The filmmaker explains, speaking directly to the camera, how his therapist gave him a personality test, the Thematic Apperception Test, in which he is asked to look at a series of photos and make up a story about what he sees. Gault becomes obsessed with one of the pictures, and decides to make a film about it. He tries and fails to obtain a copy of the picture from a therapist friend. Apparently, the therapeutic community regards these photos as Top Secret, since anyone who sees the photos would then be unable to take the test legitimately. If anyone were to release the photos into general circulation, he would “lay himself open to lawsuits” for having ruined 40 years of research. Gault’s obsession with the photo is odd, but the unshakable faith of the therapeutic community that this pseudoscientific test is able to extract valuable information from people, information which could be obtained in no other way, is mind-boggling. Gault finally obtains the photo from his own therapist, after swearing to show it to no one.
Gault intercuts his tale with shots of numerous people that he gave the photo to. Each one tells their own version of the story in the photo, while looking down at a copy of it which we cannot see. The photo, which is apparently of a man and a woman, appears to be a perfect blank slate, capable of triggering almost any kind of a projection from a person’s own psychic preoccupations. Gault affectively highlights the contrasts in the various stories by rapidly intercutting between small fragments from each narrative. The subjects are further individualized by being interviewed in personal settings; in a music studio, in front of a root cellar, on a porch.
Gault ends the film by emphasizing his own transgression, betraying his therapist by breaking his promise not to show anyone the photo. On the other hand, he also respects the therapist, since he declines to show the picture itself in the film. I suspect, however, that this has nothing to do with respect for the test’s scientific value. An astute filmmaker, Gault realizes that the film would lose much of its fascination and allure if we were to see the photo itself. Instead, he draws us in to his own personal obsession with the mysteries of personality, and the attempts of scientists to classify and understand it.