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"My man Volpe always gets the truth, father."
Quintus Pompey, Rome

In the magical world of fiction, if torture isn't being just used to prove that the Big Bad is indeed big and bad (or that the Anti-Hero is indeed anti), it works as an instant source of 100% reliable information.

The information extracted under torture is always accurate and important, even if the interrogator himself starts with no information at all and so has no way to know if the prisoner is telling the truth or lying. The possibility of having the wrong person, who will say anything under torture whether they know anything or not, will be excluded. Often as not, the victim is then released with no consequences to them if they lied.

The only times when torture doesn't work is when the tortured is just too Badass to be broken, and doesn't say anything at all. When characters object to torture, they are often portrayed as weak liberal Strawmen who "don't have what it takes" or "don't realize what's at stake". They only make moral criticisms, and never bother to point out that it's unreliable, presumably because they too know that it Always Works. Even when it doesn't work, characters who should know better assume that it will.

In Real Life, torture rarely provides reliable information. (Which is why the real reason it is used is almost always to instill fear rather than obtain information.) The only way to get truly trustworthy information using torture is to check it somehow before you use it. Actual torturers often use torture not to get information, but to get people to tell them facts they already know from other sources (but that the victim doesn't know they know), in detail, and then get them to tell them more information. Of course, there are those who may not exactly be looking for the truth, in which case a False Confession or other plausible lie may be exactly what they want.

The most common form when used by villains is probably Electric Torture. When heroes torture their enemies, they usually use Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, because they Always Work but have a different title and are thus Not Torture.

Compare Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique.


Examples of Torture Always Works include:


Anime and Manga

  • Vinland Saga. After catching an English spy, Askeladd takes a pair of shears to his fingers. Eventually the guy tells him what they want to know, in a way that leaves them all shitting their pants. The torture victim laughs in their faces as Askeladd cuts off his head.
  • From Darker Than Black:

 Havoc: [Talking to Hei] If you've really established a Contract, you'd know better than anyone else. A Contractor's greatest priorities don't lie within the syndicate, nor in its priorities. It lies with himself. There's no merit in being tortured and remaining silent. You, for some reason, just can't seem to understand that.

  • Pandora Hearts subverts this in the first five minutes. Though the torture is mundane...the victim promptly gives quick information. Quick, and WRONG information!

Film

  • Averted HARD in Goya's Ghosts - Natalie Portman is tortured into 'confessing' to being a secret Jew by the Inquisition, and then in revenge her father tortures her inquisitor into signing a 'confession' that he is an ape in human form with a secret mission to subvert the church. He hopes to blackmail him into releasing his daughter. It doesn't work.
  • In The Matrix, Smith tortures Morpheus for the codes to Zion's mainframe.
    • The fact that they've given him a digital truth serum that is hacking his mind does help.
  • In Dirty Harry, San Francisco Police Department Inspector "Dirty" Harry Callahan presses down on the Scorpio killer's badly wounded leg (he was just shot with a .44 revolver) until he tells him where to find a girl he had kidnapped and left to suffocate. Naturally, he finds out where she is, only to discover that she has already died. The killer promptly walks away from the law by crying "police brutality", much to Harry's disgust.
  • In The Dark Knight, Batman uses it on a mob boss by dropping him from two stories up (conventional Batman interrogation techniques involve dangling the perp from twenty or thirty stories up until he talks) and breaking his legs. This works a bit better.
    • Except, The Dark Knight loves to show how torture doesn't work. The mob boss still doesn't tell him anything, because he's way more scared of the Joker than anything the Batman could do to him. This calls to mind earlier, when Batman had Joker in custody, and Joker himself told Batman that he could wail on him all day, and he'd still never tell him anything until he decided he wanted to. This is in stark contrast to Batman's very effective use of torture in Batman Begins, who determines information about the growing conspiracy from Crooked Cop Flass, and finds out that Dr. Crane/Scarecrow is working for Ra's Al Ghul. This is part of the more mature theme of The Dark Knight.
      • The Joker even gives the Batman tips on how to beat someone up while Batman is pounding him. Batman begins by slamming Joker's head against the table, which the Joker says is a poor way to start, since it makes the victim too dazed to feel any further injury.
  • Subverted in Transsiberian. Kolzak tortures Abby to find out where her boyfriend Carlos is. She legitimately doesn't know, however. He then tortures her in front of her acquaintances, Roy and Jessie, thinking that seeing Abby in agony will cause one of them to talk. Jessie, who know exactly where Carlos is dead, by her hand, is visibly disturbed during the scene. She breaks down, seems as though she's going to crack, and then lies again. Badly.
  • The 2004 movie The Punisher.: The Punisher himself hangs a guy from the ceiling in chains, cooks a steak with a blowtorch behind the guy's back (sound and smell of sizzling meat) while running a popsicle along his back, explaining that burning usually feels like freezing to start. It works.
    • The chief benefit of this is the fact that it's a complete psych out. That said, the film never explores how far Frank would actually have gone. By contrast, a later torture scene involving Quintin Glass and Frank's next door neighbor subverts the trope; Glass gets nothing, in spite of removing every piece of the man's extensive body piercings the hard way.
  • Slightly ambiguous in A Clockwork Orange, but seems to indicate that even if torture did work, would that really justify its use?
  • Subverted in The Passion of Joan of Arc. They drag Joan to the torture room but she simply explains to them the logic listed in the description above.
  • In the movie Payback, Mel Gibson's character willingly submits to being tortured just so he could feed his torturers false information. (They wouldn't believe him if he just told them before the torture)


