Break Them by Talking

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"You look like you're going to spend your life having one epiphany after another, always thinking you've finally figured out what's holding you back, and how you can finally be productive and creative and turn your life around. But nothing will ever change. That cycle of mediocrity isn't due to some obstacle. It's who you are. The thing standing in the way of your dreams... is that the person having them is you."

When one character gives a talk to another that does or is meant to somehow break down the recipient or gain a psychological advantage over them by claiming uncomfortable things that they can't deny.

Also known as a Breaking Speech or Breaking Lecture.[1]

This is often achieved by a kind of "The Reason You Suck" Speech, telling the other character how pathetic they are or perhaps how guilty of something terrible, perhaps Not So Different from someone unpalatable, but there are other ways of breaking someone down by talking. You could for example instead deconstruct the world, other characters, or their relationship with the victim.

The important part is that they can't deny your words, at least not in the heat of the moment, and you gain a psychological advantage over them. Results when successful range from the mere chance of getting to smirk in a satisfied way for rattling someone in an otherwise superior position; through distracting or demoralising an opponent to make them easier to beat; to bringing about Break the Cutie, Heroic BSOD, Villainous Breakdown or even Face Heel Turn, More Than Mind Control, or Driven to Suicide. The most extreme form would be Mind Rape by just talking, but be wary of automatically calling every instance of Breaking Them by Talking that.

Obviously, this is easier to pull off from a relative position of power, such as when you have just defeated someone, or when interrogating a prisoner. But it goes both ways, and it's even more impressive when someone manages to turn the tables on someone who was in a superior position. When this is done by one being interrogated, and only then, it's the Hannibal Lecture. Naturally, in between these cases there is the one where both parties start out on an equal footing.

Some characters have the ability to do this as a superpower, which may be an example of Awesome By Analysis.

As stated above, there is frequent overlap with "The Reason You Suck" Speech, but the concepts are not the same. "The Reason You Suck" Speech is about what you say, this is about what you do by saying it. You can tell someone they suck without breaking them down or even intending to do so, particularly if you're just annoyed, and you can break someone down without telling them why they suck.

The distilled version of this is the Armor-Piercing Question. If the declarations used as a weapon come from simple clues, this is a form of Sherlock Scan. Can be done as part of Evil Gloating. Shut UP, Hannibal is a way of countering this trope. The opposite effect is done by a World of Cardboard Speech, when the hero tells about his own flaws and how they don't matter now. The reverse or "good counterpart" is the Kirk Summation or Talking the Monster to Death. Hannibal Lecture is a specific subtrope.

See also: To the Pain, Talking Your Way Out, Just Between You and Me, And Then What?, Verbal Judo.

Examples of Break Them by Talking include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In Dragonball Z, Goku of all people manages to do this to Frieza during their battle on Namek. After having ascended to the level of a Super Saiyan and smacking around the now fully-powered Big Bad, he abruptly decides that their battle is done. When a shocked Frieza demands to know what he means by that, Goku's response makes the killer of the Saiyan race and former #1 fighter in the universe (at least at the time) go through a mini-breakdown:

Goku: Your power level is decreasing with every blow. You're not even a challenge to me anymore. It wouldn't be fair for me to keep fighting you. I'm satisfied now. Your pride has been torn to shreds. You've challenged and lost to a fighter who is superior to you...and to make it worse, "he was just a monkey," right?

  • Frieza is seething in anger, shocked and enraged at Goku's words*

Goku: It would be meaningless to fight you now; you're too scared and ashamed. Live with the shock. Keep it bottled up inside of you...silently.

Mao: So that's how you justify it in retrospect? You're nothing but a spoiled brat!
Lelouch: Mao! *activates Geass*
Mao: SHIT!
Lelouch: NEVER SPEAK AGAIN!

  • In Monster, this is one of Johan Liebert's specialities. He actually drives people to suicide with it.
  • Persona 4: The Animation has quite a few of these. The Shadows do this to their hosts, but Shadow Mitsuo gives one to Yu inside the Lotus Eater Machine:

Shadow Mitsuo: You have no bonds. Friendship is an illusion. You are empty.

