Torture in the media?
February 17, 2007 10:08 AM   Subscribe

Help me find examples of torture in movies and on TV.

Inspired by this thread, I'm working on a project examing the use of torture in the media. I'm looking for as broad a range of examples as possible--positive and negative, recent and older, prominent and obscure.

If the example is from a TV show, it'd help if you could cite a specific episode. If the series has visited the issue more than once, particularly if it's portrayed differently each time, multiple episode cites are great.
posted by EarBucket to Media & Arts (72 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
MARATHON MAN... Is it safe?
posted by Gungho at 10:13 AM on February 17, 2007

Marathon Man contains the torture scene that launched a million dental phobias.
posted by scody at 10:15 AM on February 17, 2007

would you mind elaborating on what you mean by 'positive'?
posted by seawallrunner at 10:15 AM on February 17, 2007

There's a torture scene in the film Pan's Labyrinth.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:16 AM on February 17, 2007

(just in case others miss the content of EarBucket's link: the question is looking for examples besides "24.")
posted by scody at 10:16 AM on February 17, 2007

And Han Solo gets tortured by Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:16 AM on February 17, 2007

There's also that droid in Jabba's palace who tortures other droids in Return of the Jedi.

Ok, I'm done.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:17 AM on February 17, 2007

would you mind elaborating on what you mean by 'positive'?

Well, I can think of a number of times that torture's been portrayed as at least a necessary evil, even glorified. 24's the obvious example, of course, but Lost springs to mind as another show that is at best ambiguous about it. Several of Quentin Tarantino's movies, too, treat torture as a humorous plot device or even as cool--"They're gonna get medieval on your ass."
posted by EarBucket at 10:20 AM on February 17, 2007

Almost every episode of HBO's Rome, but there is definitely an example in season 2, episode 4, starting at 27 min and 30 seconds in (just watched it a few minutes ago).

Then there's Reservoir Dogs, of course.
posted by bingo at 10:24 AM on February 17, 2007

posted by 10ch at 10:25 AM on February 17, 2007

Rambo II and III
Lethal Weapon
posted by sharkfu at 10:27 AM on February 17, 2007

there's always IMDB's plot'll want to read the capsule descriptions to decide if Diane Chambers running her fingernails down a chalkboard to annoy Sam Malone does indeed qualify as torture.
posted by jamaro at 10:28 AM on February 17, 2007

The recent Bond flick, Casino Royale. The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto (gee, Mel's got issues, huh?) Also, The Da Vinci Code had some scenes of self-torture.
posted by fuse theorem at 10:32 AM on February 17, 2007

posted by nathan_teske at 10:32 AM on February 17, 2007

Fuse theorum: don't forget Braveheart.
posted by jtfowl0 at 10:34 AM on February 17, 2007

There's an article in the New Yorker about torture, specifically in 24, but it mentions Human Rights First and The Parents’ Television Council, both of which apparently track instances of torture on TV. Maybe you could get the full list from them.
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 10:35 AM on February 17, 2007

Alias, Season One, Episode One features some torture. There's torture scenes all through Alias. Sorry I can't be more specific, it's a recurring theme. Check out the episodes with Quentin Tarantino, though. Also, the character commonly known as "Chinese Torture Guy" didn't get his title for nothing..

posted by TheAspiringCatapult at 10:36 AM on February 17, 2007

Lethal Weapon, as sharkfu mentioned, and Sarafina!.
posted by sueinnyc at 10:37 AM on February 17, 2007

There are a few torture episodes in Star Trek. I'm on mobile now and can't easily look up the episodes, but Picard is tortured by the Cardassians in TNG, Worf and others are tortured by the Dominion, and O'Brien seems to be repeatedly tortured by various parties in DS9. There are others throughout.

Mal and Wash are tortured by Nishka (sp?) in a later episode of Firefly.
posted by Caviar at 10:38 AM on February 17, 2007

The Passion of the Christ.
posted by amarynth at 10:41 AM on February 17, 2007

You may already be familiar with it, but Battlestar Galactica deals extensively with torture. Although the show is sci-fi, it has a gritty documentary style and a (relatively) realistically depicted military.

