The Exalted Torture is usually someone who considers using the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique
, Perp Sweating
to the degree of outright Police Brutality
, war crimes and similar atrocities, and/or other actions like most people consider using periods. But he's not portrayed as evil or in a negative way.
He's the Hero.
In a nutshell, the Exalted Torturer is:
The reasons for this and how it comes about this vary wildly, but Exalted Torturers share those base traits but fall into one of two main categories.
They generally exist as good guys of The Federation
or The Kingdom
in fiction where the "Black" in the local Black-and-White or Black and Grey morality is Very
Black even in comparison to any greys, and you can see the Godzilla Threshold
just looking over your shoulder. Though in some cases they can show signs of enjoying it toooo much, they usually don't let it override their moral compass.
This group tends to inhabit the "revenge fantasy" and goresploitation genres, tending towards being either wronged vigilantes who lash waaay out or such extreme examples of the "hardboiled cop/soldier on the edge" that they seem to stumble over it. Alternatively, they can be simply people who are taking merciless action against groups the Author thinks they should be allowed to do.
When Exalted Torturer status is invoked (where they are exalted in-universe by some but *definitely not* by the narrative) for this category, they tend to be the Torture Technician
of The Empire
, nightmarish revolutions
, ambiguously labeled anti-government forces
, some other bloody minded but "respectable" group.
While these two categories seem as Black and White as the fiction this character often appeaers in, there are grey areas between the two. Often times, the sympathetic Noble Demon
might enjoy it a biiit too much while The Sociopath
is doing his heinous actions on behalf of some (supposedly) noble cause like Rapeman
or Hanzo the Razor
, the issue being that the former is usually still capable of sympathy because their restraint and morality outweigh any sadistic tendencies; the latter's behavior is sympathetic only by coincidence and generally repulsive even if employed for the noblest of causes.
There are also some characters that defy easy categorization between those two, with one character falling more into the first for some while another group might view him as the latter. Even beyond that, there are some characters like The Punisher
who can flip between categories Depending on the Writer
. So at best this is a highly simplified look.
But in general most Exalted Torturers lean towards one category or the other, being "someone you're glad isn't on the side of evil"
to "someone you can't believe isn't evil regardless of side."
The Exalted Torture is almost Always Male
possibly due to Values Dissonance
in how a woman would be handled. though several female examples can be found for both categories.
How and why this character comes about can vary almost as frequently as their portrayal. They could be anything from The Hero
of a dark and serious work to examine Good Is Not Nice
and if it can afford to be any other way, the Designated Hero
either by the author
, or even someone author doesn't originally
intend to somehow make heroic only for Misaimed Fandom
to play up his torture and abuse as "good" or heroic.
This character can be a major Base Breaker
and cause massive conflicts
not just in his fictional world, but he can also possibly in real life. On one extreme side extremist defenders might hold them up as a cause celebre and defend real life instances of torture, police brutality or whatever form of atrocity he's inflicting upon his victims
because they're Acceptable Targets
, because he's the Designated Hero
, or both.. On the other extreme, you can have people who will group together everyone from the most remorseful and reluctant to the most unhinged and sociopathic and claim that they're all insane and any portrayals of them in any remotely positive light are inexcusable apologia
, and who generally feel justified to ignore or condemn any in-universe or Real Life Shoot the Dog
moments or Dirty Business
regardless of merit.
Compare to Path of Inspiration
, which rough institutional parallel since they glorify things that are dubious at best and have good press. However, Paths of Inspiration tend to be more unambiguously antagonistic and evil and generally far less sincere than even some of most psychopathic Exalted Torturers
are in their righteousness. That being said, it is also a very convenient venue where an Exalted Torturer can find work if they're not being lionized.
Compare and contrast Cowboy Cop
, Moral Dissonance
, Values Dissonance
, Villain with Good Publicity
, and especially the Torture Technician
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Anime & Manga
- Rapeman. While the manga and anime are arguably satire featuring Black Comedy Rape, that doesn't stop some people from blaming the rape victims for their rapes, believing rape is an okay punishment, and somehow seeing Rapeman as a righteous hero rather than Crossing the Line Twice Black Humor in an Evil Versus Evil world.
- Ibiki Morino from Naruto, who is actually one of the good guys. Despite his reputation though, his methods are largely psychological.
- Saito Hajime of Rurouni Kenshin believes strongly in justice, but it's hard to deny that he really likes killing people. While he doesn't torture on-screen, at one point, he dissuades a boy from taking revenge on his parents' murderer by telling the boy that the murderer will undoubtedly have information tortured out of him before being gruesomely executed, and thus letting him be arrested would be the better revenge.
- Death Note has Hero Antagonist L, who would be better described as an Anti-Hero, and whose methods of heroic behavior strictly reinforce the series' Grey and Grey Morality. The trope is played with; L views himself this way, but is actually Not So Different from his opponent.
- Sin City's Marv not only does this to criminals but he loves it. There is an entire monologue in his first story about how much he enjoys what he's doing.
Films — Live-Action
- Dirty Harry, possibly the Trope Maker for film depictions in the US.
- The protagonist of the Hanzo the Razor films. The same as the Rapeman example, except not played as satire and Black Comedy. Instead, he's played straight as a "good cop" who investigates his cases by raping his suspects into submission.
