Main Hidden Purpose Test Discussion

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07:02:01 AM May 31st 2010
edited by Arivne
Moved the Robert A. Heinlein Farmer in the Sky example to Secret Test. It doesn't fit this trope because he didn't know he was being tested.
02:28:34 PM Mar 23rd 2010
Okay then. First, a little background from the Secret Test of Character discussion

Mr Death: Took this bit out of the Men In Black entry: "Another test involves a simulated fight with aliens. Jay shot the little girl, which turned out to be an evil alien in disguise; the obvious alien monsters were the actual innocent bystanders in the test."

This wasn't a secret test. J failed it. Afterward, Zed is very clearly disappointed and annoyed with J's BS answer, and K has to argue on his behalf despite his performance on that test.

Caswin: Very clearly? I've seen the movie half a dozen times and never noticed any very-clear disappointment on Zed's part. Neither has anyone else I've ever watched it with. Besides which, that doesn't account for the fact that everyone else very clearly failed.

Mr Death: Then answer me this: If J was the only one to pass the tests, and everyone else "clearly" failed, then why does K have to argue to Zed on his behalf? At that point, if one person had passed all the tests while the rest failed them all, it should have been a foregone conclusion, and Zed wouldn't have given K the "If you say so," he did in the movie. Listen to K: "He ran down [that alien] on foot! That's got to count for something." That's an argument that's made despite a failure.

Edit: Look at Zed's face at 1:17. I dunno about you, but that's definitely a "You expect me to buy that crap?" look to me. Zed shakes his head as he walks away.

Caswin: Huh. I'm not sure I caught that before. That said, I think that I've always read that as him flat-out not liking J's attitude, a heavenward "This is our new agent?" look. Zed's next scene has him criticizing not J's lack of competence in the field, but his problem with authority - at which point K argues for him, netting a grudging acceptance. If J had really out-and-out failed, I doubt that being unusually fast and personally liked by K would have been enough to push him through.

Now, on to business. There is nothing in the movie confirming or even implying that everything was a hidden test. The only thing is speculation on the logic of "Jay did this. Jay got in. Therefore, they were really secret tests that everyone else failed."

Look at Zedd's face. That's a face that's saying, "You expect me to buy that bullshit?"

And Kay had to argue with Zed to have Jay brought on. In total privacy, so it wasn't for anyone else's benefit.

In any other show, movie, book, or game that uses this trope, the movie would have made some acknowledgement that Jay had gotten it right. Men in Black contains none.
03:17:28 PM Mar 23rd 2010
Since J is the audience identification figure, we're expected to agree with him about pretty much everything. In those circumstances, that he got the job is acknowledgement enough that J was right. The argument over recruiting J could easily have been because he was unsuitable in other respects, or perhaps simply not from the traditional agent background.

Besides, there's no good reason for Tiffany to be carrying quantum physics textbooks, or for the chairs in which the written test was taken to be so manifestly unsuitable, other than it being an hidden purpose test - or can you suggest a better explanation?

If you can't, it's going in as a clear example of a hidden purpose test. If you can, the film was obviously invoking the trope anyway, so it still gets listed as a description of what J claimed was going on.
05:09:56 PM Mar 23rd 2010
edited by MrDeath
The explanation is that J did passably on the written test; it was probably about law enforcement procedure, that sorta thing. And he got in on the strength of Kay, Zed's good friend and the best agent they had, personally recruiting him and recommending him.

Being the audience identification figure does not mean we're "expected to agree with him about pretty much everything," nor does it mean he's infallible. He's bullshitting to Zed.

Let's go over the scene. Zed starts with, "Edwards, what the hell happened?" clearly evoking some frustration that he didn't shoot. Jay responds with, "I hesitated, sir." His first instinct, and therefor what is likely the truest answer, is that he hesitated because he wasn't expecting the gallery to include aliens.

Then Zed asks about Tiffany. He gives his explanation, and all Zed can do is give him an incredulous look, shake his head, and leave. Jay says, "Or do I owe her an apology?" line, said not with a, "Hey, I passed this" smirk, but with a look that says, "Aaaand you can tell I'm just bullshitting, can't you?" Look at Zed's face. That's a face that's saying, "I can't believe this jackass."

Then Jay's next line, to the other guys, "Good shot though, right?" That's him trying to salvage something from his failure of the test.

