Will is a genius and goes out of his way to work as a janitor in MIT. This is apparently because he enjoys exposure to complicated maths.

But what does he gain by being physically present at the MIT? He doesn't take classes there and he can't access any MIT specific labs (and the movie shows him not to use any labs anyway). Any books, papers or journals etc that he wants to read should be available in libraries elsewhere. There seems to be no compelling reason to take up a new job with a long daily commute and other overheads.

It couldn't just be to solve math problems occasionally posted by college professors either because the movie shows that he discovered it by random chance (I don't have the video handy but I remember he was shown to have come across it while just cleaning floors). Besides, if he really wanted to solve complicated math problems so badly then he would've been better off by taking a job at NSA etc.

So, what exactly does he get out of it?

Sean: There's honor, ya know, in taking that 40-minute so those college kids could come in the morning and their floors are clean and their wastebaskets are empty. That's real work.

Will: That's right.

Sean: Right, and that's honorable. Sure that's why you took that job. I mean for the 'honor' of it. I just have a little question here. You could be a janitor anywhere. Why did work at the most prestigious technical college in the whole fuckin' world? And why did you sneak around at night and finish other people's formulas that only one or two people in the world could do and then lie about it? 'Cause I don't see a lot of honor in that, Will. So what do you really want to do?

  • Possible duplicate of Will's problem in Good Will Hunting – Paulie_D Feb 17 '17 at 18:44
  • @Paulie_D This question is limited to what he hopes to gain by being physically present at MIT when he could've access to the advanced Maths books/papers in any library elsewhere. – Achilles Feb 17 '17 at 19:14
  • It has nothing to do with access to math. Johnny Bones covers it in his last sentence. – Paulie_D Feb 17 '17 at 19:18
  • "Being around intelligence" is a meaningless phrase. – Achilles Feb 17 '17 at 19:20
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    Don't get me wrong. Your thinking becomes more clear as one reads on, but it's generally best to be very clear in your opening sentences. – jpmc26 Feb 18 '17 at 1:26

Will was a victim of abuse by a foster father, and he blamed himself for this abuse. As a result, he became an under-achiever and self-sabotager in all his adult employment and relationship endeavors. He had the need to explore his own intelligence, which he was aware existed, but he also had a need to fit in with his peers who were less intelligent than he was. His peers were his family. As a result, Will was left with limited outlets for his intelligence; reading alone in his apartment and working as a janitor at a prestigious school. There, he could be around intelligence without having to fit in.

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    So it's because he wants to be "around intelligence"? It's worth noting that he has absolutely zero real interaction with people at MIT other than solving those two math problems. – Achilles Feb 17 '17 at 19:11
  • Well, that's all we've seen. Doesn't mean there wasn't any other interaction. Conversations overheard. Homework dropped. Textbooks left behind. We have no knowledge of any of that which may have transpired. – Johnny Bones Feb 17 '17 at 19:26
  • Sure, but then it's mostly pure opinion. It's also entirely possible that that he finds some fascinating journals at MIT not easily available elsewhere or that he's there to "one-up" students/teachers out of spite or something else. I do concede that your answer provides a very plausible explanation. – Achilles Feb 17 '17 at 19:40

He needs to see if he "measures" up with the smartest and brightest. He's had trama in his life, but Robin Williams told him "it's not his fault.") It's not just math, remember, he knows "history" and put down the undergrad in the pub and helped his girlfriend with chemistry. It's not about finding textbooks, or journals not easily available elsewhere, (remember, you can get all you need for $1.95 in late charges,) or being around intelligence or working for others (remember, he turned all offers down). He's there "to show them it's so easy for him."

  • Just curious why you think he didn't enroll in classes, as that's really the best place "to show them it's so easy for him". – Johnny Bones Feb 20 '17 at 14:10

This movie suffers from an unreliable scriptwriter. MIT students (and even MIT janitors) are comfortable using numbers in regular conversation. The scriptwriter is not. Proof of this shows up twice in the first two minutes of the movie.

So let us rephrase the question: Where would a mathematically gifted character like Will Hunting feel more comfortable? Hanging out with MIT students, or hanging out with his innumerate creator (at Harvard's drama department)?

In the real world, an MIT janitor gets to talk with people who enjoy numbers and ideas that use numbers.

Many MIT students hang out on campus at times when the janitorial staff is working. Students often get to know janitors, maintenance men, and night watchmen by name. If a janitor is interested, he or she can join in a variety of conversations. The Assassins' Guild, the Science Fiction Society, hackers, pranksters, "spelunkers", and many "computer clusters" are all active late into the night.

Also, many MIT clubs and activities are open to all members of the "MIT community", including janitors and their families. Some related examples:

  • The campus policeman murdered by Chechens in 2013 was a friend of many students, and was a member of the MIT Outing Club. (The Outing Club is MIT's outdoor club; it maintains a cabin in the mountains and sponsors hikes up Mount Washington.)

  • A chef in MIT's Student Center home-schooled his son using MIT's OpenCourseWare program. His son did much of his homework in the Student Center alongside MIT students. The son is currently a full-time student at MIT.

  • A movie can't break suspension of disbelief. The viewer is the only one who can suspend (or not) their disbelief. – Patrick Stevens Feb 18 '17 at 8:29
  • While interesting I don't see an answer to the question here. – Paulie_D Feb 18 '17 at 9:26
  • @Paulie_D: The question was "What does he get out of it?" The answer is: The camaraderie of being part of the MIT community, and the chance to learn alongside MIT students. – Jasper Feb 18 '17 at 9:45
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    Then perhaps you need to make that clearer...plus there is no evidence that Will is doing any of the things you mention. – Paulie_D Feb 18 '17 at 10:04

I just re-watched this movie, and interpretation of why MIT, and no where else, is that it's a cry for help/attention. The mind has a natural desire to share what it has learned. To share its thoughts, ideas, and epiphanies. A child-like "Look at what I did/learned!" or "Look at what I can do!" expression, and for a bright smart child, there is a lot of that it wants to share.

But, because of his fear of human connection, he lies about it. Denies it exists. Runs away the moment he is noticed. It is emotionally safer to do so.

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