"The barbarous custom of torturing who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has been proved that this way of interrogation produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."
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, as an interrogation technique for extracting actual usable intelligence, its efficacy varies wildly - some will tell the truth, others will lie just to spite their torturers, others will clam up under poor treatment, and still others will say ANYTHING to make the torture stop. This last is a major problem with torture - it is a well-known means to extract false confessions from people, being frequently used for such purposes, and as such any intelligence gathered in this way is highly unreliable, doubly so because the torture victim will often be playing directly into what they believe that their torturer WANTS them to say. There are also cases where the victims tells the truth but the torture continues anyway because nobody believes them.
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.
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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.
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!
In Mindshattered of One Piece, the Big Bad Panaceam captures Zoro and brutally tortures him by beating him and starving him to near death for over a month. When that didn't work, he added poisons and drugs in Zoro's scarce food and water which finally forced him to talk. The guilt, horrific injuries and being riddled with the physical and emotional issues that comes with starvation, Zoro was a complete wreck by the time the crew found him.
The Avengers has Invincible where Steve was captured and HYDRA tortures him, not to get information, but to break the Avengers and SHIELD's spirit by physically and emotionally shattering their leader. They nearly succeeded.
Briefly discussed in You Obey. Torture is not a prefered means of acquiring information, and it's implied that its reliability is uncertain. The victim fails to give in, resulting in Mind Rape.
Averted 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 it still 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 the 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. Which is immediately proven: Batman smashes Joker's hand, which Joker no-sells and says, "See?"
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.
Subverted in A New Hope. There are conflicting reports about what the Interrogation Droid actually did to Leia, but whatever it did, it failed to make her tell them anything.
The Punisher (2004): 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)
Act of Valor deliberately subverts this. When a CIA agent is captured by the drug traffickers in the film, she is brutally tortured but utterly refuses to break under the pain. Later on, when Christo, the leader of the drug traffickers, is captured and questioned by Miller, the interrogation consists entirely of the two men sitting at a table and talking, with Miller simply laying out the reality of the situation: Christo will be going to prison, and unless he cooperates, he will likely never see freedom or his family again. Christo breaks immediately and tells them everything he knows.
Zero Dark Thirty is a rendition of how Osama bin Laden was captured. Torture was involved in getting some of the information about his associates. This spurred a lot of controversy and accusations that the film is pro-torture. Yet torture is also clearly shown as ineffective in preventing an attack, as the prisoner is reduced to gibberish and any worthwhile information either came from non-torture interrogation and overlooked files, and the director said in an interview that the moral ambivalence of the use of torture was intentional.
Averted in Prisoners. Vengeful father Keller, believes that kidnapping and torturing the child-minded man he believes kidnapped his daughter will force him to confess and reveal her whereabouts. Turns out the child-minded man wasn't the kidnapper, the woman he was staying with was the true kidnapper as well as a serial child killer.
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.
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."
Subverted, however, when one tries to question a Mord-Sith. The books show two attempts and both have failed (including a Room 101 one)
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.
In Carnifex, 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 "Fast Penta" 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.)) (Or, if you are Miles, having an atypical reaction.) 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).
Of course, the existence of Fast Penta doesn't stop people from occasionally wistfully wondering if it's time to start yanking fingernails when the drug won't work.
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."
In The Cardinal of the Kremlin, 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. 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
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.
In The Sum of All Fears, John Clark tortures two Palestinian terrorists that he had captured to get information from them regarding their plans. The terrorists had come up with a disinformation plan in case of capture, as an alternate method of attaining their goals.
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.
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.
According to Aquarium, there are no strong people. There are only bad interrogators.
Discussed and doubly subverted in The Maltese Falcon. When Kasper Gutman uses the threat of torture in order to coerce Sam Spade to divulge the whereabouts of the Falcon, Sam responds that torture is only effective if the tormentor is ready at some point during the torture to go all the way and kill the vitim; Gutman cannot afford to kill Sam since he is the only person knowing the bird's location and Sam knows that Gutman knows that etc...which is not quite true since many torture techniques are very painful and specially designed to keep the victim alive for an indefinite amount of time.
In Darkness at Noon, Gletkin, an interrogator during Stalin's purges is a firm believer of this, stating: "Human beings able to resist any amount of physical pressure do not exist." This is despite the fact that during the Civil War, Gletkin was captured by the enemy, and they tied a lighted candlewick on to his shaven skull, but he didn't confess. When this is brought up to him, Gletkin counters that this was only because they didn't have enough time to torture him, as he was rescued a few hours later.
Subverted in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Bellatrix tries torturing Hermione to find out how they got Gryffindor's sword (which Bellatrix thought was being kept in her vault at Gringotts). She uses the Cruciatus curse on Hermione, but Hermione is still able to lie that the sword they have is a fake. Bellatrix does have the presence of mind to double-check by bringing a goblin she was holding captive to verify this, but Harry gets the goblin to go along with the story.
Subverted in Replica. Dirk Mosely, Paxco's chief of security, enjoys using torture, but knows one must be sparing because people can and will say anything to make it stop.
Deconstructed in Prokleta Avlija. When the two guards use this on Ćamil (trying to get information about a nonexistent conspiracy), he ends up emotionally broken down, and they find out nothing.
