, if done well, one can be wholly affected by the loss of someone because of their craft. I thought about the memorable characters he played. At age 24, I still love watching Hook. His portrayal as Peter Pan/Peter Banning gave me confidence as a kid to never stifle my zeal and imagination, no matter how ridiculous. It reminds you to never lose the inner child, because through that inner child, excitement and adventure thrives, there’s color and awkward blunders and messiness and inspiration and all that stuff that gives us that ecstasy-like feeling of exultation. Peter Banning’s transformation from a tightly wound lawyer to remembering that he could fly is an iconic performance fit for all ages. How could you forget that mantra, “think happy thoughts”? Happiness, and happy moments, can in fact, make you fly. Speaking of mantras, let’s not forget how quotable the movie is. I dreamed as a kid to have a food fight scene just like Banning does with the Lost Boys, concocting ridiculous invectives like “You lewd, crude, rude, bag of pre-chewed food dude” and throwing huge wads of colorful mush at my friends, with a fairy as our only audience.
Of course, the influence doesn’t stop there. When I watched Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting, my life changed dramatically. That confession might sound like a stretch, but the messages expressed in the both movies and Williams’s portrayal of his characters become a part of you. His energy is so potent and electrifying- and shockingly honest.The wisdom and humor overflowed Williams’s person while he became the exuberant English teacher who pleaded his students to never stop being a romantic, to hold onto their dreams and cherish the beauty of our utmost human moments. Two quotes that I will never forget that came from the many aphorisms of John Keating is, “we are not laughing at you- we are laughing near you,” to remind us to always keep our sense of humor intact, but not to exact our humor in patronizing or cruel ways. We must use humor to uplift, not to put down. The second quote, which emphasizes the importance of self-expression, stating that one must ” avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he’s exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys- to woo women- and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do.” When I heard this, it awakened the incredible importance of passion. In wake of fulfilling your passions, laziness is never acceptable.The English language must be treated like a gargantuan tool that helps us make sense of our lives, and because our lives are so incredible, a lazy, cavalier, indifferent attitude is perilous and wasteful. Whenever I mull over ideas and topics to write about, Robin Williams’s embodiment of John Keating will echo and resonate throughout my creative efforts. Moreover, Williams portrayal of John Keating helps watchers understand that one should never underestimate the power and influence of the written and spoken word.
I need to take a few moments before I begin discussing the personal and monumental importance of Good Will Hunting. To put it lightly- Good Will Hunting forever changed my life. A little background information before I divulge the revelatory disclosure of this film. In high school, I had suffered several bouts of depression and was regularly seeing a therapist. I hated my therapist immensely, not because I was a surly and bratty teenager. I tried to make ample use of my therapy sessions. To my dismay, my therapist was condescending, and readily infantilized me rather than try to understand the origins of my depression. She made me feel even more miniscule and inferior in a world where I persistently felt invisible and misunderstood. Ironically, the overall failure of my sessions increased my depressive symptoms- I began cutting more, restricting more meals, my insomnia worsened and I gradually stopped responding to my friend’s communicative efforts. In retrospect, I realized that I was reacting to the hopeless belief that I was beyond the possible success of therapy. As a kid, you blame yourself for practically everything- hence, the scene in which Williams states “it’s not your fault”- watching that scene was like emotional divestiture. When I reached the apex of my depressive episodes, I didn’t feel like I had a body and a mind and life to preserve, I became my mental state and it engulfed my entire being. I felt like screaming all the time because of how inescapable the depression was. It clinged to me with a formidable grip and it clinged even tighter in light of my therapy sessions. After I graduated high school, I took a few months to myself, knowing that I wasn’t mentally ready to begin college. During my time off, a sabbatical if you will, I read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies, and one of them was Good Will Hunting. I didn’t necessarily have a firm synopsis of the movie, but had heard great things about it. As I began watching the movie, I was immediately drawn to the dialogue transacted by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck- to this day, I still use “How do you like them apples?” as a comeback and it never fails to deliver. As Matt Damon’s character, Will Hunting, traipsed from on therapist to the next, begrudgingly settling with fellow southie, Sean Macguire, the familiarity of the scenario began to creep through my nerves. I didn’t necessarily want to be reminded of my own therapeutic sessions, yet the relationship between Will and Sean had gradually blossomed into a comfortable level of just pure and unadulterated talking and listening and relating to one another. It was exhilarating to watch two people, one- a wildly smart kid with a lost soul, and the other, a seasoned therapist and widower who had lived a life and drew an infinite amount of wisdom from it, converse in such a casual manner. As I watched the ups and downs of their patient/therapist relationship, in turn, I felt as if Sean Macguire, portrayed by Williams with his tough yet gentle demeanor, had become the therapist that I needed. Sean Macguire did, in fact, become my therapist, because Williams’s performance bled through the screen with compassion and empathy and that Sean Macguire as the therapist perfected by Williams who in turn, is in fact Williams, bringing the impact of his character to life inimitably, was transposed into the room in which I would discuss my struggles and frustrations with my therapist. I no longer needed to complain about my own wretched therapist because Robin Williams was (and still is) my therapist. When Williams looked at Matt and asked him uncomfortable questions, he looked at me and asked me the same questions. When Williams hugged Matt to reassure him that he is not alone, I too, felt the warmth of that hug. Although the virtual plane of which Good Will Hunting took place didn’t happen in a real life sequence, the affects of Williams’s performance was created undoubtedly through real emotion within Williams himself. I believe that only Robin Williams had the ability to utter the truths of Sean Macguire, because the need to express those truths are apparent in William’s overall purpose as an actor. To touch, in some degree, whether big or small, the part of us that needs the most affection. So yes, I am incredibly sad that Robin Williams is gone now, because his impact will stay with me for as long as I live, because after watching Good Will Hunting, I made every effort to live the life I deserved. Watching Good Will Hunting effectively told me that I am stronger than the throes of depression. It might not be easy but it so worth it, and of course, nothing that is easily obtained is worth much anyway.
I will never forget him. I will carry him in my heart, always. Rest easy, Robin.