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Grand Inquisitor Scene

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In stories set in a dystopian society, there is usually the one scene in the story where a dissident of the society has a "meeting of the minds" with a high ranking official of the society. During the meeting, the official can perfectly understand where the dissident is coming from with his objections, but has a rebuttal for each one, and explains why his visions for the society are flawed and thus wouldn't work. In a Crapsack World setting, the official will state how they've stamped it out and such.

Usually also serves as a Breaking Speech, as the dissident has their mind blown by how the authorities are so much smarter and more powerful than the dissident dreamed.

There are also cases where the official doesn't support the society, but explains how it works and why people think the way they think.

As this trope is often the climax of a story, beware of spoilers.


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    Comic Books 
  • At the end of Batman: Holy Terror, Bruce Wayne reaches the star chamber and interrogates the official there about the death of his parents, at which point the official calmly explains that Bruce will never find the men who ordered his parents' death because the secret council votes by hidden ballot, and thus no one member of the council knows how the others voted, and thus his entire quest to break into the star chamber was in vain. Rather than be demoralized, Batman decides that if he can't track down every member of the council, he will instead destroy the entire system that allowed them to exist in the first place.


  • The confrontation between Beale and the CEO, Arthur Jensen, in Network.
  • The Matrix franchise:
    • The Matrix: Agent Smith (as the "official [who] doesn't support the society") during his interrogation of Morpheus. "Humans are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a... plague. And we... are the cure."
    • The Matrix Reloaded has Neo's confrontation with The Architect. The Architect explains how The One functions as an instrument of control and why this is the only form of victory humans will ever achieve. Neo says 'screw you' and takes the second option.
    • The Matrix Revolutions has an inversion of the trope when Smith confronts the Oracle (a villain confronting a heroic inquisitor). He mirrors the scene in her kitchen from the first movie and is desperately trying to provoke her into lecturing him about the system and choice and fate, but she just sits there passively and tells him to Get It Over With.
  • Equilibrium finishes on one of these, with the added bonus that the official also doesn't believe it either.
  • In The Last Temptation of Christ, Pontius Pilate (played by David Bowie), is the inquisitor in his conversation with Jesus Christ (played by Willem Dafoe), where he politely tries to persuade the preacher from Nazareth away from his goals in a very Don't Make Me Destroy You way. Jesus won't budge. Pilate then tells him that he considers pacifists like Jesus to be "more dangerous than the zealots," before solemnly informing him that he will be crucified at Golgotha which has "3000 skulls," and tells him that he wishes he and other residents of Jerusalem would count those skulls before making the Romans have to add more to the pile.
  • The climax of Snowpiercer has Rebel Leader Curtis meet Mr. Wilford, the Sole Surviving Scientist perpetuator of the Fantastic Caste System onboard the train with the last remaining humans. Wilford calmly cooks dinner and greatly shakes Curtis by talking about the need to preserve resources and cull the lower-class population (which caused him to let the rebellion get off the ground when he could have easily stopped it) from his perspective while claiming that Curtis's beloved mentor secretly shared many of Wilford's beliefs and ideals and to make Curtis the next leader of the train. Curtis's resolve gradually weakens throughout the talk, but he ultimately chooses to give Wilford a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown rather than submit to his vision.