- The Dark Knight Saga sets the following baseline for Batman: If you are a Smug Snake of a dirty cop, he won't hesitate to traumatize you and scare you half to death as a form of interrogation. If you're a crime lord holding out information on a madman going on a destructive rampage through his city, he will go even farther. If you are said madman and the clock is ticking on people's lives, he will start at bodily harm and beat you within an inch of your life if that's what it takes. The Joker sees all this and, with mixed awe and annoyance, declares him "incorruptible" (because he has only one rule, "no killing", and he won't break it).
- An in-movie example in the 1939 The Hunchback of Notre Dame: the official flogger who publicly whips Quasimodo is cheered like a sports hero.
- Prisoners has a father resort to this, over the whole film, by torturing the main suspect to reveal where his missing daughter is being held.
- In the Ksin saga, the royal torturer is that. He is a true master in causing pain and does his worst than he works — but he also exemplifies Honor Before Reason. Even though he knows that some things he does are unreasonable, he considers it a must at his position — a torturer must be a paragon of honor or else he will be worse than a beast.
- Subverted in Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. Severian at first believes this, but then comes to later realize that torture is bad. As Autarch, Severian tries to outlaw the Torturers' Guild, saying "It is intolerable that good men should spend their lives dispensing pain." The Grandmaster responds that "It MUST be done by good men," implying that, like the Ksin example above, that torture can either be done by good men or by those who would take pleasure in it.
- Depending on who you ask, God or Satan (or both) in The Bible. The book of Job is an example, where an innocent victim is tortured solely to prove his faithfulness.
- In the Left Behind series, it's God who's propped up as the Exalted Torturer. Not that God or Jesus Christ enjoy it, as Jesus sadly watches the Antichrist, the False Prophet, and all those who rejected Him throughout the ages go to their appointed doom. To quote Jesus speaking to Ashtaroth, Baal, and Cankerworm in the Dramatic Audio:
"Like My Father, with whom I am One, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but justice must be served, and death is your sentence."
- While no details are given as to what exactly Butcher Brakespeare of the Flora Segunda books did during the war, her reputation as her country's greatest war criminal makes it clear that it was not very nice. But apparently she thought very hard about it and while it was difficult for her to do, it was the only way. So that's all right then. (Meanwhile, the other side's equally-vague war crimes are treated as completely unjustified and horrible.)
- In the Lensman universe, Worsel of Velantia and Nadreck of Palain VII both unleash the torture instruments of the Delgonian Overlords upon their former masters in the search for vital information. In Worsel's case, the other Lensmen let him do it because his own species was for countless centuries subject to the Overlords' depredations (basically a combination of Mind Rape, torture and a kind of telepathic sadism, and concluding with snuff and the consumption of the dying victim's life energies), while Nadreck is a member of a species which literally cannot comprehend such concepts as suffering without years of study, and even then can't feel it.
- Pulp detective character Mike Hammer did a fair amount of beating and killing perps. Notably, while this was depicted as praiseworthy in the novels, one of the notable films based on the series, Kiss Me Deadly is something of a Stealth Parody making him a Villain Protagonist.
- Andrei Koscuisko of the Jurisdiction series by Susan R. Matthews is both a Torture Technician and an Exalted Torturer. His job is necessary and he's good at it. And, much to his unending horror, he enjoys it.
- Terry Thorncove of the novel Inner Dark by Zhenmei Li is a complicated case. He started out as a Torture Technician, became The Atoner, found the side he switched to was willing to use him for 'special' interrogations, is viewed by the higher ups as a great hero but by his friends as the Token Evil Teammate, is portrayed as a noble man resisting a dark urge in the narrative, continually invokes Drowning My Sorrows over his actions and by the end is more or less dead inside.
Mythology and Religion
- Often, Satan is described this way, getting his jollies off by tormenting people (and lesser demons) in Hell. Sometimes, he is even described as playing a pivotal role in the actual judgment process, as more of a Villain Protagonist. In fact, the name derives from an old Hebrew word, ha-satan, which translates as "The Prosecutor."
- Played with in KGB founder Dzerzhinsky as depicted in Robert Bolt's State of Revolution. When he objects to a career as the ideological garbageman, Lenin asks "Should it be done by someone with an appetite for garbage?" Later when he is grilling Lunacharsky, he retorts "It was you more than anyone else who persuaded me to take the position."
- A Renegade Commander Shepard in Mass Effect. Hell, sometimes even Paragon Shepard.
- Dragon Age II: During the quest "Inside Job", Hawke can torture a miner and have him killed. In his/her own home.
- World of Warcraft is a special case. While most of the torturers in game (Torturer Lecraft and such) are NOT this trope because they are antagonists to both factions, there are characters that do meet this trope because at least one faction considers them non-antagonist (Sergeant Kanren in Falconwing Square is a Horde example, Interrogator Khan in Telaar an Alliance one), and there's a class (Death Knight, at least in the beginning) and quests for both Horde and Alliance that can make your character become an Exalted Torturer.]
- Joel from The Last of Us won't hesitate to brutally torture Mooks for information after Ellie gets imprisoned by David's gang. It's heavily implied he's quite experienced in the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique.
- Sonichu and Christian Weston Chandler's self-insertions.