My Move, Mr. Williams? -Assignment: Look, Listen, Analyze

When I was a junior in high school, I wrote an essay that analyzed the park bench scene in “Good Will Hunting,” and I felt like I truly understood the deeper meaning of it, but I was proven wrong after this assignment. What I was doing for an English class three years ago did not even take into account how the way this scene is filmed enhances the meaning of the words that Robin Williams’s character is saying to Matt Damon’s.

The assignment goes as followed:

After going through the three playlists provided with an extensive amount of movie scenes, I landed on one that meant something to me and that I thought I knew. As stated in the introduction, I chose the park bench scene between Will, Damon, and Sean, Williams, because I was familiar with the movie and the plot. Although, throughout completing the steps of this assignment, I learned that by eliminating some of my senses such as sight and listening, that I could draw more out of what makes this scene so powerful.

Here are the notes that I took while watching the scene in different ways:

Watching with no audio:

  • Throughout the first half of the clip, the camera pans around Williams slowly while still keeping him the main focal point
  • The shot is taken up close, drawing the audience to focus only on Williams
  • The positioning of the camera keeps a straightforward shot of Williams and Damon which can suggest that they are both equal
  • Around the 2:00 minute mark, the camera begins panning around Damon’s profile entering the far left of the screen while still keeping Williams centered
  • At the same time, Damon’s profile is out of focus which highlights Williams’s character more
  • At 2:45, the camera jump cuts to Damon’s stoic profile which reveals that he is listening and taking in every word that Williams’s is saying
  • Also at 2:45, William’s is predominately left and his profile is out of focus which causes the audience to focus on Damon’s emotion
  • At 3:29, it jump cuts back to Williams and in the same position where he is the focal point and Damon’s profile is back to being out of focus, and the camera is not panning anymore
  • 3:41 the camera goes back to Damon and then back to Williams at 4:03 in the same positions as before which I would infer as a tense moment between the two where a lot of emotion is being shared in their expressions
  • 4:14 back to Damon and then 4:15 is back to Williams where he gets up out of the frame and leaves Damon alone focusing on his face and panning around it
  • Throughout the entire scene, the background of the park is out of focus which infers that the director wants the audience to only pay attention to what the two characters are discussing
  • Also, the scene is a close up of the two characters which supports the above notion

Watching with only audio, no video:

  • Background audio of wind, birds, and people walking suggest movement surrounding the two characters
  • Damon’s lines are delivered with arrogance
  • The main audio is Williams’s character speaking to Damon’s which suggests that what Williams is saying hold profound emotion
  • There are short momentary pauses which allow the audience to take in what Williams is saying and reflect upon it before the next
  • The calm tone of Williams’s voice suggests that he is trying to reach deep inside of Damon’s character to make him understand
  • The tone shift and emphasis on the word “cancer” at 2:24 conveys a serious situation that Williams’s character has endured and Damon’s has not
  • The serious, but calm, tone continues until 3:30 until Williams’s character changes his tone to an empathetic one that emphasizes his message
  • Damon stays silent throughout the remaining video
  • At 3:55 slow music fades in, it reveals a touching moment between the two where Williams is trying to help Damon’s character

Watching with audio and video:

  • Between watching with no audio and just listening to the scene, I was able to pull together some of the key points that I had not realized before such as just focusing on Williams’s words
  • The panning of the camera, but making sure that Williams is still centered reveals to me that the director wants the audience to focus only on his words and nothing else
  • The tone shifts within Williams’s speech connect together in the end when he is telling Damon’s character that he wants to help him understand himself and people
  • The level to which the two men are being filmed at are equal which suggests that even though Williams’s is portraying to be Damon’s therapist, they are both human

While watching the scene with no audio and with audio, I kept recalling back to what Roger Ebert said about “positive” and “negative” positioning which was that “positive” was on the right and “negative” was towards the left. With that being said, if a character is positioned more to the right then they are seen as being more dominant compared to the left. Although, in this scene, Williams is portrayed mainly in the center which is thought of as being objective, or in my eyes the focal point and equal. Additionally, as the scene progresses, Damon is seen as coming in from the right, then cuts to Damon being the focal point and Williams being on the left. If one were following the rules of what it means to have “positive” and “negative” positioning in terms of what typical emotions the characters are supposed to be feeling, I feel like that idea does not apply. The reason why I feel that it is not applicable is that Williams is not displaying any role of being subordinate to Damon’s character when he is in a more left position and vice versa. Also, when the camera does jump-cut between the two men, I believe that the audience is meant to see the emotions they are feeling rather than inferring that one is dominant over the other. All in all, I thought Ebert’s article provided substantial information when understanding why a character is more left or right in a scene, and how one does not have to follow the typical rules of filming when it comes to showcasing an emotional scene.

From the information that I read in Ebert’s article to the editing techniques I watched in a video, I believe that I was able to draw on those two materials to view this scene in a different light. Being able to watch this scene three different ways allowed me to experience it on another level and have the ability to bring everything together that makes this scene important to the proceeding character developments. Also, by only relying on one specific sense, I had the means to pick up on various aspects of the scene that I had not before. Overall, I enjoyed completing this assignment because I felt it gave me an opportunity to apply what I had learned from Ebert’s article to read this scene in a new way.

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