  • Fullmetal Alchemist has quite a lot of these, actually.
    • #66, Barry The Chopper, makes 14 year old Alphonse Elric question his own existence with one of these by telling him that Ed might have faked Al's memories and that Alphonse Elric NEVER existed. How he gets out of his funk varies between the versions:
      • In the first anime, it takes Alphonse an entire episode which involves a pep talk from Scar and Ed telling what him what he really meant to say to him to snap him out of it.
      • In the manga and Brotherhood, it's only after Winry hits Al with a wrench and points out that no one would sacrifice an arm for a fake brother that Al figures out that he's the real Al.
    • Then we got Envy, master of this. Until Mustang and Ed return the favor.
    • And Solf J. Kimblee. He actually delivers a Breaking Speech with a rare positive benefit (an Inversion?) -- during the Ishbalan genocide, both Roy and Riza were telling themselves that they really didn't have any choice but to take part in war crimes. Kimblee utterly shreds those ideas apart ("When you shoot a man, do you not feel even the slightest bit of pride for a job well done?"), forcing them to take responsibility and realize that they're Not So Different. The end result is Roy and Riza plotting to take down the military government to prevent such a genocide from ever happening again.

What's interesting is that Kimblee is a very smart psychopath with a flair for messing with people's heads and an apparent gift for considering himself the rational one in any given collision of philosophies. And he also comes out in the same speech with gem lines like:

Kimblee: Don't avert your eyes from death. Look forward. Look the people you're killing in the face. And don't forget them. Don't forget. Don't forget. They won't forget you either.
Kimblee: (later on while fighting Alphonse, he questions why Alphonse doesn't simply use the Philosopher's Stone to get his original body back, and following Al's response?) I see. So if you can discover an exception to the rule, you can effectively rewrite the laws of nature as we understand them. Is that how it's supposed to go? Because there is another possibility you know... you don't get get your bodies back and you don't save everyone. That could certainly happen.

    • Pride later gives Edward one during their brief fight. It didn't end well for Pride though.
    • Father deals a rather vicious one in the Recap Episode of Brotherhood, which has a healthy dose of Mind Screw.
    • In the first anime, episode #49, Dante attempts this on Edward by stating that the law of equivalancy is 'a lie meant to comfort the oppressed and make children do their lessons'. She seems very determined to prove her point , even going so far as threatening to kill a helpless infant to demonstrate to him that even the most strenuous efforts (in this case, the infant crying for help) can get you nothing in return.

The truly impressive thing about this is that Dante basically takes the idea of Equivalent Exchange and deconstructs it, revealing that while impressive and accurate in theory, the law of Equivalent Exchange is very flawed, especially when one attempts to apply it outside of Alchemy. While someone may put in everything they've got to achieve something, what they receive will not always be of equal value to what has been given. Ed rejects this view instead of letting it get to him.

