"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free."
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
A Mind Manipulator
is a difficult opponent—particularly if his/her victims have no way of knowing that they're in an illusion. This can be bad enough when trying to simply battle
one. But even worse
is what happens if the Illusionist captures you.
In this trope, a Master of Illusion
, Reality Warper
, or some other person capable of mentally controlling their victims or creating a false reality a takes a captive and keeps them there by allowing them to escape.
The captive is allowing the prisoner to "escape" by controlling their mind to make them think they are
escaping. This has several advantages: one, it makes it impossible for the captive to actually
escape; two, it allows the captor to learn all of the methods they would
escape and then counter them; three, done enough times, and the prisoner can become "broken", questioning whether even a real
escape attempt is just another illusion. And finally, it's just deliciously evil.
Can be considered a form of Lotus-Eater Machine
or Psychological Torment Zone
. A more benign version of this can be a Epiphanic Prison
or Closed Circle
. Over the course of an entire story, this can be a form of The Masquerade
Related to Virtual Reality Interrogation
. See also Schrödinger's Butterfly
, where even the audience can't be sure that the illusion was truly escaped.
Anime & Manga
- In Naruto, this is what a a resurrected Zombie!Itachi basically does to Kabuto, it's a subersion of sorts, because while "Izanami" does imprison the person in a loop replaying the events, said person can choose to change said events and thus, escape by acknowledging the consequences of their actions and accept their fate.
- Teen Titans: During the "Culling" arc of the New52 relaunch, a supervillain named Harvest captures the Titans except Kid Flash using a telepath. Fortunately, Kid Flash is able to use his Super Speed to dodge the telpath's attacks. As she has no speed of her own, he can stay one step ahead of—oh, whoops. That was an illusion. He was already captured and the whole fight was fake. But, in the meantime, they've already finished their Mind Rape on Robin, and he's now free to get away and rescue the others before—oh, sorry again. Robin's mind rape is still ongoing, and he's just as screwed as everyone else. My bad.
- Avengers vs. X-Men: What the Phoenix Five do to Avengers they've captured—locking them into Limbo and putting them through a simulation where they "escape" over and over again.
- Incredible Hercules: How the heroes defeat Amatsu-Mikaboshi.
- Shows up in a deleted scene in X2: X-Men United. The illusionist Jason makes Professor Xavier hallucinate about successfully escaping from Stryker's compound and returning to the mansion. (In the finished film, Jason just makes Xavier hallucinate that he's back at the mansion, without the transition.)
- 1408: One theory for the Gainax Ending.
- Played with in Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge. The Gray Men have been psychologically torturing Jim diGriz by implanting false memories. When he manages to escape, he worries that his escape might be another false memory. It later turns out not to be the case.
They had been running through my cerebral cortex with their little leaden boots. This certainly proved my theoretical stance that a good deal of what had happened to me was illusion or false memory. What had been real? Was this 'escape' real at the present moment? This was a chilling thought; everything that was happening could be a generated series of unreal events to prove to me that I could not escape. I could keep going down these stairs forever or wake up at any moment back in my room still attached to my pendent box. Well, if this were true, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I had to treat this illusion like reality until it proved otherwise. Unless this was an endless dream building these stairs had to end somewhere, and I was going to find out.
- In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation a holographic Professor Moriarity leaves the holodeck, even though that's impossible. It turns out that he's programmed the holodeck to make Picard & the others think he's left, but they're all still trapped on the holodeck. They turn tables on him, making him think that they've given him a shuttlecraft and allow him to leave to explore the galaxy, but he's really a program in a little box.
- This applies to the original pilot episode of Star Trek: The Original Series (as well as the two-parter, The Menagerie, which it was later adapted into). The Talosians' illusion power is so great that there ought to be no way to tell if Pike really escaped their world. This possibility is never directly raised though, and we're probably supposed to just assume it didn't happen so that the series could go on.
- Angel: In order to defeat The Beast Angel decides that he must release his evil self, Angelus. He contacts a shaman friend of his to cast the spell releasing Angelus; but at the last minute he calls it off, then figures out how to defeat the Beast and beds Cordilia. This gives him a moment of "perfect happiness," which releases Angelus. It turns out that the story from the moment he stopped the ritual is actually all in his head, and it was this which releases Angelus as planned.
- Red Dwarf VIII, where the Dwarfers only think they're escaping captivity - they are hooked up to a mind-monitoring device.
- Fall from Heaven: In the setting for the game, one of the "hell" areas is meant to do this.
- Here's an example of a Koan: "If you think you're free, there's no escape possible."