  • Trope Namer: The Brothers Karamazov, in a story-within-the-story where Jesus himself is arrested and hauled before the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. The Grand Inquisitor claims Christ sinned by not giving into the temptations because giving in would have meant giving man food, miracles to believe in, and an authority to rule them; here's the other wiki's explanation. The Grand Inquisitor, and the author of the story, Ivan, believe that Christ should have traded free will and a choice in whether or not to worship God for a comfortable life. It's Ivan's struggle to reconcile an "uncaring" Godnote  and the alternative atheism, which he believes would lead to a world where morals don't matter since heaven and hell don't exist, and can't act as a deterrent.note  His solution is that the Church should rule the world; Christ did not allow this, ergo he "sinned" and the Grand Inquisitor yells at him for it. In other words, man may not live by bread alone—but without it he will surely perish. Most people are not equipped for the kind of hardships Jesus went through. Give them safety and then they can worry about morals.
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four: The scene where O'Brien tortures Winston in Room 101 and tells him the skinny about how the Party controls the populace, and where it is going in the future. Part of this talk also takes place too, however, through Goldstein's book.
    If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.
  • Brave New World: The scene where John and Mustapha Mond talk about the World State. John argues for a world in which meaningful art, passion, family, and God have a place again, but Mond shoots down everything John brings up. He agrees with him that the old world had more meaning to it, but that it had to be sacrificed for stability.
  • In every session with Jonas, The Giver explains why Sameness exists, and why things are done the way they are done. He later supports Jonas in bringing the society down though.
  • Fahrenheit 451: Captain Beatty has a discussion with Montag about why books are banned, because they can potentially be offensive.
  • The Patrician in Discworld gets one of these per novel that he shows up in, although the people he's talking to usually aren't dissidents but people who work for the city and sometimes aren't even disagreeing with him by the time he gives the speech. The one time he gives one to a real enemy of the state or himself is at the end of Going Postal, and even then he's still trying to recruit the man.
  • This shows up in the granddaddy of dystopias, We. Here, the Great Benefactor explains to D-503 the One State's inhuman actions.
  • In Ray Bradbury's "The Flying Machine", a man in ancient China invents a flying machine, and the Emperor informs him that his machine must burn and he must die lest enemies use the contraption to attack the Empire.
  • In Harlan Ellison's "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman, the Ticktockman (officially, the Master Timekeeper) does indeed tell Harlequin to repent during their Grand Inquisitor Scene.
  • The flashback of A Study in Scarlet has a member of the Mormon community (originally a Gentile) being questioned by no one less than Brigham Young himself about his refusal to take multiple wives or marry his daughter to a Mormon.
  • In Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley, Dr. Poole is brought into the Unholy of Unholies to hear the Arch-Vicar lecture him on the proof of Belial's existence and the historical inevitability of His triumph over man.
  • In Darkness at Noon, Rubashov's will is broken down by two scenes of this type, one with Ivanov, the other with Gletkin.
  • In José Saramago's The Gospel According To Jesus Christ, there's a Grand inquisitor scene between God, Jesus, and Satan. Jesus just wants to be normal, Satan offers to quit and leave the world without evil in exchange for God's forgiveness, and God shuts them both down since he needs an evil counterpart and a martyr to Take Over the World.

     Live Action TV  

  • Roj Blake's dressing-down in the first episode of Blake's 7.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "The Obsolete Man", depicts a future dystopian society where a librarian named Wordsworth, played by Burgess Meredith, is sentenced to death by the chancellor (Fritz Weaver) for being "obsolete". He asks to have the chancellor visit him just before he is about to die, the method of which he is able to choose. They debate the morality of a society where a person's right to live is determined by their worth to the state. Wordsworth then reveals that they are being televised, and he has chosen to die by having the now locked room set to explode at midnight. After a while, the chancellor begs Wordsworth "in the name of God" (he had declared God does not exist previously) to let him go. He does just before the room explodes. The chancellor now is condemned himself for showing cowardice and deemed "obsolete" by the same court he previously presided over.
  • The scenes between the Cigarette-Smoking Man and benevolent alien Jeremiah Smith in The X-Files episode Talitha Cumi, which are explicitly based on The Brothers Karamazov, even using one of the novel's most famous lines: "Anyone who can appease a man's conscience can take his freedom away from him."


  • Within the overall narrative of Rush's 2112, the fourth movement, Presentation, is this from a priest of the Temple of Syrinx to the protagonist.


  • George Bernard Shaw:
    • In Saint Joan, the Inquisitor delivers a long and very convincing speech on the necessity of the Inquisition to a young friar who doubts Joan's heresy.
    • Burgoyne in The Devil's Disciple.
    • The Roman Emperor in Androcles and the Lion asserts that he is actually a Christian evangelist — since Christian martyrs inspire converts, the more Christians he kills, the more Christians he creates.

     Video Games  

  • Played with in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. Every single faction gets several of these, but they also double as Author Tracts simultaneously and the factions have radically opposing viewpoints.
  • Happens between the party and The Magic Emperor at the end of Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. It involves the goddess and the role she plays in the world's order and prosperity.
  • Occurs in Breath of Fire III between Ryu and Myria, where the latter explains her means and goals. The rest of the party get to voice their own opinions before the player decides whether to agree or disagree with the position presented.

     Web Original 

     Western Animation  
  • Used as a framing device in the pilot of TRON: Uprising where Beck is captured after his first outing of disguising himself as Tron and destroying a statue of Clu and interrogated by a red-circuited figure who points out to him that the act of rebellion was foolish. Beck spends the episode arguing why he did it, why he doesn't regret it, and how he believes that belief in the system's champion can stir a revolution. Even the voice of the "inquisitor" doesn't clearly give things away, given events in TRON: Legacy, as the audience is led to believe that Tron's already been rectified, but it ends up a subversion, as the circuits turn back to their original white and blue. Tron hasn't been twisted into Rinzler yet, and he was seeking an apprentice to work on his behalf.