The next scene is Kay arguing with Zed on Jay's behalf, and Zed agrees to bring on Jay saying Kay better be right about this kid. That's the talk, in private, of someone who has serious doubts about the new recruit. Doubts he wouldn't have if Jay had passed all the secret tests with flying colors.

Now, let me ask you something. If he'd passed both the real tests, when everyone else failed, if he was the one and only person qualified, then why would Kay have had to argue anything? If you have six applicants, and five of them utterly failed, while the sixth passed with flying colors, you hire that guy. You don't debate over it and have to be talked into it.

As to why Tiffany is carrying textbooks? Because whoever made the simulation decided she should be carrying some textbooks, and on a whim decided to write "Physics" on the side of them. You might as well question why civilians jump out at you in light-gun games. Clearly they must be up to something to.

As for the chairs, they're a style choice since the whole office seems stuck in the 1960s, or at least what the 1960s thought the 1990s would be like. The room is also probably a meeting room, not generally made for test taking.

Him getting the job doesn't "acknowledge" he was right about it being a secret test. You're trying to find causality when there's only correlation. Acknowledging it would mean Zed saying something like, "Well, he passed the real test."

Yes, Jay's behaviors during the tests put him in contrast with the other applicants. Yes, the thing with the table showed he took a more straightforward approach to things. His explanation for Tiffany was meant to indicate that he's can think on his feet. But that wasn't the purpose of the MIB testing, and that's what this trope is about.
11:16:59 PM Mar 23rd 2010
With body language, its easy to see what you want to see.

The chairs are too badly designed for a test to be a mere style choice. Remember, J isn't the first person they've recruited. They've have to be complete idiots not to notice candidates were failing the written test because they had no suitable surface to write on. You haven't explained why Tiffany should be carrying books at all, either, let alone textbooks.

Incidentally, cops aren't expected to blast everything in sight. They're supposed to be able to distinguish between civilians and criminals, so hesitating would be what J was trained to do - take a moment to assess the situation.

As I said, while J passed the two hidden purpose tests, he did not necessarily meet all their other criteria, and there are always more candidates. Fail J for his attitude, then trawl police services nationwide for someone with the same skills, and better attitude, since the other five clearly failed somehow.

Saying, "Well, he passed the real test," would be spelling things out for the audience, which not everything is. Some things are left implicit.

Anyway, even if we accept your strained interpretation of events, J still claimed it was an hidden purpose test, invoking the trope. The example could easily be worded to say that J claimed this was an hidden purpose test, etc.
06:07:22 AM Mar 24th 2010
edited by MrDeath
"With body language, it's easy to see what you want to see," yes, go right ahead and just dismiss the biggest part of my whole argument, based on that entirely unfounded statement. There's a reason that experts are used to analyze body language to find out liars. And body language subconsciously gives you away when you're trying to lie if you know what to look for. Less a case of it being "easy to see what you want to see" and more a case of seeing what's actually there.

If it's so 'easy to see what you want to see,' tell me just what about Zed's actions in that scene imply that Jay was right. Or what about Jay's look on his face when he says, "Or do I owe her an apology?" that implies Jay thinks he's really right.

For your argument to work, you have to completely dismiss all the body language. That's like saying, "The author really means this, but you have to only count the even-numbered pages".

Screwy chairs aren't going to make every applicant fail the test. They might make it harder to take, but they're not going to change the subject matter, or the answers. As for the other five, who said they failed? Sure, there's Zed's gag about them being 'everything we expect from years of government training,' but they were clearly highly recommended by somebody for the MIB. It's less that they failed, and more that they didn't have Kay backing them up, who again, is one of the original agents and who personally picked Jay, and who probably has more outright pull with Zed than anyone.

And yes, cops are supposed to distinguish between civilians and criminals. Jay was expected to distinguish between all the snarling beasts and the innocent little girl wandering in the middle of the street, just like the other officers did; that Jay came up with a clearly improvised explanation doesn't mean he's right. Again: Zed shakes his head and leaves. If he'd passed the real test, don't you think there would be some small sign of approval?

Okay, you want an explanation for the books? The designer was drawing, and decided, "Hey, this girl should be doing something with her hands, she looks sorta bland just standing there...Oh, I know, I'll show that she's a smart kid by giving her books. I know Zed likes quantum physics, so I'll write that on the books. He'll get a kick out of that." Shall we nitpick the rest of her appearance too?