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. In fact, when someone he's interrogating starts saying anything Jack wants to hear, Jack specifies someone who has been in the business as long as him learns to tell when someone is speaking under duress, telling the truth or will never break. He tells the guy off for pretending and states he knows he's dealing with the kind of guy who will cough up the truth under torture. Jack, being Jack, is right (although he's stopped from the completing the interrogation by people who believe torture is never acceptable).
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. However, for once, it ''wasn't' treated as if the moral of the story is "the crueler the better, it always gets you what you need." Jack had been Jumping Off the Slippery Slope by this point and it was used to show how far off the deep end it was going.
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 & 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.
Played straight. Weston himself tortured absolutely accurate spot-on information out of an assassin sent after him during the first season by poisoning his food with peanuts that the assassin was fatally allergic to. As the assassin painfully chokes to death, Michael dangles his medicine just out of reach until the assassin eagerly reveals everything he knows to Michael.
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. Once she has someone at her mercy, it rarely takes more than a minute for them to start talking.
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.
Played straight again and again in The Shield. Vic Mackey and his Strike Team frequently torture suspects before arresting them to get useful information. This can range from simply pointing a gun at the suspect or beating them to stabbing them with a badge pin or drowning them in oil. The perps always know exactly what the cops want to find out, they always give in and reveal the details, and they never attempt to give misleading information or tell outright lies. Could be partially justified because Mackey has a fearsome reputation and is likely to to track down and punish anyone who tries to play him, but it even works in situations where the suspect ought to be more scared of the people he is betraying, or where he is about to leave town never to be seen again.
On Scandal, Huck manages to successfully torture information out of a captive even though he keeps the guy's mouth duct-taped shut until after he's past the point of being able to form coherent words.
Subverted in an episode from the first season of New Tricks. The team has the suspect in custody, are applying various amount of Perp Sweating to get him to confess, and it appears he is ready to crack, when the trope is subverted by the sudden arrival of the suspect's attorney. The suspect had secretly used his his mobile phone to call his attorney, who was able to listen to - and record - everything that was going on.
Played straight in Castle: When his daughter Alexis is abducted, Castle and Beckett track down one of the kidnappers. Beckett leaves Castle alone with the seriously wounded man, who refuses to talk even after Castle's Declaration of Protection. Castle takes a deep breath, at which point we cut to Beckett's face as she hears the kidnapper's cries of agony from the other room. In the next scene, they are back at the precinct, having all the information they need.
In Prison Break, General Zavala becomes the new head of the prison guards at Sona. Unlike his predecessor, he isn't corrupt and believes Michael Scofield about Gretchen Morgan being a criminal. Zavala has Gretchen tortured and, while that doesn't reveal any information at first, concludes that her behavior and composure indicates that this isn't her first time being tortured, confirming that she isn't who she claims. Later, she pretends to break and agrees to take them to a safehouse, only to surprise and kill the General and his escort.
In GURPS torture gives a huge bonus to interrogation rolls but Social Engineering turns this on its head. A subject who is overwhelmed by torture or a long interrogation will say whatever they think will stop the torture rather than what they think is true. As a result the bonus can play against the interrogator.
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.
One such room known simply as Interrogation Chamber XXIX has a 100% success rate. The white room has been stained brown and black by the procedures preformed on the victims, which include simply ripping the knowledge straight from the brain, physically or otherwise, or using psychic manipulation to reshape the personality to more... compliant... shapes.
Warhammer has an aversion: one Witch Hunter manages to get the information he needs from Slaaneshi heretics by giving them a potion that numbs all sensory input. To those who worship a god(dess) based on constant physical sensation, it's a complete Mind Rape.
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 AristophanesThe 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.
The "Interrogation" missions in Assassin's Creed I 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 Assassin's Creed: Lineage prequel video, Giovanni Auditore (Ezio's father) captures one of Rodrigo Borgia's Mooks and delivers him to Lorenzo de' Medici. Uberto Alberti tortures the captive on a rack, who reveals the Templar plot to assassinate Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza.
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 undoubtedly 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.
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.
In the quest line which precedes your entry into The Nexus, you're required by the Kirin Tor to torture an imprisoned sorcerer until he talks. And when he finally does, all the information turns out to be completely accurate.
In The Last of Us, Joel gets information through torture twice. In both cases, he gets the information he needs quickly and easily.
The first time is justified, as he tortures one mook while keeping a second tied up to corroborate the information he receives, though in the end he doesn't bother to double-check and just kills both of them.
The second time is more problematic: in a race against time to save Ellie from being killed for a vaccine, he takes a gun from the guard who was escorting him from the building and demands to know where she is, shooting said guard when he remains quiet. The guard promptly tells him before Joel finishes him off with a shot to the head. Joel has zero means of verifying the information he is given and the information will be useless to him with just the slightest delay, yet he was able to get precisely the information he needed in the space of a few seconds of torture.
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 (which the two have of a history of doing recreationally anyway) and how much to other psychological pressures and regular mind control, using magic.
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 "Fans!!" where Rumy yells at her berserk subordinate that "Contrary to what you see on '24,' pain is not a Lasso of Truth."
The 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. Further experimentation soon reveals that a suitably chosen torture victim can give correct answers to any question whatsoever, and the world soon shifts to a high-tech utopia built on the backs of a caste of victims.