Main Torture Always Works Discussion

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10:37:54 PM Mar 26th 2013
I recently found out that this tropes is also a case of Truth in Television due to the fact that historically a slaves testimony could only be accepted if it was tortured out of him.
10:34:31 PM Feb 19th 2012
Can we just try to go by the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement instead of using the sentence on real life as a soapbox?
08:37:56 PM Sep 26th 2011
Deleted all the Aversions section and moved here; this trope is not nearly so omnipresent as to warrant nearly half the page being "aversions", especially since many of them a re other torture tropes played straight.

Aversions — The person being tortured lies, doesn't have the information, or simply doesn't break.

Fan Fiction
  • The Firefly fanfic Forward, where Niska's men have captured Jayne and River and Mal attempts to torture one of Niska's men into giving up where they're being taken. It doesn't work.
  • In the Naruto fanfic "Ten Ways to Die". The brutal part is that the vital information the victim died without telling is misinformation.

  • The Dark Knight - beating the hell out of the Joker accomplishes exactly nothing, as he cheerfully points out.
    • - For that matter, beating the hell out of Moroni also accomplishes exactly nothing, as he cynically points out. Possible Subversion in that the Joker scares Moroni so much that he won't even lie about where he might be.
      • The reason it didn't work was because Batman has a strict Thou Shalt Not Kill policy, and everyone knew it. Batman can beat Moroni all day, but still wouldn't kill him. Whereas the Joker himself had made it clear he would do both if Moroni turned on him. Moroni then decided to throw his lot with the Joker instead.
        • It also didn't work because Moroni genuinely didn't know where Joker was.
  • Star Wars: when which Leia refuses to give information under torture and actually lies about the local of the rebel base even when her entire planet is threatened with annihilation.
    • Although Vader, at least, knows that it won't work and they're wasting their time.
  • The 2004 movie The Punisher.: When Frank Castle is severely injured after fighting for his life, his neighbors hide him. When the bad guys come to find Castle, they begin tearing out the seemingly-wimpy kid's piercings with pliers, no doubt taking skin with them, and leaving the kid in extreme pain and a face full of blood, yet he refuses to tell them where he is, leading to them believing he really didn't know where the Punisher was.
  • The Departed shows us an example of how lying can be a much more attractive option than telling the truth, when Costello's man repeatedly slams Costigan's broken hand into a pool table in order to find out if he's a cop. If he had said yes, he probably would have been in a whole new world of hurt.
  • Discussed in Rendition when Agent Freeman queries the Minister of the Interior what statistical data exists on the frequency of useful data produced by Enhanced Interrogation. In another scene, CIA director Corrine Whitman argues that thousands of Londoners now live due to actions taken on such data, and that one successful lead justifies the countless fruitless interrogations, even with the occasional civilian casualty.
  • In the MST3K'd film Sidehackers, the "heroes" torture one of their party (who is a Double Agent) for information on the Big Bad. Despite being beaten quite thoroughly and painfully, he refuses to reveal any information to the group because he likes his boss too much.
  • Casino Royale. Firstly, Le Chiffre uses it fairly intelligently- he knows Bond has the information he seeks (the password to Bond's bank account) and he has Bond's girlfriend in the next room, also presumably being tortured (for the account number). He offers to let her live if Bond gives in, and points out to Bond that even if he kills him, Bond's people will still give him sanctuary as they need the info he has, which is another reason for Bond to give up as Le Chiffre can choose to kill both of them. Secondly, Bond doesn't give in anyway.
  • Reservoir Dogs contains a lampshaded aversion, as exemplified in the page quote. The criminals are beating a captured cop, demanding to know which of them is a cop despite his protests that he knows nothing about any infiltrator, and Nice Guy Eddie points out that, if they beat him long enough, the cop will say whatever it takes to make the pain stop. Whether or not a cop had infiltrated the group, and Eddie did not believe one had, eventually the cop will point to somebody regardless of if it was true or false. However, in another aversion, it turns out the cop did have the information they wanted, he know Mr. Orange was an undercover officer, but he stood up the torture anyway, even when Mr. Blonde continued to torture him just to hear him scream.
  • In Pan's Labyrinth, Vidal tortures an anti-Francist rebel for information on their hideout. He doesn't give in and is mercy killed by a sympathetic doctor before he breaks. Later Vidal attempts to torture Mercedes, who breaks free, cuts his cheek open and stabs him in the stomach before escaping.