  • Pain from Naruto gets in on this and uses it on Naruto. It works.
    • Of course, it didn't convince Naruto to give up, but instead he decides to try and prevent the conditions which causes someone like Pain to exist. Before that Pain gave one to Tsunade about the big villages not caring if they hurt the smaller ones. She's not convinced and claims that even the big villages suffer. Not to be outdone, Pain's response was to crush the village.
    • Let's not forget the one Neji gives to Hinata during the chuunin exams, causing her to pretty much have a breakdown on the spot. It took Naruto to snap her out of it. Not that it helped her much, because in the ensuing fight he delivers such a beatdown that she almost gets killed.
      • Verbally, Hinata still gets the last word in when she tells Neji that he's the one hopelessly fighting fate and not her.
    • Naruto received one from Kabuto back in Part I too. Naruto's response was to drive a Rasengan into his stomach.
    • Naruto also receives one of these from Yami Naruto in chapter 493. We don't see the end of it, but it's enough, combined with an inability to defeat his opponent in combat, to make Naruto start to seriously doubt his own morality. Naruto seems really vulnerable to these, doesn't he?
      • This particular lecture verges on Mind Rape due to the fact that Yami Naruto was a manifestation of all of Naruto's personal insecurities. He'd never had an answer for these doubts before but had ignored them; Yami force Naruto to face them.
    • The Kyuubi attempted this a few times with Naruto in Shippuden, but each time was interrupted by, in order of appearance, Sasuke, Minato, and finally by Naruto himself, who shut it up accordingly.
  • Anti-Hero Saito Hajime from Rurouni Kenshin can do this to any villain in sight, (or anyone who just rubs him the wrong way) and he barely has to pause his beatdowns to give his lectures. Watsuki, (the mangaka who created Kenshin), bemoaned the fact that evil characters he created with the intention of being Terminator-like and tough fights for Saito were inevitably broken down into pieces and looked like weaklings after they actually fought Saito.
    • The granddaddy of Saito's lectures comes against Usui, where he delivers no less than three during their Duel to the Death. The final one is given with a dying Usui is pinned to the wall by Satio's sword and Saito proceeds to give him a classic "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
    • As Anti-Hero to Kenshin's The Hero, the one that comes closest to being an actual Hannibal Lecture is his first one, against Kenshin: the Rurouni, past master at Talking the Monster to Death, starts in on Saitou...and gets owned. So they duel.
    • He may be a master at it, but he's not above receiving as well: Right before Sano goes to Kyoto, they fight. Again, Saito wins but at the very end of the fight, after Saito call him a chick, he gets something like this:

"I may be a chick right now, but I bet you and Kenshin were not that strong in the beginning"

  • In Bleach, during The Reveal, Aizen delivers a several chapter long lecture to Ichigo, completely paralyzing him. Until Komamura attacks Aizen in a rage at his betrayal.
    • Aizen's response: cut off Komamura, then continue, until everyone shows up. But by then, he already finished all he said.
    • Repeated again during the Fake Karakura Town arc with not one, not two, but several, to the Vizards (making Hiyori Half The Woman She Used To Be) for the entire chapter, several pages long for Ichigo before Komamura pulls a Shut UP, Hannibal, then giving more lectures to everyone else, especially Hitsugaya, while crossing swords with them (ends when they became so enraged they all fall), then another one to Yamamoto (forcing the old man to sacrifice himself), before CONTINUING his lecture toward Ichigo. Face it, Aizen's Hannibal lecture can only end either when he finishes, or when you get killed while trying to shut him up.
    • Aizen's not the only one. In chapter 404, we got Gin of all people giving Ichigo yet another lecture, including the line, "I thought you were better than that, but you're still a child." Many probably felt that that issue needed to be addressed by now (He's what, 15-16?) Better yet, he then proceeds to attack with another Shinso power before Ichigo can reply.
    • Gin also cruelly broke Rukia's resolve with words, telling her he would save her from being executed before revealing that he was "just kidding".
  • In an inversion, it's Amuro giving one to Char during the events of Chars Counterattack, waxing on about how philosophers and idealists with plans to change the world become disillusioned when things don't change as quickly as they'd like them to. It, along with the fight that followed it were meant to be the final nails in the rivalry between the two by showing Amuro had surpassed Char in nearly every way.
  • Durarara!!: Izaya delivers one to Kida in the third arc.
  • In chapter 74 of Soul Eater the Envy Chapter of the Book of Eibon delivers a harsh one to Maka. It's enough to reduce her to tears.
  • This seems to be a popular tactic among demons in general in Chrono Crusade, but particularly with the Big Bad, Aion. Two notable examples are in the manga, when two demons corner Chrono in a dark warehouse and proceed to rattle off a list of his crimes, and in the anime with Aion's first appearance, where he lectures everyone as a supernatural fog rolls in.
  • Chang Wufei delivers a long attempt in Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz, trying to convince Heero that their attempts to bring peace were pointless, as war is simply an ingrained part of human nature. Heero's response is part World of Cardboard Speech ("Believe in the era we live in!") and part Contemplate Our Navels ("How many more people must we kill? How many more times must I kill that girl and her dog?").
  • Akito tries this with Tohru in Fruits Basket. Doesn't work.
  • Done in Fairy Tail when Erza vs her Edolas counterpart, Knightwalker. In the final bout of their fight. Knightwalker argues how all their actions have been for the sake of keeping magic in their world to save it (though said magic come from live beings on Erza's world). Erza counters that the two are still fighting long after their magic power had run out and that losing magic won't be the end of their world and they can still survive. This gets through to Knightwalker who admits defeat.
  • In Slayers NEXT, Gaav questions Amelia when she attempts to attack him. Amelia stops for some seconds, confused by his words, so Gaav attacks her instead and Zelgadis is badly injured when he performs a Diving Save and shields Amelia with his own body.
  • In episode 37 of Gundam Seed, Fllay Allster manages to get a gun on Big Bad Rau Le Creuset. Instead of disarming her, he proceeds to deliver a downright vicious Breaking Lecture that pretty much destroys her will to fight. To wit:

Rau: "If you shoot me right here, you will die within moments. The soldiers will shoot you. If that doesn't suit you, your only other option would be to point that gun at yourself and pull the trigger. The gun is loaded, I presume. On the battlefield, life is cheap; it's lost in an instant. But still, people fight for their country; for justice. However, none of that suits you. You may be wearing a military uniform, but you're no soldier. Am I wrong?"

    • And then the Stockholm Syndrome kicks in, and Flay starts thinking of Rau like a father, even though by that point she's still a Coordinator-hating racist who hates them for killing the father that Rau is a sort-of stand-in for in her mind. This is mostly because she is stuck in a hostile environment, surrounded by enemies, and it is only Rau's protection that is keeping her alive.
  • Kyuutarou Ooba from Kemonozume uses a Breaking Lecture as a last gambit after being decapitated, dismembered and finally eaten alive, flying the protagonist into the freezing depths of outer space while scolding him on believing that there's any goodness in humanity. The protagonist replies with his last ounce of consciousness by screaming a denial and ripping off Ooba's wings, sending them both plummeting back down to earth.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima:
    • An interesting variation at the end of the Kyoto Arc, when the arc's Dirty Coward antagonist gets chased down by Chachazero, who delivers such a frightening Breaking Speech that the antagonist faints from fear.
    • Later, Psycho Lesbian Psycho Supporter Tsukuyomi gives one of these to The Dragon Fate, to convince him he's got a bad case of Foe Yay for The Hero Negi. The scariest part is that it actually kinda works.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • The Marvel Comics character Karnak has refined his powers to the point where he can do this. At first his power was just sensing the weak point in objects so he (or his stronger ally Gorgon) can smash it. Now he find personality flaws and verbally destroy an opponent.
  • Emma Frost of the X-Men is incredibly good at this. A great example of this can be found when after finding Kimura sneaking around the X-Mansion getting ready to kill X-23, Emma goes up to her and says...

Emma: Do you ever wonder why you take such pleasure from abusing a little girl who can't hurt you, let alone defeat you? No, I thought not. You'll notice that you cannot move. I've shut down all your motor control so you can listen while I enlighten you. You are a bully, plain and simple. A product of your past. Being kicked around your whole life by an alcoholic father and an uncaring mother at home, only to find the same waiting for you from your peers in the schoolyard, day in and day out. You were born into a life you did not deserve... a life no child deserves... Someone needs to fill the role of victim and you played that part for so many... until your grandmother came to your rescue. But sadly she came too late. All the hope and good you held onto was beaten out of you long ago. After your grandmother's heart attack, you found your way to the Facility to the men that could give you what you wanted so badly... Revenge. A hollow prize, but one you begged for and once you'd gotten the best of those who wronged you, you became the very person you hated and feared growing up. And X-23 played the role of your victim. Like you, Laura didn't deserve that horrible life. No child does, remember? But you didn't care. Even though you know all too well the pain she suffered, you enjoyed inflicting it. You still enjoy it. That's why you're a bully.
Kimura: Why are you telling me this?
Emma: Because today you go back to being the victim. It's a shame that the people that perfected your body didn't do enough to safeguard your mind...

