Good Will Hunting is one of my all-time favorite films. It’s packed with potent quotables, wisdom, meaningful relationships, and stand-alone pedagogical scenes.

Perhaps one that has continued to resonate with me as I’ve traversed the ineffable world of mental illness is the following scene in which Will explains his position on taking undeserved abuse:

WILL: He used to put a belt, a stick and a wrench on the table and just say choose.

SEAN: Well, I gotta go with the belt there.

WILL: I used to go with the wrench.

SEAN: Why the wrench?

WILL: Cause fuck him, that’s why.

It’s hard to deny there’s something empowering in Will’s refusal to be intimidated; harder still, despite its fiction, to not withdraw from the exchange a sense of magnanimity – of brotherhood (or sisterhood), a “comrade-in-arms” style union with this person who perhaps has taken even more abuse than even our center-of-the-universe selves.

And yet, as you know if you’re familiar with the film, Will ultimately needs the wiser, world-wearier mentor (played by the late Robin Williams) in order to learn one of life’s most important and efficacious lessons:

It’s not your fault.

I know.

It’s not your fault.

I know…

It’s not your fault.

I used to go with the wrench. I think a lot of us still do. Like Will came to learn – as admirable as his resistance was – choosing the wrench is evidence of an unspoken perception that one deserves it. And certainly there are stratified levels of failure, degeneracy and mistake-making in society, and maybe some of us have at times vacationed in or even at this very moment belong to one of the lower tiers. But – Robin Williams isn’t telling Will it’s not his fault he gets into fights or mistreats his girlfriend or doesn’t take his future seriously; he just tells him he doesn’t deserve the wrench – that going with the wrench, even if it were somehow “deserved,” is at its core a result of personal choice.

Robin Williams – Sean, in the film – is aware of a fundamental weakness in Will’s character that Will himself, despite his colossal genius, is unable to see; that while yes, his life has been hard, unfair, and even downright brutal, he has allowed himself to become his own worst enemy.

I think this scene – this concept, really – translates well to living with a mental “illness.” Particularly in the depths of depression (speaking for myself, anyway) I always choose to go with the wrench. It doesn’t make me better, stronger, or happier. There’s no glory in the wrench. Any glory that might be had in its brutality is removed by the fact that you are the one choosing it. Surviving the wrench isn’t surviving unexpected circumstance – I’m hardly fighting off a shark attack, or escaping from a burning building. I’m plain-and-boring-simple doing it to my damn self.

I used to go with the wrench.

I’m enjoying going without it – maybe you would to.

Because it’s not your fault.


One thought on “I Used To Go With The Wrench

  1. In most areas of my life I go without the wrench too but in a couple of others it’s so ingrained I don’t know how to go without it! I’m hoping therapy will help.


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