IMPERFECTIONS for Robin Williams
That monologue is about vulnerability. I didn’t know that when I first watched Good Will Hunting fifteen years ago. I thought Dr. Maguire was talking about immaturity: “Knowing it all,” you know? He was, in a way, talking about life experience — after all, he teaches Will as much as he shrinks him. But with each subsequent viewing of that film, Williams’ monologues become more profound, more delicate, more precise. It’s no wonder people thought Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were lying about writing that film: it’s outstandingly poised for rookie screenwriters. But back to vulnerability. Dr. Maguire is talking about the vulnerability of love. I understood vulnerability, as a teenager, mind you, as crying in front of somebody else. You take that knowledge, mix it with fervent ideals, and you get a tonic of vulnerability that is lofty and spectacular. What Dr. Maguire is talking about, on the other hand, is something far more fragile. He is talking about falling in love with the entirety of someone else, but, more than that, he is talking about loving somebody because of their imperfections not in spite of them. And that is a fragile notion of vulnerability.
Will Hunting is 20 years old. I was 13 when I first saw the film. Teenagers, really. The thing we don’t understand as teenagers is how fragile life is. Now, there are some teenagers who deal with accidents and tragedy, and a shopping list of obstacles and challenges before they even reach high school, and I don’t pretend to know the worldview of those kids because I wasn’t one of them; but I do know that, in a general way, teenagers have a lean knowledge of fragility, and by extension vulnerability. There seems to me to be a conflation of vulnerable with weak. And so teenagers are shy with their own vulnerability and a hawk with other’s. Yet, we know, as we read more and live more and have our heart broken and do our share of heart breaking, that there is great power in being vulnerable. It is usually at our most vulnerable do we come to learn the outer mark of our own wherewithal. It is usually at those checkpoints do we learn the depths of other people’s compassion, too. Certainly, it is at our most vulnerable do we learn how much strength we really have.
Depression is a gyre of vulnerability that swirls towards unprecedented depths and takes you perilously close to your limits. I know, I’ve been there. It’s painless though and so it doesn’t feel altogether fragile. Still, you are casting for life lines the entire time you sink. You do learn the limits of other people’s compassion, insofar as you understand their patience. And then, it’s at that point, when you’re beyond self-medicating, and your beyond the limits of those who love you, and you are still stuck in the quicksand of numbness that is a major depressive episode, do you come breathtakingly close to being lost forever. Some come back. Some don’t. I can only imagine what Williams’ family is going through — I mean, the people who actually tried to help him everyday until they couldn’t.
Of course, I learned this about vulnerability by living. But it was Dr. Maguire’s monologue that first introduced me to the nuances of intimacy. I stole as much as I could from that movie, actually. Ask anyone close to me if I’ve ever used the word “peccadilloes” at an odd moment. They’ll tell you I have. I took it from this scene, in fact. Later, Dr. Maguire will be talking about missing Game 6 of the 1975 World Series to have a drink with his future wife. Will is almost angry that he gave away the ticket. And then Dr. Maguire says: “I don’t regret the 18 years I was married to Nancy, the 6 years I gave up when she got sick, and the last years when she got really six. And I sure as hell don’t regret missing a damn game.” That monologue was about sacrifice. Intimacy, vulnerability, fragility, sacrifice, the lessons he teaches throughout the film are the ones that have stayed with me my whole life.
Robin Williams didn’t write that film. I am not even entirely sure how much he contributed to the part other than the greying beard and the idiosyncrasies. He was the conduit, my medium for life lessons I could hardly understand or negotiate. Yet, because of this film, when I think of vulnerability I think of Robin Williams in a wool cardigan sitting in a college basement office dishing about love. That’s what those lessons look like to me. And that’s how I will remember him.