  • Pretty much every one of Batman's enemies has tried it. As an action hero, he's immune, but some writers have played it as the villain being right. In the animated series, The Joker, master manipulator that he is, convinces a meek psychoanalyst named Harlene Quinzel to go crazy and fall in love with him; she becomes Harley Quinn. During the montage Flash Back that gives this backstory, they even trade places—he in the chair, she on the couch—in several of the analysis scenes.
    • In the one shot comic Mad Love as well as the episode of Batman: The Animated Series based on it, Batman does this to the Joker, manipulating him into freeing him from Harley Quinn's otherwise inescapable trap then taunting him about how she'd come closer to killing him than the Joker had ever managed.
    • Joker also gives Batman one in The Killing Joke, in which his plot is to drive Commissioner Gordon insane the same way he was. When Batman shows up to stop him, Joker gives him a long speech about how Batman is just as crazy as Joker is, and how the world is too hopelessly absurd for anyone to stay sane in. Batman powers through it, and, noting that Gordon was not driven mad, says that maybe Joker was the only one who couldn't take it. However, at the end, it becomes clear that Batman finds at least some truth in Joker's notion that they were both insane or, at least, absurd beings.
    • Neatly subverted in Brian Azzarello's Joker graphic novel, in which the Joker tries this on Batman - only to have Batman not only demolish it, but turn it into a devastating taunt right back with just three words:

Joker: Uhh, God you disgust me. You have no charm at all, just... obviousness. Dumb, dull. Disappointing. Obvious. Shame on you. Obvious... and everybody knows. You wear your shame like a badge, because you don't have the balls to actually pin one on. Yes, just look at you. Desperate to be feared, you want to be perceived as a monster, dressed in black. And yet... you leave that little window. A glimpse at the perfection underneath. Obvious - the chiseled good looks, not the jaw, the mouth of a monster... why do you let it be seen? Tell me why.
Batman: To mock you.

  • In the "Elseworlds" (out-of-continuity) comic from DC, Superman: Red Son, where Superman's pod landed in the Soviet Union instead of the United States, Lex Luthor does this to Superman with one sentence. Written down. And tucked into Lois Luthor (nee Lane)'s coat pocket. Stalingrad, which was shrunk and put in a "bottle" instead of Kandor, haunts Superman. Luthor, the president of the US, takes advantage of this fact by questioning Superman's "perfect" totalitarian rule of most of Earth, with the single written sentence, "Why don't you just put the whole world in a bottle, Superman?" He has Lois put the note in her pocket and, when his plan finally spurs Superman to come to the White House personally, she is to ask Superman to use his X-ray vision to read the note. Superman very nearly breaks down in despair.
  • A recent issue of Superman features a supervillain, Atlas, attempting to deliver such a lecture to Krypto the Superdog, after having delivered an almighty smackdown to Superman and caused him to temporarily withdraw, leaving Krypto the only one left to make a stand. Unfortunately for Atlas it doesn't work, for the same reason that it probably wouldn't work if you tried to verbally undermine a dog's sense of self-confidence with a lecture in real life.
  • In Eternals (or at least the Neil Gaiman revival), there is a character whose power is the ability to know just what to say to make a certain person break. When he first discovers this power, he manages to make a cop attempting to keep him in an embassy for questioning pass out with just a few words.

Druig: Yes. Tell me, is it the SLIME of the tentacles that upsets you, or the way they twine bonelessly, the faceless snaking of them... Does it remind you of the way your brother forced a rubber toy into your infant mouth, CHOKING you, the wet, the...
Lady Cop: * faints*
Druig: Interesting.

  • More than one villain has tried this on The Punisher. Emphasis on tried.
  • In Global Frequency #8 Miranda Zero is kidnapped by a terrorist who tries to do this to her. She does it right back to him with rather more success.

Zero: Maybe you could rape me. That'd make you a real man. Do you think I'm scared of pain? Three years ago in Haiti, a cell of ex-Tonton Macoute fired a nail gun through my right thigh. Five years ago, radical white separatists in Maine painted an eagle on my back in paint-stripper gel. Last March Russian black marketeers took bolt cutters to my breasts. Understand, you don't frighten me. Your stupid little hands and your thing with the gun do not frighten me. You are ignorant and gutless and you do not frighten me.