Yes, saying, "Well, he passed the real test" would be spelling things out for the audience. Which is why it's expected if it's really a Hidden Purpose Test. Executives don't like to leave things 'implicit', especially in a big-budget summer blockbuster. Why do you think we have tropes like Captain Obvious and Viewers Are Morons?

If it were a Hidden Purpose Test, then the 'other criteria' would just be window dressing. The point of a Hidden Purpose Test is it's the real test, and the bulk, if not all, of what the examiners are really looking for. Therefore, if he passed those tests so easily, when all the other applicants have failed, then he would be hired without Zed having to be talked into it.

My "strained interpretation of events" isn't the one that requires completely ignoring the body language, which is an enormous part of human communication.

Show me some Word of God. Some script notes, some audio commentary, something Will Smith said drunk to a reporter while filming. Something that indicates that the writers intended it to be a Hidden Purpose Test. Something that doesn't require completely ignoring a major aspect of communication that actors are explicitly directed to display.
06:54:39 AM Mar 24th 2010
Body language is not unambiguous, notoriously so. I see Zed as playing devil's advocate, which means pretending to disbelieve, and in his job, some competence in deception is to be expected. He'd do that even when J wasn't present, to make K work to get his candidate through. is Zed is shaking his head in disbelief that someone like J has passed, not in disbelief at the claims J is making.

If the other five had passed, why didn't they get the job? They can recruit more people than they planned - it's not as if they're overstaffed, or budget conscious.

No sensible person would use chairs like that for a test, because at best they slow people down too much, unless there was a trick intended. The flaw with them is blatantly obvious. As for Tiffany, notice she was the only 'innocent' target, and she stands out a lot. If they were checking whether the candidates could discriminate, the test was badly designed, but it's ideal for testing spotting the non-obvious suspect.

Even summer blockbusters don't spell out every last detail. They don't, for example, explicitly say 'this scene is inside the building we just showed the outside of'. They leave things like that implicit, and this example is of that order. J gives an explanation, then gets the jobs - people are reasonably expected to assume he was right.

An hidden purpose test is not necessarily the only test. In this case, for example, they also want the ability to keep secrets, which we didn't see tested, and there are many other factors.

Now, if you can show me some Word of God saying this was not intended to be an hidden purpose test, I'll accept it. Otherwise, I must conclude your arguments don't stand up.

However, I am willing to compromise. Would you object if we just said J claimed it was an hidden purpose test, without comment on whether he was right?

08:08:29 AM Mar 24th 2010
edited by MrDeath
Body language is not unambiguous, no, but I think it's clear in this case that Zed is disbelieving Jay's answer. Jay's immediate response, "Or do I owe her an apology?" and "It was a good shot though, right?" indicate that even he doesn't really believe his explanation, especially taken with his own body language.

There's nothing in the scene that indicates Zed approves of Jay's behavior or his response to the test. If it was really a Hidden Purpose Test, I maintain that he would have shown some small bit of approval. He brings Jay in on the strength of Kay's testimony.

The other five didn't get the job because Zed says right at the beginning that they're only going to take one of them. If you're only looking for one, and you decide on one, then you just hire that one. So even if all six of them passed with flying colors (and if you've got the "best of the best of the best, sir!" you're going to assume at least a few of them will pass), you're not going to take five of them.

Tiffany was just the only innocent target we saw, because she was the only one Jay shot in the forehead. Law of Conservation of Detail: We don't see the others because they're not important to the scene.

Scene transitions are not on the same narrative level as hidden motivations for character actions. Things like that are typically spelled out eventually, either in the script or through Word of God. Remember, this is a movie where, originally, the bugs were going to be starting a war between two different alien species, but the producers felt that audiences would be confused, so why would they leave something like this so ambiguous?

Asking me to show Word of God saying that wasn't the intent is pointless. There wouldn't be word of god saying something wasn't their intention, because if they never intended it, it wouldn't have occurred to them to point it out in the first place; it's not that ubiquitous of a trope that its absense is worth noting. However, the existance of such a trope is the sort of thing that would be pointed out in commentary somewhere, and its lack of evidence in this regard is more telling. Without someone involved with the movie pointing out it was their intention, I must conclude your arguments don't stand up.

As for the compromise, I'll allow that Jay claimed that, but I'd add that Zed's response and body language indicate that isn't the case.
09:38:29 AM Mar 24th 2010
Clearly, we're interpreting the body language pretty differently, which is evidence enough that it is ambiguous, so saying definitively that Zed's response indicates anything about whether J's claim was right would be rather contentious. We can say what J claimed, and remain completely silent on whether or not he was correct.