Live-Action TV
  • Lost:
    • Sawyer's torture by Sayid causes him to lie just to get a kiss from Kate (plus he's innocent and the inhaler they think he's stolen is never found, even though Sawyer strongly implied he did have it as part of his early series general Wangsting about being a bad man and acting like a Jerk Ass intentionally)
    • Sayid's near-torture of Ben fails to break through all his (many, many) lies,
    • The woman in "Enter 77" may or may not have ever been tortured by him. Sayid escapes his own torture by telling her what she wants to hear (an apology for his cruelty), but we are left unsure whether he was sincere, or whether he never did hurt her.
  • Criminal Minds: Foyet shoots a federal marshal assigned to protect Hotchner's ex-wife and son multiple times, beats him, stabs him, and cuts off several fingers, but can't get their location out of him.
  • Battlestar Galactica, multiple times: Leoben, Baltar, Gina, Boomer, Athena, and Tigh endure varying degrees of torture at both Cylon and Human hands, usually for information. The information never comes out, though.
  • On Heroes, Sylar captures a soldier and tries torturing him, and eventually threatens to torture innocents in front of him. Solving one of the problems with torture, Sylar had by that time gained the power to sense when someone's lying, but the guy still doesn't give him the information he wants (and might not have known it anyway).
  • The Tudors: when Cromwell tortures suspects in order to make them confess they slept with the queen. Here, the aversion is that all of them confess after enough torture to make it stop, while it was clearly false. It's probably exactly what happened in the real history.


  • Ethan of Athos, of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga: When FastPenta fails to give interrogators satisfactory answers, they assume Ethan is somehow fooling the drug and give him one that causes overwhelming terror. He's not. The torture is successful, but gains them no knowledge, except that he knows nothing.
  • Harry Potter
    • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Bellatrix Lestrange tortures Hermione with a very sharp knife at one point. Hermione doesn't break, but she does spend the time she was tortured screaming her lungs out.
      • And, of course, suffers no long-term psychological — or physical — effects whatsoever.
      • Of course, between the rigorous travel, the horrible burden on the group, and the mass of killings that are going on at the time, Hermione probably managed to put a couple minutes of knife play in proper perspective.
        • In fact, the torture has a much bigger (though possibly unintended) effect on Ron, who's ready to tear down the walls of Malfoy Manor to save Hermione.
    • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: when Harry and his mates about to be tortured by Professor Umbridge. As she prepares to torture Harry for information, Hermione pretends to break down and sobbingly "confesses" everything. Umbridge follows her advice and winds up carried off into the woods by a crowd of angry centaurs.
    • Bellatrix was sent to the Azkaban because after the fall of Voldemort, she, along with three other Death Eaters tortured an Auror and his wife (Neville's parents) to get them to tell where Voldemort is. They couldn't tell, because they didn't know, but the torture drove them incurably insane.
  • Krondor the Betrayal, where James specifically debunks torture as a reliable interrogation method, arguing that innocent men often confess just to end the torture, while true subversives often are strong-willed enough to either resist or give false information. Although his Proud Warrior Race Guy companion counters that torture actually does work, as long as you use it wisely.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire. Gregor Clegane has one of his men torture some villagers to discover the whereabouts of Beric Dondarrion. The torturer discovers that Lord Beric had visited the village, that he had not, that he had ridden away to the north, or south, or west, or sailed east across the lake, and that he commanded either half a dozen starving men or half a thousand well-armed knights. The only times torture is shown to work in the series is extracting false confessions (and even that doesn't always work).
    • Not entirely true. Osney Kettleblack freely confessed to fornicating with Queen Margeary, but what High Septon got out of him after some torture was pretty much the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
  • Tom Clancy's The Sum of all Fears. John Clark tortured a captured terrorist to find out who his backers are. Turns out that the terrorist lied when he fingered the Iranians.
  • Animorphs . When the Yeerks capture Tobias they torture him for hours in an attempt to force him to demorph so that he can be infested. At at least one point, Tobias cracks and wants to give in. Demorphing, however, requires concentration, and the girl torturing him never gives him enough time even to properly form the thought, let alone to actually go through with it. The same thing happens later on, when she starts demanding information. At at least one point, he's had enough and attempts to tell her what she wants to know, but he's so incoherent by that point that the words are either garbled or never make it out of his head at all. Either way, she doesn't notice.
    • Although it wasn't a matter of demorphing; Tobias was already in his natural state (he was stuck in hawk morph permanently). To keep sane, he essentially "shut off" his human mind, and let the hawk's dormant consciousness take over.
  • In The Arrows Trilogy, it's mentioned that Heralds are trained to, in response to torture, lie inventively before they actually break, so that when they do break and start telling the torturer what they want to hear, the torturer won't know what is truth and what is desperate lies.
  • A Deeper Blue: Torture Always Works... except when being done on on someone who gets off on being given pain. Anastasia, a BDSM submissive, is questioned for names of Mike's team, but she instead gives the interrogator a list of his own goons.
    • Elsewhere in the series, particularly in A Deeper Blue, this trope is played straight.
  • Completely averted in The Second Apocalypse, with the Mandate sorcerers. They have access to the most powerful magic in the world, so the other schools capture and torture them whenever they get a chance. In a thousand years, none of them have broken. Not once. There is a very good reason for this: Seswatha, the founder of the school, lives on in each member. Normally, this only manifests itself as horrifying nightmares of the First Apocalypse (to remind them to keep fighting), but during torture he takes full control. This guy was tortured by demons, sex-crazed aliens, and insane elves. There is nothing a human being can throw at him that will make him blink.
  • In The Name of the Rose, protagonist William of Baskerville used to be an inquisitor, but avoided using torture. He explains that poeople under torture say not only what the inquisitor wants, but also what they imagine might please him. Later in the novel, even the threat of torture is enough for the accused to admit crimes he didn't commit.