Gamebooks

  • Lone Wolf features a rare example of a hero torturing information out of a villain in Book 18 Dawn of the Dragons. In the beginning of the adventure Lone Wolf has the opportunity to interrogate a man who had been caught plotting to assassinate him. The gaoler offers Lone Wolf his torture tools (including hot coals) but Lone Wolf declines. Lone Wolf then proceeds to either Mind Control or Mind Rape the prisoner into telling him who wanted Lone Wolf dead. It works but then the prisoner uses the last of his willpower to bite into a trick tooth containing deadly poisonous gas.


Literature

  • The Mord-Sith are an entire order of The Baronesses in Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth. To be fair, they are long-term torturers, in that they "break" a target over weeks or months so that they want to obey their Mistress, who have been trained since girlhood. They're less a method of gaining information and more a method of making someone into a slave. Hell, they don't even ask any questions until they're sure that their victim is properly "trained."
    • The grimmest part of the whole scenario is that Mord-Sith start out as kind, gentle girls and are systematically tortured and broken until they are ready, willing, and able to do it to others. It's explicitly said that the sweetest girls available are the ones chosen to become Mord-Sith. And part of their training is forcing them to break their parents, one at a time.
  • In Flight of the Nighthawks the protagonists torture an assassin for information about his organization's base. However, they only need him to think about it, as they have a mind reader among the interrogators. It still takes days.
  • Invoked, Anviliciously, in Tom Kratman's Carnifex, from his Legion Del Cid series. The Aesop is that torture works if you're both clever enough and ruthless enough about it.
    • Both subverted and played straight later in the series. A corrupt UN-Earth Admiral makes it clear that under torture a man will say anything. However, the terrorist chief who has captured him reminds him that this includes the truth. Extra points are awarded when the Legion tricks an Amnesty Interplanetary investigator into taping them brutally interrogating several prisoners with mock hangings and blow torches, then storming into her press conference to reveal that everyone in her tape was actually a Legionary soldier and the whole thing was one big set up.
    • At the same time, the said Legion operates a ship where captured Terrorists are subjected to horrific procedures, from dental drilling, to finger breaking, to sex change operations over a period of months to get them to give information. It is mentioned repeatedly that they verify all the information gained with that other prisoners and from intercepted messages. If the captured terrorists are found to be lying their parents are brought in....
  • Parodied in Terry Pratchett's Interesting Times. A lot of people try to convey how ruthless and dangerous the villain is by pointing out that "he has a man in the dungeon who can keep you alive for years". While this would imply extensive torture so refined that even dying from it isn't an option, the protagonists usually interpret it literally and ask if it involves jogging and a balanced diet.
    • The torture skills of the Quisition in Small Gods is equally remarked upon. In this case, though, whether or not the victim is actually in possession of important information or is a heretic is considered ultimately unimportant. They figure that simply being suspected of something is sufficient evidence of wrongdoing, since surely the Great God Om would not allow suspicion to fall on an innocent. Sound familiar?
    • Also used by the Gestapo-esque Particulars in Night Watch. They don't seem to care whether it's a reliable method or not; they just torture prisoners until they admit to any crime the Night Watch needs to solve. Vimes gets information out of a suspect by pretending he's used the horrific ginger beer trick on a comrade, but it's actually several watchmen impersonating the sound of fizzy ginger beer and the resultant screaming.
      • For those with a too-inquisitive mind, you can find the actual trick in the third season of Dexter: Crooked cop Ramon Prado tortures a gang-banger by shaking a glass soda bottle, then spraying it straight up his nostrils, leveraging the pressure with his thumb, which is harmful enough to give the kid a horrendously bloody nose. Technically doesn't work, because the guy legitimately doesn't know anything.
  • Invoked and then subverted in Mercedes Lackey's Arrow's Fall: facing torture, Talia thinks back to her training, in which she was advised that torture will eventually force anyone to give up whatever information they are trying to keep concealed... so, as per her training, Talia starts off with a Sarcastic Confession and then lies extensively and creatively to make sure her torturers won't recognize the truth when they hear it. Of course, they're not especially interested in getting information out of her anyhow.
  • Subverted in the Trickster's Choice, in which after Fesgao asks if they should use torture to get the information from an assassin, Aly replies "Any amateur knows torture is chancy at best. People do still lie under torture."
    • It helps if you are in an universe that has truth spells and truthdrops...
  • The title character of Robert A. Heinlein's Friday is captured at the beginning of the book and tortured for days on end, plus truth-telling drugs are used on her, and she's raped. Her reaction to all this? Irritation that her captors are such amateurs because she told them everything she knew immediately, knowing that with the drugs they were using nobody could keep a secret. And as a highly trained courier she is more important than any information she might be carrying on any single trip. Plus, she finds it distressing that they are dumb enough to actually rape her (and several other highly unpleasant things) when they should know that her training allows her to deal with it, making it useless for torture purposes.