  • Sin City: Poor John Hartigan gets it twice. The first time comes from Senator Roark who explains that Hartigan will be framed for his son's crimes and there is not a thing he can do about it. The second is from Detective Liebowitcz who chides him on being a clean cop. Both of these lectures are so that Hartigan will sign a confession... which he doesn't.
  • In V for Vendetta, V does it to Lewis Prothero with elaborate props, reminding him of his role at the Larkhill concentration camp, revealing that he, V, was the man from room five, and finishing up by driving him insane by burning up his precious collection of dolls in the ovens in his replica of the camp.
  • Moon Knight villain "The Profile" is a profiler who uses his mutant observation powers to instantly size people up. He is also a Jerkass who likes to give Breaking Speeches to people for fun.

The Profile: Hey, old man. I almost forgot something. That whole thing about abandoning your family and your wife dying alone and your son becoming a serial killer? You're right. It was all your fault.


Fan Works[edit | hide]

  • In the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic fanfic Whispers, Celestia tries this repeatedly through her fight with Nightmare Moon - appealing to memories of their childhood and such. At the end of the fight, she delivers a big lecture on the Elements of Harmony and the virtues they represent.


Film[edit | hide]

Joker: Do you want to know why I use a knife? Guns are too quick. You can't savor all the little... emotions. You see, in their last moments, people show you who they really are. So in a way I knew your friends better than you ever did. Would you like to know which of them were cowards?

    • The Joker also makes a nihilistic speech to the scarred, disillusioned and currently helpless Harvey Dent about how chaotic the world is that convinces Dent to do a Face Heel Turn and become Two-Face.
  • Richard Nixon attempts to do this to his interviewer in Frost/Nixon with a late night phone call, but as his drunken ramblings progress, all his Not So Different lines only end up revealing how broken and full of self-loathing he is. Frost doesn't even need to say Shut UP, Hannibal—he now knows that all he needs to do is corner Nixon and the man will destroy himself.
  • Agent Smith The Matrix films.
    • His speech to Morpheus in the first movie is the most memorable:

Smith: I'd like to share a revelation I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you're not actually mammals. You see, every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with their surrounding environment-but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and you multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a...plague. And we are the cure.

    • He delivers another one in the third movie as he watches Neo struggling to get back up after a royal thrashing - except Neo is barely listening to him and it just shows how Smith's mental state is crumbling.

Smith: Why, Mr. Anderson? Why, why? Why do it? Why, why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you're fighting for something, for more than your survival? Can you tell me what it is? Do you even know? Is it freedom, or truth, perhaps peace, could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson, vagaries of perception! Temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence without meaning or purpose! And all of it as artificial as the Matrix itself! Although, only a human mind could invent something as insipid as love! You must see it, Mr. Anderson, you must know it by now; you can't win, it's pointless to keep fighting! Why, Mr. Anderson, why? Why do you persist?!

Neo: Because I choose to.

  • In Serenity (the Firefly film), The Operative likes to do this to people he is about to kill, crossing it with "The Reason You Suck" Speech by explaining to people what their 'sin' is. This goes poorly when he tries it on {{[[[The Determinator]] Mal Reynolds}}

Operative: "Do you know what your sin is, Malcolm Reynolds?"
Mal: "Aw, hell. I'm a fan of all seven." [headbutt] "But right now, I'm gonna have to go with wrath!"