Video Games
  • Squall in Final Fantasy VIII is subjected to Electric Torture for information... which might actually have worked if he had the information he's tortured for. Since he doesn't, all it accomplishes is to give him the opportunity to try to commit a version of Suicide by Cop.
    • It does serve a purpose for Squall, though: despite the fact that he believes he'll die from the torture, he gains some insight into the Big Bad and her motivations (which weren't what anyone at all thought at the time).
  • In Red Dead Redemption, after trying to find out the location of Javier Escuella from Captain De Santa, John Marston eventually captures De Santa, and then gets Escuella's location out of De Santa through torture. The location De Santa gives you turns out to just be a train station/bordello filled with Mexican troops that Escuella hasn't been near in months.
  • In Mass Effect 2, Shepard will come across prison guards beating a prisoner. No matter which squadmates you bring with you, they will not approve, though for different reasons. Garrus (and Legion, if you edit him in) will go for the "You don't even get reliable information" bit, while the others will either call it unprofessional or simply be disgusted that it's being done at all.

  • Order Of The Stick. Redcloak's months of torture on O-Chul fails to get any results due to two reasons: 1: O-Chul is a paladin in good standing, and therefore is immune to fear. 2: O-Chul doesn't know anything. Redcloak threatens to throw some innocent civilians to their soul-destroying deaths, so O-Chul lies about the information because Redcloak won't believe him. After another exchange, Redcloak finally realizes that O-Chul really does have no idea.

Western animation
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender. "The Boiling Rock" had a man that was part of jail break held upside down for hours (yes, that's a real form of torture that is very painful and can cause non-funny aneurysms) until he confessed who thought up the plan, but he lied. The bigger question is why his interrogators trusted him so much.
  • Batman: The Animated Series has Batman doing his usual thing to get info from people, but the guy faints from shock before he says anything useful.
  • Also shows up in Justice League Unlimited where Cadmus has captured The Question and his subjecting him to torture for information on the League. All he gives them is random nonsense conspiracy theories.
    • Nonsense? It's pretty obvious Question believes at least some of what he's saying. The torturer is just using the wrong questions. "Tell me what you know" just isn't specific enough to get anything useful out of him. And those aglets are sinister.
  • Spawn has a war flashback in episode 1 of season 3 where Al's buddy is tortured to get them to reveal troop positions — and the torture goes a bit too far. When the cavalry arrives, they're horrified at what they see, in part because they intentionally fed Al bad intel, fully expecting him to talk.