Zed may have said they were only going to take one candidate, but I wouldn't take anything he said while testing the candidates at face value.

K's testimony is indeed an important part of why J was recruited, which is why it would be important for Zed to play devil's advocate there. If K had been praising J to cover up some failure, he'd have been a lot more nervous about putting his neck on the line.

Conservation of detail is a story-external reason for only one Tiffany, not a story-internal one, and needs to be a story-internal reason. Hidden Purpose Test provides one.

That it is an hidden purpose test doesn't seem in the least ambiguous to me. J says it is, then gets the job: case closed. Time taken to spell out the obvious is time the audience spend twiddling their thumbs, waiting for some excitement - not a good thing.

There is quite often amused commentary saying that most of the popular theories are false - 'fans and there crazy ideas' - so asking for word to that effect is hardly unreasonable. If they haven't explicitly said it was intended to be an hidden purpose test, well, perhaps they didn't think it needed saying. However, Word of God explicitly saying that J was just flannelling during the relevant scene would also be sufficiently decisive.
10:00:07 AM Mar 24th 2010
So, if you can't provide Word of God, that's because it clearly went without saying, but if I can't provide Word of God, then that means I'm wrong? Is that how we're playing this now?

If they were doing the Hidden Purpose Test, somebody would have mentioned it in some way. As I said, it's not so ubiquitous a trope that its absense would have had to have been noted, nor is it so ubiquitous a trope that its presence would have gone unnoted. This is a trope that requires some sort of acknowledgement, rather than having the authority figure shake his head and give the 'passing' student a frustrated look.

As I said, we only saw one Tiffany. We in fact see rather little of the shooting gallery, and much of what we see is in strobe-lights and funny angles. Also remember Zed has to push that button to bring Tiffany to the front; hell, she's all the way in the back of a dark room, so for all we know, Jay didn't know he'd shot her until the cutout came forward. It's likely there were several other civvie cutouts that we didn't see just because none of them got bullets in the forehead.

Even if you don't believe Zed about the 'only taking one' bit, recall Kay's speech at the end: Jay was recruited to replace Kay. One agent out, one in. That's what they were looking for.

Saying Zed is playing devil's advocate is a stretch, and it's mainly your interpretation that that's what he's doing; everything he actually says is of disapproval, and typically someone at least says, "He's good, but..." or "He passed, but..." and somehow acknowledges that that's what they're doing. The evidence of his actions in the movie indicates that he genuinely didn't approve of what Jay had done.

"J says it is, then gets the job" isn't case closed. That's correlation, not causation. Being a viewpoint character doesn't mean that everything he does is right, and in fact, the sort of character that is always right about everything is generally frowned upon.
10:49:05 AM Mar 24th 2010
Both of us can only claim to be clearly right if we can provide Word of God, which neither of us have - a balanced position.

J did mention the Hidden Purpose Test, which is all the acknowledgement I'd expect it to get.

Just because they only have one vacancy to fill doesn't mean they'll only recruit one person. People of the quality they're looking for are rare, 'the best of the best'. If they get lucky and find two, discarding one would be foolish.

If there were other civilian cut-outs, Tiffany must have been the only one carrying incongruous items, otherwise Zed would have asked J why he didn't shoot one of the others, but that uniqueness only suggests more strongly that it's intentional in-story.

Everything Zed does in the relevant scenes is consistent with playing devil's advocate, which is enough to make my interpretation possible.

Viewpoint characters aren't always right, but when they are wrong it is usually made clear that they are wrong, to avoid confusion.

However, we're clearly not going to reach agreement on who's right. Can we at least agree to note that J claimed this was an example, while remaining completely silent on whether or not he was correct?
12:12:48 PM Mar 24th 2010
edited by MrDeath
They wouldn't discard them. They can always keep their resumes on file and look for them later if they want to. Hell, that's how I got a job once: Went for an interview, didn't get that job, when another opened they contacted me again.

There may not be Word of God, but I looked up what appear to be the shooting script, and the pitch script. First, from the shooting script:
The Recruits lunge for the weapons, snapping them up and taking aim. SIX
SHOTS are fired at once. And then, a second later, a SEVENTH SHOT is
fired. Everyone sort of looks at Edwards, who puts his gun down last.