Some episodes of interest:

- Flesh and Bone (season 1) -- interrogation/torture of a prisoner
- Resurrection Ship, parts 1 and 2 (season 2) -- a plotline concerning a female prisoner who has been tortured and sexually abused
- Occupation and Precipice (season 3) -- torture and intimidation against insurgency fighters (in a very Iraq-like atmosphere)

If you haven't already watched the series, it's definitely worth a look -- torture and the consequences of torture come up again and again
posted by ourobouros at 10:41 AM on February 17, 2007

chiming back in: there's been some torture shown (and other times just implied) on "The Sopranos." The incident that immediately springs to mind is the second-to-last episode of season 6 [HERE BE SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!] when Vito is tortured before he's killed.
posted by scody at 10:45 AM on February 17, 2007

Torture scene in The Princess Bride (scared my daughter to tears).
posted by Sassyfras at 10:45 AM on February 17, 2007

Blackadder. Specifically, the episode with Ludwig
posted by handee at 10:46 AM on February 17, 2007

Arnold Schwarzenegger's secret agent character is tortured in True Lies, and of course there's Tarantino's classic ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs. And the latest James Bond film sees Daniel Craig receive a brutal bollocking at the hands of enemy agents.

Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and Michael Heneke's Funny Games both contain quite horrific - and brilliantly written - scenes of psychosexual humiliation and torture (Haneke's film, originally made in Austria in 1997, is about to see an American remake this year).
posted by hot soup girl at 10:46 AM on February 17, 2007

Anime? Duero and Bart are tortured in episode 11 of Vandread, The Second Stage.

The nameless cowboy (played by Clint Eastwood) is tortured in "Fistful of Dollars". (And the ronin is tortured in "Yojimbo".)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:52 AM on February 17, 2007

Oldboy features some scenes of torture--both physical and psychological.
posted by kmtiszen at 11:01 AM on February 17, 2007

The second season of Lost makes a minor plot element out of Sayid's internal debate about whether torture is ever acceptable.
posted by jbickers at 11:02 AM on February 17, 2007

Boston Legal:
Season 1, Ep 15 "Tortured Souls"
Season 2, Ep 37 "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"

Many episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, but I'm not sure if sexual sadism is applicable to your question...
posted by sarahkeebs at 11:14 AM on February 17, 2007

The recent movie Syriana, has a gripping scene (to say the least.)

The seventies TV drama Roots has some scenes. I second the vote for The Running Man with Dustin Hoffman - you can throw some cold water on a party with the line "Is it safe?"

I think Seven has some scenes that could be called torture or at least alluded to torture.
posted by fluffycreature at 11:22 AM on February 17, 2007

Closet Land
posted by Isosceles at 11:26 AM on February 17, 2007

Usually every Bond movie has a torture scene, but specifically the newest one (Casino Royale) has a unique torture scene...
posted by sharkfu at 11:27 AM on February 17, 2007

The second episode of the first season of Spooks (BBC, UK) featured a very controversial scene where a girl is killed by having first her hand dunked in a deep fat fryer, then when she still won't talk, is killed by having her head put in the fryer. It's very grizzly to say the least, and unexpected for them to kill off a key character in the second episode of the first season.

The dvds are available on amazon, else bittorrent usually has a few episodes. It's from May 2002, and a link to the relevant episode is here on imdb.
posted by philsi at 11:30 AM on February 17, 2007

Just found out that that episode of Spooks was apparently the most complained about TV show shown here in the UK in 2002. Just so you know its good!
posted by philsi at 11:32 AM on February 17, 2007

Death and the Maiden is an interesting example, as it pits torturer against tortured...originally a play

Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Season 5, Episode 9 "Scared Crazy"

I believe the Law & Order: SVU premier episode "Payback" involves women who were subjected to torture in the Balkans murdering their attacker...
posted by sarahkeebs at 11:33 AM on February 17, 2007

Farscape - John Crichton is tortured in the season 1 episodes Nerve and The Hidden Memory.