Variation: The torturers aren't interested in information at all

Anime and Manga
  • Berserk: Griffith is horrifically tortured to the point he can't even move under his own power... simply as punishment for sleeping with the king of Midland's daughter. Later, the Inquisitors use torture for two reasons: getting confessions of witchcraft, and because they just like doing it.

  • The Empire Strikes Back: Luke's friends are tortured not for information, but to draw him out of hiding.
  • Bond is tortured in the 2006 Casino Royale for a six-digit code number. Le Chiffre explicitly states after a few blows that he realizes Bond will never give up the code. That doesn't mean the torture stops.
    • An even more well known example comes from in Goldfinger:
    Bond: Do you expect me to talk?
    Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to DIE!
  • This is mentioned in Dr. Strangelove as to having happened to one of the characters.
    General Ripper: Did they torture you?
    Captain Mandrake: Erm... Yes, I was tortured by the Japanese, Jack, if you must know. Not a pretty story.
    General Ripper: Well, what happened?
    Captain Mandrake: Oh, well I don't know Jack, difficult to think under these conditions but.... Well, what happened was they got me on the old Rangoon-Ichinawa railway. I was laying some train-lines for the bloody Japanese puff-puffs-
    General Ripper: No, I mean when they tortured you. Did you talk?
    Captain Mandrake: Ah, Oh no. Well, I don't think they wanted me to talk really. I don't think they wanted me to say anything, it was just their way of having fun, the swines. Strange thing is they make such bloody good cameras...

  • In Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun series, the torturers' guild carries out torture, usually till death, as a punishment for convicted criminals. They don't bother asking questions, and in the past, members of the guild were all made deaf (so they could more easily ignore the screams, begging for mercy, etc.)
  • In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith is tortured not because they want information out of him (the Party know he doesn't know anything that's really useful to them), but as part of a brainwashing regimen designed to break his spirit. In this regard, it's very effective.

Live-Action TV
  • Firefly, in "The Train Job" and "War Stories," as Niska is clearly torturing for purely sadistic reasons. Similarly, Jubal Early's calm threat in "Objects in Space" is not for information, but for submission.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation lampshades this in "Chain of Command," rightly pointing out that torture is not useful for extracting information, especially with all the wonderful drugs and such they have available, even though that's the "official" reason why it's happening. In fact, Gul Madred started out torturing Picard to get the information out of him using aforementioned drugs but quickly realized Picard didn't know anything. He just kept going for the sake of breaking Picard's spirit, possibly without even letting anyone on the ship know it was a sadistic waste of time.
  • Prison Break: torture almost never works. The most recent torture scene on Wyatt was not for interrogation but for pure revenge on Mahone's side. And Wyatt did do what Mahone wanted, telling his wife that he's sorry (for killing his son).
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: the gang's plan to get their hands on Bruce Mathis's money relies on him faking a confession of terrorism when they waterboard him.
  • NCIS: A vicious torturer from Ducky's past killed a young refugee not to get information but to torture Ducky because his medical skills were giving the victims enough hope to resist him. And it worked: Ducky Mercy Killed the young man (causing his sister to believe he murdered her brother and go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge decades later) and left soon after.

Real Life
07:51:58 PM Sep 26th 2011
The Real Life section is most definitely Flame Bait. Your Mileage May Vary on whether Enhanced Interrogation Techniques work or not, some people think they do, others think they don't. It's not this Wiki's place to favor either side.
07:52:33 PM Sep 26th 2011
Also, sections related to the alleged Real Life examples of this trope.
05:19:10 PM Oct 27th 2010
I'm confused. Does asking questions while leveling any sort of threat count as torture? There are examples of things like threatening someone's family to make them talk, or holding a gun to someone's head to make them talk. I ask because I considered adding Splinter Cell to the "Video Games" section. Fisher constantly asks people questions at gunpoint, and they constantly provide instantaneous accurate answers. Sometimes it even works when he's merely holding onto their head/neck with his bare hands - he doesn't even have to say "I could break your neck," they just automatically seem to assume he will from him having them in a full nelson.
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