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Got a prisoner neither bars nor chains can hold? Flatten them down to two dimensions, and stick them in a picture. From such a prison there can be no escaping
. As an added bonus, these pictures also make great Soul Jars
Life inside the picture can vary in many ways, starting with how much freedom the prisoner has.
- Soul Jars - The soul is trapped in the painting, but the body is free to move around.
- Human Popsicle - The prisoner is not aware of time passing, but is frozen in one moment
- A living death - The prisoner is aware of time passing, but can't move inside the picture. Sometimes he can communicate with people in the real world.
- Portal Picture - The picture is a gateway to another world, in which the prisoner is now trapped.
Generally, in the first two cases the prisoner does not age. With portal pictures
they usually do, but in the third case both alternatives are reasonably common.
Methods of releasing the prisoner also vary. With cursed pictures, simply looking at them can release the captive, who gets replaced by the viewer. Pictures holding villains are a form of Sealed Evil in a Can
, and the prisoners usually can only be freed by sinister rituals. Those holding heroes are more likely to respond to such things as the tears of a true love, or to require epic deeds to be done in the world within the painting.
While oil paintings are traditional, any kind of picture can be used. Another common variant is to use a mirror. With these, people looking in the mirror may see the prisoner in place of their reflection, or dimly superimposed on it.
If the person is forced to immobility, may become a case of And I Must Scream
. This sort of trap has a strong possibility of being the work of a Mad Artist
. Compare Crystal Prison
- The anime Le Portrait de Petite Cossette is all about such a cursed portrait.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh!, people's souls were often trapped within playing cards. The card art looked much like paintings of said souls. When empty, they resemble regular duel cards with a blank picture where the soul will be.
- Nehelenia in Sailor Moon could trap people in mirrors.
- In Mail (a supernatural detective thriller from the same author as "The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service"), the 12th chapter in the 2nd volume has a portrait of a terminally ill girl. When people learned about her condition, most of them took pity on her and would keep on trying to motivate her to live when all she really wanted was to die. Even after she died, the motivation from people was so strong that her spirit lived on, trapped within that portrait. Of course, her spirit manages to escape the portrait from time to time to attempt suicide...usually with the body of whoever happens to be close by...
- In Naruto, Sai can do this.
- In one Doom Patrol story, the heroes had to save the entire city of Paris from being trapped in a magic painting by the Brotherhood of Dada (who are based on an actual artistic movement.)
- In All-Star Squadron #64, the Golden Age Superman villain Funny Face tries to trap Firebrand by transferring her into a cartoon drawing with the same device that he uses to transfer cartoon villain drawings into real people. Note that this was a Post-Crisis revision of a Superman story with the All-Star Squadron substituting for the non-existent Golden Age Superman.
- In the first Superman movies, the Phantom Zone was portrayed in this manner, which is different from the comics.
- Or it used to be...
- Eventually revealed that the flat image of a person is just what it looks like when you're being taken to the Phantom Zone, which is itself an alternate dimension.
- In the Olson Twins vehicle Double, Double, Toil and Trouble, the major conflict of the plot is the Farmer twins' attempts to free their Aunt Sofia from a mirror she was trapped in by her twin. This is somewhere between the third and fourth versions of the trope.
- Used to comedic effect in Gremlins 2: The New Batch. A gremlin, which is manifested as lightning, is trapped on hold in the phone system.
- Vigo the Carpathian used a painting of himself as a Soul Jar in the second Ghostbusters movie.
- Black Scorpion:
- The villian Flashpoint has a Magical Camera that lets him take Phantom Zone Pictures.
- Flashpoint's henchwomen Vision uses a camera that can trap people in it, supposedly in a suspended animation way, to help Flashpoint escape his cell in jail, later, she presses the "print" button and the real Flashpoint materializes.
- Flashpoint again uses the Magical Camera to capture Black Scorpion, but when he "prints" her, he "photoshops" some chains to her.
- At the end, Flashpoint and Vision get Hoist by His Own Petard by being trapped in the Magical Camera and being uploaded to a satellite. The last time we see them, they seem to be in a Portal Picture.
- Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is an early example of the Soul Jar variant.
- Graham Masterton's Family Portrait has an entire family of sociopaths using this method, named after Dorian Gray.
- The Witches by Roald Dahl has an anecdote about a girl who was trapped in a picture by a witch. She was seen to age in the painting and moved around (but no one actually saw her move), eventually disappearing altogether. In the book she accepted an apple from a witch, in The Movie she was simply grabbed off the street, she was going to buy some milk in both instances.
- The Harry Potter-style pictures, which are alive but aren't trapped people, are a borderline case.
- The Golden Key (Melanie Rawn, Kate Elliott and Jennifer Roberson): A painter imprisons his first love(/cousin) in a Portal Picture, where time passes much more slowly.