Stargate SG-1 - Lots of sci-fi violence and physiological angst everywhere in this show. I remember Daniel being tortured in various fashions all the time. Fans refer to it as Danny-whumping. I recall Evolution specifically (which I think is seventh season?). Jack is tortured in season 6's Abyss. Teal'c is tortured in season 4's The Serpent's Venom. And three of the major characters, Jack, Daniel and Sam are tortured in season 3's Jolinar's Memories and The Devil You Know.

Stargate Atlantis - McKay is tortured in season 1's The Storm.
posted by snowleopard at 11:38 AM on February 17, 2007

If you're stretching beyond just television and cinematic media, I might suggest Harold Pinter's New World Order or One For the Road as examples from the stage.
posted by Isosceles at 11:52 AM on February 17, 2007

Lethal weapon seconded - "Endo here has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you and I will ever know" - Mr Joshua (Gary Busey)
posted by true at 11:52 AM on February 17, 2007

I have a vague memory of a series of mobile service provider commercials (or maybe just one, cut differently?), where the cellphone owner is tied up and the "torturer" makes long-distance or extended phonecalls on the cellphone as psychological torture.

There there's the Clorets commercial where a retro police detective eats smelly food/drinks coffee and then talks in the suspect's face, eliciting a desperate confession.
posted by sarahkeebs at 11:57 AM on February 17, 2007

There's a skit from Monty Python's Flying Circus where an elderly woman is tortured with soft pillows and a comfy chair.
Cool Hand Luke -- psychological abuse and the night in the box.
Pier Paolo Passolini's Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom (NSFW images) may be the most horrific film ever made outside the genres of horror and exploitation. Here's a SFW essay. As for shock, horror and exploitation, there's tons: the Saw series, the Ilsa films, Hostel, etc.
posted by hydrophonic at 12:13 PM on February 17, 2007

Muppet Treasure Island has a muppet on the rack.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves has some at the beginning; if my memory serves.

A small film at the time "Night of the Running Man" has a scene which will pucker you into your seat, and along the same lines the film Payback with Mel Gibson has a scene with the same appendages.
Being vague since I don't wish to ruin the films for you.

Lastly, and then I have to get back to studying - Rachel Rae on the food network is torture, but I digress.
posted by fluffycreature at 12:21 PM on February 17, 2007

Cool Hand Luke -- psychological abuse and the night in the box.

Good point - then "Bridge on the River Kwai" as well.
posted by fluffycreature at 12:23 PM on February 17, 2007

I understand there's some torture in The Story of O.
posted by faceonmars at 12:29 PM on February 17, 2007

Of the countless examples, Death and the Maiden might be particularly noteworthy.
posted by Chuckles at 12:44 PM on February 17, 2007

Sniper - Tom Berenger has a finger removed
V for Vendetta - Torture for self-realization
posted by puritycontrol at 1:01 PM on February 17, 2007

History of the World Pt 1 - "The Inquisition, what a show!"
posted by puritycontrol at 1:03 PM on February 17, 2007

Sebatiane has an excruciatingly long torture scene. It seems like hours pass as a drop of blood runs down his body... Of course, many stories of martyrdom probably qualify as a portrayal of torture.
posted by Robert Angelo at 1:05 PM on February 17, 2007

"I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition..."
posted by PugAchev at 1:07 PM on February 17, 2007

Also, try borwsing "torture" as a keyword at IMDB : 1635 matches.
posted by Robert Angelo at 1:07 PM on February 17, 2007

The future-people watch a torture channel on TV in THX-1138. Something similar is going on in Videodrome.
posted by Rash at 1:17 PM on February 17, 2007

Spy games? I think they beat Brad Pitt's character while he is jailed.
posted by magikker at 1:19 PM on February 17, 2007

Usually every Bond movie has a torture scene

But only Goldfinger has the laser.

Luis Buñel's Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie has a dream sequence containing an Algerian torture scene.
posted by Rash at 1:29 PM on February 17, 2007

The way in which the nihilists threaten The Dude in The Big Lebowski with a ferret might constitute torture.

Sin City features several scenes that almost certainly constitute torture.
posted by sindark at 1:35 PM on February 17, 2007

Also, in Dr. Strangelove a character commits suicide because he anticipates being tortured.
posted by sindark at 1:37 PM on February 17, 2007

Three Kings.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 2:10 PM on February 17, 2007

8MM involves snuff-films where there's mistreatment prior to death. And don't forget the Hellraiser series. The Star Trek-TNG episode with Picard being tortured by the Cardassians is Chain of Command. There's also 1984. And a wee bit in Apocalypse Now.

