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Rage Within the Machine

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Xavier March: What do you do if you devote your life to discovering criminals, and it gradually occurs to you that the real criminals are the people you work for? What do you do when everyone tells you not to worry, you can't do anything about it, it was a long time ago?
Charlie Maguire: I suppose you go crazy.
March: Or worse. Sane.

When a main character is loyally part of a party or division linked to the government but is beginning to doubt if said party/division is right about their beliefs and policies, or, in extreme, rebels. Often used in dystopian fiction. In older works, especially Orwellian styled fiction, it was common that at the end the rebel's faith would be restored, or they would be killed. This was an unfortunate side effect of the mildly Anvilicious aesops the writers would work into their stories. In newer works, however, the fate of the rebellious character is often different, although death or brainwashing are still completely possible.

Compare to Big Brother Is Employing You, My Country, Right or Wrong, My Master, Right or Wrong, Internal Reformist, Just Following Orders, and mostly Heel Realization and Defector from Decadence. These characters may Resign in Protest when they are finally pushed too far.

Not to be confused with Man in the Machine... unless, of course, it's a Cyborg rebelling against those that made him/her/it abduct and robotisize others. Also, not to be confused with Rage Against the Machine. Or this article, from which the title was derived.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Bleach, right after Ichigo stops the Sokyoku from executing Rukia, Captains Ukitake and Kyoraku work in tandem to activate an artifact specifically designed to destroy it, having felt that the entire execution had veered too far into Disproportionate Retribution territory and become highly suspicious of the circumstances leading to it. While Captain Commander Yamamoto decides to personally punish his former students for their actions, Aizen would prove that they were entirely justified in their suspicions.

    Comic Books 
  • Happens at some point to every judge in Judge Dredd when they recognize the faults in the plainly dictatorial system. Dredd himself notably lost faith and resigned from his post just before the events of "Necropolis".

    Fan Works 
  • In Origin Story, Tony Stark was the instigator of the Superhuman Registration Act. By the end of this story, he's one of Act's most vocal critics within the government and is actively campaigning to have it repealed.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Preston from Equilibrium. Unlike many of these, he succeeds in taking down the local tyranny.
  • Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz from Inglourious Basterds. As an enlisted man, he killed 13 Gestapo officers, plus he has the honor of dying while doing what he loved best — stabbing an already dead Nazi in the back of the head with a large knife.
  • John Anderton from Minority Report starts to doubt the justice of his mission around the time he gets framed.
  • The two protagonists in Cube Zero are a division of a vaguely theocratic government responsible for monitoring the declared enemies of the state who are thrown in the Cube to be experimented on. They're both resigned to their horrifying jobs at first, but one eventually realizes what he is part of and tries to rescue the people inside, only for the scary men from upstairs to come down and track him down.
  • This is the plot of The Lives of Others, in which a member of The Stasi (the Secret Police of East Germany) develops a sympathy for the people he is surveilling, which causes him to doubt the righteousness of what he does in his job.
  • Amen: Kurt Gerstein unwittingly becomes one of the chief organizers of the Holocaust when his chemical supplies start to be used for killing people instead of typhus. He subtly tries to undermine the actions of his colleagues by delaying shipments of Zyklon-B, but it's entirely too little to make much of a dent.

  • Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four has to be one of the most famous examples who secretly rebels against Big Brother and is psychologically crushed for it. The last line is "He loved Big Brother".
  • D-503 in Yevgeny Zamyatin's We — but at first he cannot grasp the fact that he feels the urge to rebel...and considers it a sickness.
  • Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson from Brave New World. Unlike his fellow citizens, Bernard wishes for more solitude and dislikes taking soma. Helmholtz wants to create True Art.
  • Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451 is curious about the books he is paid to burn and takes one home.
  • The City Watch in general and Vimes in particular in the Discworld novel Night Watch. Jingo is an arguable case, since they never had any loyalty to Rust, but to the ruler he deposed.
  • Inspector (later Watch Commander) Carmichael of Jo Walton's Alternate History Small Change trilogy has been blackmailed into becoming Da Chief of what is effectively a British gestapo. Although publicly feared and hated, he uses the resources and privileges he now has to his advantage to secretly move as many innocents as he can safely out of the country.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Death Star has a loyal Imperial agent assigned to firing the planet-destroying superlaser begin to question his faith in The Empire after the destruction of Alderaan. Eventually, this leads him to a crucial moment of indecision when he is ordered to fire on the rebels on one of Yavin IV's moons which gives the rebels time to fire the fatal shot which destroys the eponymous station. This also serves to explain why the laser fires more quickly on Alderaan than during the climax of the movie.
  • Fatherland: Xavier March is Nazi policeman living in a victorious Nazi Reich. By the beginning of the story, he has become increasingly dis-enamored with the Nazi regime he serves, refusing to become a hardcore Party supporter. Things only get worse when he learns of the fate of Jews who were "sent East"...
  • Arc of Fire: Some of the Atma Knights have grown to oppose the ruthless and manipulative tactics that their order uses, forming dissident groups. These range from ones who just want reforms, to those intent on a revolt and taking the order's ruling High Council down. Mohender Ghosh, the leader of a reform-minded group, gets arrested and put on trial for treason (which is a sham) after he publicly criticizes them. While he escapes, we don't see how the dissent within the Atma Knights ends up overall.
  • Shtetl Days: It's implied Veit's embrace of his Jewish identity stems from a distaste toward the Nazi Reich. At several points, he muses about how boring and lame the culture of the Reich is.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Juliet from Lost is an example of this... particularly in the episode "I Do".
  • Deep Throat of The X-Files fed Mulder information from his position in authority.
  • In Nikita Nikita rebels right away when Division kills her boyfriend. Michael on the other hand stays loyal even though he had doubts for a long time.
    • He refuses to participate in Percy's private operation and even helps Nikita from time to time. In the end he rebels when he finds out that Percy had his family killed. He remains loyal to the ideas behind Division but hates what Percy is doing as its head.
    • This is a frequent problem for Division deep cover agents. They start to have doubts about what Division is doing and some end up Going Native. Even Percy's elite Guardians are not immune from this.
  • The Barrier: Several characters who are initially part of the government take this path. Luis creeps closer and closer towards this between a tendency for people who try to warn him that the government is trying to get rid of him dying soon after and an orphan his family took in turning out to not actually be an orphan. Later, another character's son turns out to have been taken away from him by means similar to those by which Luis' adoptive son was taken away from his biological parents and would hence have every reason to walk the same path as Luis, but doesn't. Luis explains to Emilia that those who are part of the system are the most confused when they discover its dark sides.
  • In Chernobyl, Legasov and Shcherbina are both high-ranking individuals within their spheres of the Soviet system and did not get there by being nice and above-board. Legasov quickly realizes how much a hindrance Soviet thinking is when he's the only one in the room who can spot that the Kremlin is being lied to about the extent of the disaster and begins pushing back more and more on decisions that are clearly being made to protect the USSR's public image rather than its people. Shcherbina takes longer to get there, as an experienced navigator of the high circles of politics, but he reaches his Rage Breaking Point when he realizes that the Kremlin has spent months using a false figure to negotiate for a radiation-proof robot from West Germany, resulting in the robot frying as soon as it's put into action. His subsequent phone conversation with Moscow is so loud it can be heard outside the trailer, he screams at the listening KGB agents for good measure, and then he bashes the phone to bits in the process of hanging up.

    Myths & Religion 
  • According to quite a few religious (and some secular but metaphysically inclined) philosophers, this is the default state of humanity: being in opposition to a larger cosmic purpose and instinctively driven to Screw Destiny regardless of the outcome. There is as much disagreement on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing as there is on what said cosmic purpose actually is (or if it's there at all).

    Video Games 
  • Kyle Katarn of the Dark Forces Saga started out as an Imperial officer and rebelled.
  • Cecil Harvey from Final Fantasy IV doubts the King of Baron's intentions when he's ordered to attack Mysidia and steal their crystal, and finally leaves his service after being unwittingly used to burn the Village of the Mist to the ground.
  • Devil Survivor. Izuna knows that the government is planning to eliminate Tokyo to get rid of all the demons, but will follow through with the plan "for the good of the country". Of course, she'd rather not resort to this option, and as a result, will help the main characters in some of the endings.
  • Deus Ex. JC Denton starts out as a UNATCO (United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition) Agent, but he rebels after a few missions when his brother shows him proof that his bosses are corrupt and serving a Corrupt Corporate Executive.
  • The player has the option to become one of these in certain class quests in Star Wars: The Old Republic, either trying to reform the Sith Empire as a Light Side Sith Inquisitor or Imperial Agent, or rejecting the corruption of the Republic as a Dark Side Jedi Knight or Trooper. Several companions, including Jaesa Willsaam, Ashara Zavros, and Lord Scourge ( the ex-Emperor's Wrath) also have elements of this in their storylines.
  • Tekken: Lars's backstory involves him becoming increasingly disgusted by the war crimes the Tekken Force are committing, and thus forming his own army to mutiny against them.
  • In Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, Kian Alvane is sent to Marcuria by the occupying Azadi to kill the rebel leader. While there, especially after meeting April Ryan, he starts realizing that what the Azadi are doing may not be the will of the Goddess. At the end, when he realizes that April is actually the rebel leader, he refuses to kill her. In the next game, he joins the resistance.

    Web Comics 
  • Alluded to in The Other's backstory in Girl Genius.
  • In Gunnerkrigg Court, Kat Donlan was raised in the Court and is a very strong supporter of its scientific worldview... until she discovers a conspiracy that the Court's founders pulled off. She loses all respect for the Court's organization and current leadership, even though she remains a firm believer in the power of science.

    Western Animation