- Melanie Rawn uses the mirror variant in her solo Dragon Star books. Unfortunately, there's no way of removing the character from the mirror. Breaking it will only result in them being stuck in every single shard.
- Doctor Who Expanded Universe:
- A prison mirror is the title concept in the novel Martha in the Mirror. The Doctor makes a Continuity Nod to (television spoiler) what he did to Sister Of Mine at the end of "The Family of Blood".
- The Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Demontage features a device that can trap people in paintings; if they remain there too long, they're trapped permanently.
- This is strongly implied to be the fate of Fulgrim after his Demonic Possession, trapped in a picture of himself with an expression of horror forever as a greater demon has taken up permanent residence in his body and left the picture alone in the dark, where presumably nobody will ever find it or know what happened to the real Fulgrim.
- Simon R. Green's The Bones of Haven has Messerschmann's Portrait, a painting that works as a magical booby-trap: if a person looks into it for too long, they end up trapped in the highly unpleasant landscape of the painting, from which they can only be released if someone else falls for the trap and takes their place. Someone who spends too long trapped in the portrait comes out no longer entirely human, and completely insane.
- Same concept, different media: Crowley from Good Omens traps a hostile demon in the tape from his answering machine.
- The Choose Your Own Adventure book The Vampire Express has, as a MacGuffin, a portrait of the titular vampires from when they were still human. It's kept in a special crate and is effective as a weapon against them .
- Queen Etheldredda's portrait in Septimus Heap is used as a trap for the titular Queen and her pet.
- In the Give Yourself Goosebumps book "Scream of the Evil Genie," wishing to be attractive turns your character into a painting in a museum.
- Port Charles, after its Supernatural Soap Opera Re Tool, had an arc about one of Allison's ancestors being trapped in a painting until she could be posthumously cleared of a centuries-old murder.
- In the Doctor Who story "The Family of Blood", the mirror variant was the fate of Sister of Mine.
- And then there are those drawings made by that Creepy Child in "Fear Her".
- Lots of people get trapped in paintings in the Sarah Jane adventure "Mona Lisa's Revenge".
- Done first in the 20th anniversary special "The Five Doctors" as a means of capturing said Doctors, The Brigadier and Sarah Jane Smith.
- The 50th anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor", revolves around Gallifreyan pictures which, like the TARDIS, are larger on the inside. Although they're ordinarily only used to make great-looking 3D art, several characters hitch a ride in the spacious interiors.
- Power Rangers S.P.D.: Alien criminals are basically turned into playing cards.
- This trope is named for the visual effect used to depict people trapped in the Phantom Zone in Smallville. It's pretty much the same as in the Christopher Reeve movies.
- Used both in Charmed episode 3 season 2 "The Painted World," and in episode 7 season 8 "The Lost Picture Show".
- Lewis Carroll's mirror turns out to be one of these in Warehouse 13.
- Sapphire And Steel
- Assignment 1 features Sapphire almost being killed by Roundhead soldiers while stuck in a painting.
- Assignment 4 is mostly about people who belong in photographs being taken out of them and people who don't belong in photographs being taken into them.
- In Witches Of East End, an ex-boyfriend of Freya has been trapped in a painting for decades. He escapes and takes Freya with him into another painting to imprison her there. But she escapes and the witches put him into another painting and bury it.
- Dungeons & Dragons has the Mirror of Life Trapping, which can imprison multiple victims who look into it.
- Also has the Scalamagdrion, aka Ningulfim, which is a dragon-like creature that lives in an enchanted illustration and attacks anyone that stares at it for too long.
- Warhammer 40,000: Poor Fulgrim is trapped in one of these, while a Daemon uses his physical shell.
- WFRP has a (cursed) painting known as The Blessed Ones, which shows an idyllic landscape with beautiful and lifelike figures apparently enjoying all the comforts of paradise, and each attended by a strange ethereal spirit. It is said to grant eternal life to its owner if they perform a particular ritual. The fact that many of the painting's former owners have disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and that many of the figures share a strong resemblance to said former owners is pure coincidence, and the claims that each person depicted shows every sign of enjoyment but a look of terror and pain in their eyes is pure rumour. In fact, the daemons of the painting can leave it if blood is spilled on the canvas, and will drag the blood's owner into the painting to join the others.
- In White Wolf's Exalted, on of the Sidereal Marial Arts charms Vanished Within The Glass of Obsidian Shards of Infinity Style draws your target into a mirror dimension where they are unable to interact with anything.
- In BIONICLE, Teridax does this to Miserix by forcing him to shapeshift into a Picasso-type picture, combined with a Mind Rape that convinces Miserix that he's dead and unable to move. He gets better.