There's an awkward silence. Then the door opens. Light pours in, and ZED
with it. Even the highly competitive cadets can't help but feel some
sympathy as Zed walks straight to Edwards.

I think the key here is the sympathy. They know Edwards screwed up, just as Edwards does. After he does his explanation:

Sideways glances from the other recruits. Zed sighs.

Or, uh — do I owe her an apology?

No indication that he's right. Just Zed making a sigh at his answer, and Edwards doubting his own answer. Next:

He's got a real problem with authority.

So do I. The guy ran down a cephlapoid, Zed.
On foot. Tenacity. That I can use.

I hope you know what you're doing.

Again, I'd say this points to Zed taking him on in spite of his performance. It's Jay's 'tenacity' he's after; the ability and willingness to chase down a physically superior alien on foot. Not his ability to pass hidden tests that nobody sees fit to mention outright.

Now, on the pitch script (which calls Edwards 'Cowan' instead), which I won't quote directly from since it's longer and a little unwieldy. But anyway, Kay calls Cowan out for shooting 'Tiffany' much more angrily than in the movie, and when Cowan tries to explain, Kay just tells him to "shut your coddanned(sic) mouth". When Cowan then blurts out his reasoning, Kay rolls his eyes and walks away. Then he tells Cowan that he doesn't really have a clue what's going on.

Importantly, the script describes the one creature the other six targeted as "a LUNGING, SNARLING BEKST, which is about to attack a MAN WITH A BRIEFCASE." The script says it's snarling and about to attack, which goes against what Cowan says.

Kay keeps trying to explain himself as Kay seems to be leading him out; you'd think at some point Kay might mention that he got the real test right.

I'm okay with mentioning that that's what Jay was trying to claim, but I think it not being mentioned, either in-universe or via Word of God is very suspect, considering the trope.
05:48:43 PM Mar 24th 2010
I don't have it with me, but the novelisation of Men in Black actually did go with the Hidden Purpose Test explanation (after hearing Edwards' explanation, Zed congratulates him and says that the aliens were friendly and the girl was a dangerous shapeshifter). The book deviated from the plot of the film on a few points though, so this is hardly confirmation of anything regarding the movie.
02:19:52 AM Mar 25th 2010
The other candidates do think J screwed up, true, but that's just what they'd think if it was them who'd screwed up, by missing the hidden purpose.

Zed's sighing isn't an indication that J is right, but it isn't an indication that he's wrong either. Zed's exasperation could be because J was blatantly flannelling or it could be because someone he doesn't like has managed to come up with the right answer.

The script can be reasonably expected to only describe the surface appearance, since that's what matters for actually staging the scene. The pitch script sounds like it was less ambiguous, but that wasn't the final version - intent can change. It's no more confirmation than the book is, though that the book's writer used the trope shows that interpretation is not manifestly absurd.

Zed has opportunities to say it wasn't n hidden purpose test, at times when it would be relevant, but he doesn't take them. There's not a lot that can be concluded from his silence, or from that of the film's creators. A definitive statement is clear enough; silence can be explained many ways, so implies nothing.

Also, why did J shoot Tiffany if he didn't sincerely believe there was a trick involved? He's not someone who would deliberately shoot a little girl, or miss his target. That J believed that wouldn't necessarily make him right, but it does suggest it isn't mere post-shooting rationalisation.

As for the nub of the matter, the text of the actual example, how about:

The agents in Men in Black do this with the candidates for membership ("the best of the best of the best, sir!"). They give out a multiple-choice test, but the purpose is to see whether anyone will noisily drag the table in the middle of the room over to his chair instead of struggling to fill it out on no hard surface, and they give a fake marksmanship test in which the goal is not to shoot the most alien monsters, but to figure out that the real threat is the innocent-looking little girl.

  • In Men in Black, potential recruits are shown taking a marksmanship test, with a mix of both alien and human targets in a street scene. The successful candidate ignored the aliens, and shot a little girl, then invoked this trope, claiming she was the most suspicious target, since she was carrying advanced textbooks and looked too young to be out by herself.

We can leave the multiple choice test out completely since, as I recall, no one in the film says anything about J's actions there. Incidentally,pulling the table over wasn't the only option. I'd have gone and knelt at the table, but writing on the outside surface of the pods would also have worked.
05:46:39 AM Mar 25th 2010
That works for me.
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