My favorite part of the testing scene in Men in Black (1997) is the moment when 2nd Lt. Jake Jenson looks at Jay like, "Take that, you moron." But you know that Jenson is the moron.
One memorable scene can make an entire story unforgettable. As a reader, you likely have a "memory bank" of such scenes, that moment when you realized that, just for that one scene and the emotional response it evoked, you will forever be a fan of the story.
So let's take a look at the test scene (the scene I call "the best of the best" for multiple reasons) and see what it does for the story.
Right off the bat, the scene identifies Jay as way out of his depth. The guard in the fan room is unresponsive, the elevator doors open in the wrong direction, he's late, he's dressed in street clothes (orange!) and the others are dressed in spiffy business suits, they're military and he's not.
The whole thing is designed to make him feel uncomfortable.
But is he uncomfortable?
He starts raising his hand and inserting himself into the situation.
This is brilliant. Everything is against Jay, but Jay just rolls with it. Within the first minute, he establishes himself as a guy who isn't afraid of the unknown--which, of course, becomes very important later on in the story, when he's facing Boglodites and whatever other creepy-crawly from another galaxy.
Following this clue to his character, we watch Jay ask obvious questions: "Why are we here?" and we hear the answer that Lt. Jenson gives (with that awesome "you moron" look that makes me laugh every time): "We're here because you're looking for the best of the best of the best, sir!"
This is the contrast that really creates Jay's character. On the one hand, you have Lt. Jenson, eager to impress but unwilling to press for details, hiding his ignorance under bluster. On the other hand, you have Jay, uninterested in smarmy, useless answers, unconcerned by anyone's opinion of him, and vastly amused by Lt. Jenson's pretentiousness.
So we know that Jay is genuine, independent, and does not take himself--or anyone else--too seriously.
Finally, the paper test.
I gotta say, my whole family laughed until we cried when we reached this part. I'm sure everyone who has watched the movie has wanted to get one of those egg-shaped seats to offer to an unwelcome guest. If I wore hats, I would take mine off to the writer just for that one detail.
This part is where Jay shines. The situation is impossible? Whatever. Change the situation.
That's when the men in spiffy suits all watch as that maverick, ill-dressed NYPD dude screeches a table across the floor. Maybe Jay looks a little funny as he's doing that awkward back-shuffle, but the other boys "ain't laughin' do."
Jay doesn't just take whatever "the authorities" hand him. He uses the resources around him in the way that suits him best and that gets the job done. Furthermore, he doesn't have a problem offering his resources to others who might need them (however stupid those others might be).
In three quick segments, Jay establishes his entire character, a character which is developed in the next several movies of the Men in Black series.
Without that scene, Jay would be just another guy in a comedy-action alien flick.
With it, Jay is unforgettable.
So now it's your turn. What scene in any book, movie, or TV show really captured your attention? Why do you think it was so powerful for you?
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