  • In James Patterson's Cat and Mouse, Pierce gets information out of a suspect simply by shoving a shaken Coke can under his nose and opening it. "It's an old interrogator's trick, incredibly painful, and it always works."
  • Caesar relies on this trope in a quite gruesome matter in the fourth Emperor" book. After Brutus' Face Heel Turn, Julius realises he has to keep the lid on what has happened and make use of the fact that no one ever believed Brutus would betray him, as well as keep an eye on Brutus so that he knows how much he reveals to Pompey. So he lets people believe that Brutus is actually working as a spy, knowing that this is what Pompey is suspecting, and then he selects a soldier to go as a second spy. He purposely selects a clumsy, non-discreet soldier in the hopes that he will be captured and tortured, in which case he'll reveal the truth as he knows it - that Brutus hasn't betrayed Caesar but is his spy. Julius does show a lot of agony over having to go through with the plan, but feels he has no other choice.
  • The Cure by Sonia Levittin. It's an open secret that the torturers can get anyone to confess to anything if given enough time, and they apparently don't care whether the confessions are true as long as they match what they're fishing for. (What they're fishing for, incidentally, is a confession that the Black Death is the result of Jews poisoning wells, and that every Jew above the age of seven is in on it. This is Based on a True Story of a town that massacred all its Jews on such a pretext.)
  • Generally averted or subverted in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga. Partly because it doesn't work, but also because the drug "FastPenta" works quicker and more reliably. (It is easily obtained, makes those who take it amiable enough to answer any questions and ensures perfect recall. The only immunity is a fatal allergic reaction. (Which most of the people who know sensitive information have, as it can be artificially induced.)) Most of the torture that occurs is motivated by pure sadism and insanity (Shards of Honour, Mirror Dance) and the victims have extensive issues years later (Mark Vorkosigan, Bothari, Elena Visconti).
  • Played straight and subverted in His Dark Materials. Mrs. Coulter uses torture twice to get information from witches in The Subtle Knife, but when she's threatened in The Amber Spyglass, she says that she would have thought that they would "know better than to expect truth to come out of torture."
  • Tom Clancy's The Cardinal of the Kremlin, where the KGB uses sensory deprivation to break a mole in their service, in their efforts to capture the titular agent. Once said agent was captured, the sensory deprivation method wasn't used due to his health, so instead they used other methods that weren't as harmful to physical condition. Ultimately, he did break, though it took a lot longer than the KGB had planned.
    • Averted; in that the designer of the 'new technique' muses that the old methods had more to do with satisfying the sadism of the interrogators than with getting accurate information
      • Also played straight in Without Remorse, involving a pressure chamber on an old Navy base used to basically destroy the drug dealer that Clark was questioning.
  • Subverted in Ben Elton's Stark since the truth is less believable than the lies.
  • In his James Bond novels, Ian Fleming (who had prior experience in British intelligence) refers now and then to agents being tortured, on the implicit assumption that, indeed, anyone—even a trained agent—will eventually give up what they know given enough time and pain.
  • Played with in Flashman and the Mountain of Light. After being captured by a general of the Khalsa, Flashman is told that he will be tortured for information, with the rationale being that a man as brave is he will only give up what he knows after he's been driven out of his mind with pain. However, not only does Flashman not have any information, he is also an utter coward, and so he breaks down into a terrified wreck at the mere thought of physical pain. Unfortunately, such is his reputation for heroism that his captor assumes he's putting on an act in order to avoid giving up what he knows, and begins torturing him anyway
  • Subverted in American Gods - when Shadow is captured and interrogated, he's completely cooperative and truthful, but his captors don't believe him, so the Bad Cop continues to beat the tar out of him. Until Laura shows up, anyway.
  • The First Law is about a torturer. Of course, it get subverted ruthlessly in that he knows most of the 'confessions' are false and he only does it to achieve the political goals of his superiors.
  • Thoroughly averted in Raiders Of Gor, where the Anti-Hero quickly establishes that the racked prisoner "will say whatever we tell him to."
  • Subverted in Chester Anderson's The Butterfly Kid. First, the protagonist is asked by his alien captors "What do you do?", and finds his vocal system, without his own intervention, telling them what he does, starting with a detailed account of his digestive processes. Then he is strapped into the alien torture machine, but their ideas of torture are... alien; and he finds them easy to withstand, with the possible exception of being forced to watch hallucinations of Donald Duck playing Brahms.
  • A running theme in the Mitch Rapp books is that, contrary to the protestations of politically correct liberals, torture works consistantly and gives reliable information. On the rare occasions there's someone who doesn't break easily, there will be a weaker compatriot around for the interrogator to exploit instead. Not coincidentally, the author has worked on 24, below.


