If the original ending for “Good Will Hunting” had stuck, Matt Damon would have gone away with Minnie Driver earlier and there wouldn’t have been the need for Ben Affleck’s speech about his favorite ten seconds of every day. Or the need for Will’s note saying he “had to see about a girl.” Maybe you’d have preferred it that way. Maybe you’d also have preferred to see Affleck’s character crushed to death in a construction accident? That was another possible idea, according to Damon. In an interview with Tom Shone for The Times, the actor shares how Gus Van Sant would have ended it had he deviated from the Oscar-winning script:
At one point after Gus [Van Sant] became involved I was shooting The Rainmaker in Memphis and everyone came down for script meeting. Gus came down and said ‘I want to do a draft where Chucky, Ben’s character, dies on the construction site.’ And Ben and I were just mortified. ‘What are you talking about’ ‘I want him to get crushed like a bug.’ We said ‘Gus what are you talking about? You cant just fucking smush Ben. That’s a terrible idea.’ Gus said ‘no I really want to see what would happen.’ So we did a whole new draft […] but we still didn’t like the idea, then Gus read it said ‘okay its a terrible idea let’s go back to what we had’.”
But way before all that, “Good Will Hunting” had additional conspiracy plot. Rob Reiner helped them sort that all out:
“The original script that we sold had this high concept thing where the government was trying to get Will. Rob Riener sat with us for script meeting and said ‘why don’t you guys take all that stuff out?’ Wait a minute. We can do that? ‘Yeah its enough just to make the movie about these guys. That’s a really good movie. That’s what we really love about it. And we said ‘we thought there was this whole high concept thing.’ ‘No you don’t need any of that’.
Following Reiner’s input, the ending was still different, apparently. Even more of a happy ending model than is seen in the final version. Terrence Malick, who Affleck knows through his godfather, was the guiding force to this change:
“We just asked if we could have a meeting with him. We went to Boston to see him. And we had it in the script that my character and Minnie’s left together at the end of the movie. Terry didn’t ready the script but we explained the whole story to him, and in the middle of the dinner, he said, ‘I think it would be better if she left and he went after her.’ And Ben and I looked at each other. It was one of those things where you go: of course that ‘s better. He said it and he probably doesn’t even remmber that he said it. He started talking about Antonioni. ‘In Italian movies a guy just leaves town at the end and that enough.’ And we said of course that’s enough. That’s where we come from. If you just leave that’s a big enough deal. It doesn’t have to build up to anything more.”
So do Reiner and Malick deserve Oscars for their help on the screenplay? Maybe at least a little slice off the heads? I like what both of them did to make the movie better, though maybe I’m the only one who would have enjoyed seeing Chuckie (Affleck) crushed at the very, very end? Maybe in a post-credits scene?
Also, I wonder if “Going the Distance” would have ended the same way had “Hunting” been different. It’s a big ripoff as is.