In a different medium (and a little more light-hearted) Dungeon Keeper 2 (and maybe Dungeon Keeper 1--i can't remember) allows the player to build torture chambers (staffed by scantily-leather-clad mistresses) and torture enemies for information, to convert them to evil, or to death.
posted by Martin E. at 2:22 PM on February 17, 2007

And if you like your torture in 3-D animatronic realism, you can go to the London Dungeon--or the franchises in York, Edinburgh, Hamburg or Amsterdam (main website does not like Firefox much).
posted by Martin E. at 2:29 PM on February 17, 2007

"Bloodsucking Freaks" ain't alternately titled "The Incredible Torture Show" for nothin'.

Lots of creepy rape movies include torture..."I Spit On Your Grave," etc. And I always think of that Farrah Fawcett movie/play, "Extremities."
posted by GaelFC at 2:59 PM on February 17, 2007

some more, both with a James Ellroy connection:

The Black Dahlia -- based on Ellroy's novelization of the actual crime, obviously.

Bizarre Bazaar -- docudrama about Kansas City serial killer Bob Berdella, including reenactments of rape and torture; Ellroy produced and offers commentary. I've never seen it (I know what Berdella did to his victims, so I don't have the stomach), but it's supposed to be pretty gonzo/graphic (and not very good, even as a documentary).
posted by scody at 3:21 PM on February 17, 2007

The Deer Hunter.
The Prisoner.
The Young Ones. The episode "Boring."
posted by zoinks at 5:59 PM on February 17, 2007

The Firefly episode mentioned above where Mal and Wash get tortured is War Stories. The Babylon 5 episode Intersections in Real Time is entirely about the interrogation and torture of Sheridan.
posted by penguinliz at 6:16 PM on February 17, 2007

Hard Candy features a particularly chilling torture scene, with an unexpected payoff.

Actually, the entire film is basically psychological torture.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:52 PM on February 17, 2007

Shallow Grave features several chilling (one literally so) torture scenes.
posted by googly at 7:29 PM on February 17, 2007


High ranking officials at Pentagon and CIA screened this film in 2002.

In the film, the French used torture to extract information from Algerians (Arabs) rebelling against French colonial rule in the late sixties.

I highly recommend the film; it is truly one of the great works of cinema.
posted by cinemafiend at 8:08 PM on February 17, 2007

On a lighter note: the Gingerbread Man getting tortured in Shrek, regarding his knowledge of the Muffin Man.
posted by Xere at 10:29 PM on February 17, 2007

I was just about to recommend The Battle of Algiers.

Also, Strip Search. It's not great, but it's interesting.
posted by SoftRain at 10:32 PM on February 17, 2007

"In The Dark", episode three, season on of Joss Whedon's "Angel", is all about the torture, with the added twist that the torturee is a vampire and therefore can't die by normal means.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:09 PM on February 18, 2007

As Bingo mentions, the HBO TV show Rome has some pretty awful examples of torture in the 2nd season, but there's also a specific scene in the first season when Titus Pullo is interrogating his friend's wife's lover before he kills him. Thumbs are cut off at one point.
posted by Jupiter Jones at 8:59 AM on February 19, 2007

In Star Trek:Deep Space Nine season two, episode "Paradise", Sisko is forced to spend time in a hot metal box without water. Read an episode summary here.
posted by SomePerlGeek at 9:33 AM on February 19, 2007

Does hazing count as torture?

I recently watched Dazed and Confused again and the first 1/2 of the movie deals with the psychological torment and subsequent physical assault of the graduating junior high class. The effect is actually rather torturous in a "rite of passage" kind of way.
posted by quadog at 12:31 PM on February 20, 2007

Also, my memory may be way off, but I think Farewell My Concubine may have a torture scene, or at least a scene of public humiliation. Most movies about the Cultural Revolution are bound to have something like this.
posted by quadog at 12:35 PM on February 20, 2007

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