Live Action TV

  • Jack Bauer of 24 fame is this trope's clear champion. The over-effectiveness is lampshaded in the comedic "Jack Bauer Facts" that circulate the internet: "Jack Bauer once forgot where he put his keys. He then spent the next half-hour torturing himself until he gave up the location of the keys."
    • In fact, a major theme of Day 7 was how torture was necessary because it's so effective and apparently nothing else ever works.
    • Despite this, torture never, ever works when used on Bauer himself. Yet he still firmly believes in it. Funny how nobody ever points this out.
    • Averted in Day 8. Bauer tortures a Russian sniper, going much farther and being far more brutal than ever before, but fails to gain the information he wants. He discovers that the intel is inside the Russian's cell SIM card. Then again, Jack guts the Russian to get the chip.
  • Bennet in Heroes tortures information out of a captive with a rather creative and sadistic threat. It works because the victim knew (or at least was convinced) that Bennett would carry out his threat later on if the information proved to be wrong.
    • Subverted in Volume 5, when Bennett's love interest Lauren, a CIA agent, says that torture never works. She eventually convinces Bennet to coax rather than torture information out of Carnival member Edgar.
  • Alias: The other torturin' Jack, the one whose last name is Bristow, is much more selective in his use of torture. (Other characters torture, but for some reason it never works—even untrained computer geeks can stand up to enemy intimidation...but even hardened agents are putty in Jack's hands.) He doesn't use it often, but he is particularly inventive when he does so, which is possibly why he's so effective. Taking the cake is a scene where he stops the heart of someone who gave him false information through asphyxiation...then brings him back with a Magical Defibrillator. "Give me the information I want, or we do that all over again."
  • Psychological torture is used in Law and Order SVU by forcing a suspect into a small closet (he had an intense fear of the dark due to childhood abuse) to make him reveal the location of a woman trapped in a locker with a limited supply of oxygen.
  • In Farscape, Rygel once tortured a Charrid to death and managed to extract some valid information from him. But he was more in it for the sadism anyway, since his race was devastated by a Charrid invasion attempt.
  • Subverted very well in Burn Notice, where the main character has had to extract information several times, but always uses alternative methods (usually messing with the guy's head). As a plus, he usually narrates the scene and gives helpful tips on how to trick information out of people.
    • Several times said character also explains why torture doesn't work. These range from "they'll say anything to make it stop" to my personal favorite

