Two films about trauma (and how the theme heightens my appreciation of them)

The Stammering Dunce
3 min readMar 2, 2024


Also published on Wordpress.

Those films are The Babadook and Good Will Hunting.

I already liked them at the first watch. I liked the former for its slow-burn and jumpscare-free horror. I liked the latter for its heart-warming drama. But, I didn’t find them special and I certainly thought the latter was way too overrated.

Recently, I tried rewatching them and I realised I missed something. Both films are about trauma.

Well, technically, The Babadook is still about grief. But. the film also focuses its long-term psychological effects and yes, grief can be traumatising. In the case of Amelia Vanek, the mother in the film, it is doubly traumatic because her husband died in a car accident while driving her to the hospital to give birth.

Good Will Hunting is about how trauma affects the titular character’s personal growth and his relationship with the other characters. His genius brain is just a mere detail to make him more captivating for the audience. If he doesn’t have it, I guarantee the story would not feel much different emotionally.

Now, how does the trauma theme improve my appreciation of the films? Well, it makes me understand the characters on a deeper level.

In The Babadook, while I already recognised her grief, I genuinely thought the film was about her daily stress of being a working single mother. But, it doesn’t explain why she seems distressed all the time — as if the stress is “permanent” — and it certainly doesn’t explain her emotional instability.

Trauma can also explain the behaviours of Samuel, the son. I don’t know if he inherits his mom’s trauma or not (as it can be hereditary). But, it is very possible he can sense something is wrong with her; he can sense there is something sinister brewing inside his mom and she can snap at any time. He is not being annoying, he is being reasonably fearful.

It also explains why the monster still lives in the end. From what I understand, trauma — the more severe one, at least — is not something you can get rid of; it is something you can only put a leash on. You cannot kill the Babadook. But, you can tame it.

And that segues to Good Will Hunting, specifically the therapist character, Sean Maguire. We don’t seem to realise that, like Will, he also suffers from trauma.

Will insulted his wife, which was enough to provoke Sean to throttle and threaten to kill him… and that happened on their very first session, by the way; anger issue is one of the most common symptoms of trauma. Sean was also abused by his father and he is a Vietnam war veteran who saw his best friend dying in front of him.

We can make an intriguing comparison between the two characters. On one hand, they are very similar to each other; not only they are “Southies” AKA from South Boston, they also have traumatic life experiences, which include being abused by their so-called parental figures.

But, at the same time, they are also different from each other. Will — to put it simply — is a mess of a person; he is aimless, he cannot be emotionally vulnerable in front of his lover and he has constant problems with the law. Meanwhile, Sean has sorted his life together; he works as a therapist and a community college professor and, most importantly, he romantically pursued a woman and married her for eighteen years until her death.

Of course, unlike Sean, Will was also an orphan, which means he had less opportunities and — without any intention to minimise Sean’s suffering — was also in a far more vulnerable state; self-improvement is admittedly harder to obtain for him.

But, at the same time, Sean’s life story feels hopeful. It shows we can overcome our pain and not letting it holding us down. We can prevail against the storm.

I still don’t think both films are among the best in the history. But, my acknowledgement of the underlying theme puts light on new perspectives. The films are much deeper than I realised.






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