 The fact is, torture is for sadists and thugs. It's like getting groceries with a flamethrower. It doesn't work and it makes a mess.

    • Notably, Michael once gets better information by letting himself be tortured than his torturer does.
  • Appears a few times on Rome. Under the Roman legal system, testimony from slaves could only be accepted in court if it was extracted through torture.
  • Lost: The flashbacks of the Ben/Sayid torture episode, One Of Them, saw Sayid successfully torture a former superior officer of his to get the location of US soldiers. He used pliers to great effect it seemed.
    • He also prepared to torture more Others in The Glass Ballerina, telling Sun he would capture two of them and kill the rest, Sun asked why he would take two and Sayid replied: "One to make the other cooperate." Badass mofo.
  • In La Femme Nikita, Section One used torture constantly - and always with effective results. This provided a precursor to Jack Bauer's methods, as Nikita was produced by the same team that later created 24.
  • In a Tek War episode, the police use a modified lie detector as a torture device. It works on the first criminal but the mastermind gave him unreliable information. The second person it was used on didn't give out information because she feared for her life, and entered a panic attack before needing medical treatment.
  • Used on Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Buffy's interrogation subjects are usually demons, whose loyalties are extremely weak.
    • But averted with Angelus's torture of Giles. He was doing it partly for kicks, but never managed to get the information he wanted. In the end, Drusilla had to step in with her Hypnotic Eyes.
  • Played with in an early episode of Angel. Angel is tortured, and doesn't reveal what the bad guy wants. However, it's revealed afterwards that he was THIS close to do it, but the gang saved him before that point. It is also (possibly) justified, since they hint that the torturer has some sort of lie detecting ability.
  • In the Firefly episode "War Stories" Wash and Mal are tortured by Niska. Mal continues arguing with Wash over Zoe throughout in order to keep both of them from breaking. Subverted, though, since Niska wasn't really looking for information, just punishment.
  • Subverted in Jericho when Genre Savvy Hawkins says torture is great for getting answers, but the fear of torture is better for getting the truth. He even lampshades this trope, saying actual torture only works in the movies.
  • One episode of The Avengers (TV series) twisted this: there was a set-up that pretended to be a training program for British agents, "Test of Human Endurance." They would subject an agent to a certain degree of torture, the agent would hold out, after a while he'd be congratulated on his determination ... and then, in the bar, he'd chatter with fellow agents about the information he'd successfully kept from the torturers. The torture wasn't intended to force the answers from agents, but to bring the info to the forefront of their minds, so it'd be what they talked about while relaxing. And the bar where they relaxed was bugged. So, in a roundabout way, the torture did work.

Theater

  • The basic trope is Older Than Feudalism, since in classical legal systems slaves could only testify under torture, and a stock gambit by the accused was to defy the court to torture his slaves. However, it is subverted in Aristophanes The Frogs, where Dionysus' slave, impersonating Dionysus, tells the underworld guards to torture Dionysus, impersonating the slave. They end up BOTH getting tortured to see which is the real god, and hilariously trying to pretend that it doesn't hurt a bit, no, sir.
  • In Oedipus the King, the shepherd who found the abandoned infant Oedipus and gave him to Polybus is brought to Oedipus refuses to talk, Oedipus orders his guards to twist his arm behind his back until he does. Later, he threatens to have the man killed when he hesitates again. Only then does Oedipus become the last in the play to deduce the Awful Truth that he indeed did, as prophesied, kill his father and marry his mother.


Video Games

  • The "Interrogation" missions in Assassin's Creed consist of Altair stalking people into dark alleys and beating them until they give up general information. He's also using more intimidation than actual pain; beating them up is just to subdue them so he can start asking questions, and he doesn't actively torture the victim.
  • In the video game adaptation of Spider-Man, Spidey dangles a gang member over the edge of an apartment building. He talks.
  • It's somewhat of a motif that sooner or later your character is going to get caught and have to undergo Electric Torture for information in the Metal Gear Solid franchise. To date, none of the Badass protagonists have given up information in any of the three games. Even Sokolov who has a family refused to talk. You'd think Ocelot would have learned the old "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." adage, but alas.
    • Also Volgin is undoubtly the worst interrogator ever. His only method seems to be beating the prisoner to death in under 15 seconds. Ocelot actually applauds Snake for surviving just one session.
      • He's actually even worse at it than that. In Snake's case, he actually managed to reverse interrogate him. Instead of getting any information from Snake, he actually reveals the existence and location of the Philosopher's Legacy not only to Snake, but to EVA, which was her mission to get in the first place.
      • It's actually more complicated than that, making this surprisingly not an an example of this trope. If you recall, Volgin had Ocelot, EVA, and the Boss watch him torture Snake while he let slip the location of the Philosopher's Legacy. Later you find Volgin has caught EVA trying to steal the philosopher's legacy and then entrusts the legacy with the Boss. Later still, after retrieving the legacy from the Boss and escaping with EVA, EVA then again steals the legacy from Snake and afterward Ocelot reveals in a phone call the legacy EVA delivered to China was false. Basically, Volgin knew there was a spy in his presence (although he didn't expect everyone in the room to be one) and used the torture as a subterfuge by revealing the location of a decoy microfilm to root out the one who tries to steal it.
      • Of course, while Ocelot is torturing him under the pretense of getting information, both he and Volgin are really doing it because, well, they really like torture.
  • One of the big features of the latest Punisher game was the ability to torture any random mooks, either through "standard" means like pressing your gun against their head, or threatening to put them into furnaces or put a freaking drill through their head. Only some of them would actually give you useful information, though (although they all gave you information of some kind).
    • There's also two mooks per level who, if you torture, might say something that causes Frank to have a flashback. He'll even comment after killing\sparing them.

 "Wait, I'm innocent!" He remembers his son's death.

"I was only following orders!" Recalls patrol in Vietnam.


Web Comics

  • In Erfworld, Parson's understanding of the enemy plan (after Wanda reports that their prisoner has given it up) matches what we know of Ansom's actual plans. However, it's an open question how much this owes to torture and how much to other psychological pressures and regular mind control, using magic.
  • In Girl Genius, Othar Tryggvassen (Gentleman Adventurer!) assumes this is what Baron Wulfenbach intends, but the Baron is simply interested in taking him apart to see what makes the spark tick. "No matter what you do to me, I'll never talk!" "Ah, if only that were so."
  • Last Res0rt subverts it with Daisy Archanis and her leaked confession that she's actually the Galaxy Girl Scout Arael who set off a huge feud, which was apparently extracted using torture... and everyone knows it, including Daisy's supporters, arguing that because she was tortured for the information, it MUST be bogus.
    • Veled admits later that she didn't need to torture Daisy for the information—just the audio confession thereof, since Veled can extract whatever somebody knows just by touching them (and thus confirm the truth of Daisy's statements). In other words, Daisy had to be tortured into compliance, not into supplying new information.
  • Called out in "Faans!" where Rumy yells at her berserk subordinate that "Contrary to what you see on '24,' pain is not a Lasso of Truth."

Tabletop Games

  • In GURPS torture is basically guaranteed to work if you do it long enough, but than again so will any other method of interrogation.
  • Both played straight and averted in The Book of Vile Darkness. Torture makes it easier for torturers to Intimidate their victims, but they also take penalties to Sense Motive checks as most believe wholeheartedly in the reliability of knowledge gained from torture.

Web Original

  • The Web Original\Hitherby Dragons story "An Oracle For NP" deconstructs this. It starts with a torturing that reveals the location of a bomb from someone who has no way of knowing where it was from or how. As soon as this possibility is found, they begin torturing individuals to further science in any way possible.
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