  • Star Wars:
    • In the end of The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader tells Luke Skywalker that he is Luke's father, but you already knew that, which is enough to cause a Heroic BSOD, but his subsequent attempt to persuade him to join him fails.
    • In Return of the Jedi, Emperor Palpatine focuses his full powers of charm and scheming to break and turn Luke. Luke is in the throne room along with Palpatine and Vader while the Rebel Alliance and all his friends are about to be destroyed, all, it turns out, according to Palpatine's plans. Palpatine's expositing this eventually drives Luke into attacking the unarmed emperor (as intended), only to be stopped by Vader, and soon Vader's speaking of his sister finally drives Luke into an Unstoppable Rage that almost pushes him to the Dark Side. However, he has a moment of clarity just before killing Vader, and rejects the Obviously Evil Palpatine's offer to become his new apprentice.
    • The Star Wars Expanded Universe makes this a Sith "art" called "dun moch", where taunts are used to wear down the opponent, breaking their concentration and making it harder for them to use the Force. Unfortunately, sometimes it just pisses their opponent off... But since the Sith seem to want to drag as many Jedi to the Dark Side as possible, and an Unstoppable Rage is linked to the Dark Side, it's win-win!
  • Loki, Big Bad of The Avengers, uses this against the heroes constantly, in keeping with his comic and mythological characterizations. The heroes seem to be aware of this, as he's muzzled when they capture him at the end.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • The murderer X in Agatha Christie's Curtain is very good at this, manages to manipulate people using seeming simple but manipulative comments, gesture and words, to provokes his target to murder their source of hatred. However, he didn't like to kill directly himself, instead enjoying the process of their target murders.
  • A heroic example appears in Hogfather, where Susan uses this on Psychopathic Manchild Jonathan Teatime.

Susan: I think I know you, Teatime. You're the mad kid they're all scared of, right? The giggling excitable one even the bullies never touched because if they did he went insane and kicked and bit. The one who didn't know the difference between chucking a stone at a cat and setting it on fire. I bet no one wanted to play with you. Not the kid with no friends. Kids know a mind like yours even if they don't know the right words for it. The kind of little boy who looks up dolls' dresses...
Teatime: I didn't!

  • The Lord of the Rings:
    • Saruman, using his enchanted voice, can persuade unsuspecting enemies to join and serve him -- even after they defeat him in war. In the chapter "The Voice of Saruman" in The Two Towers, Saruman gives the speech to all of his triumphant enemies, and all are swayed by the power of his voice; likewise, the Riders of Rohan are wholly overcome by it, while Pippin is particularly shamed.

Gandalf then proceeds to demonstrate the perfect counteraction to this tactic: sincere laughter. Of course what Saruman didn't know was that he was now dealing with Gandalf the White, not Gandalf the Grey. Gandalf had just been back to Heaven and returned with new instructions and a mandate from God Himself, which left Saruman's efforts to psych him out pretty pathetic in comparison.

    • Grima Wormtongue is a student of Saruman's, and uses similar non-magical techniques on Theoden to render him helpless and hopeless against Saruman, and on Eowyn in order to break her resolve and drive her to desperation.
  • In The Silmarillion, Glaurung father of dragons delivered one combined neatly with a Mind Screw to Túrin having paralyzed him with his hypnotic glare until he "saw himself as in a mirror misshapen by malice, and loathed that which he saw".
  • Euthyphro, from Plato's Socratian Dialogs seems to fit this one rather nicely. Socrates attempts to get a description of piety from Euthyphro, but continues to twist every argument Euthyphro offers to his own needs, making this Older Than Feudalism.
  • From the Thursday Next novel The Eyre Affair. The Big Bad, Acheron Hades, can talk most people into pretty much anything. Several times he has escaped by convincing cops to hand over their guns, which are then used on the cops. When Hades needs a lackey, he simply convinces a suitably fit civillain to be one. Fortunately Next can resist to the extent of keeping her wits (and gun), but Hades is still far more clever.
  • Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels: In the book Under The Radar, the Prophet Harold Evanrod tries to tell his followers of the pedophile polygamist sect Heaven On Earth, "You see, this is the Devil at work! I told you the people on the outside would try to drive us away from our homes and our religion because they don't understand it. They will be forever damned, and there will be no salvation for any of them. I want you all to be strong because we will prevail." However, the Vigilantes give an effective Shut UP, Hannibal response to that.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • ER:
    • Pratt gave one of these to two teenagers who unintentionally shot a six-year-old girl when trying to get someone else. He specifically had them brought to the emergency room where they could actually see the little girl, lying unconscious on the table, covered in blood, and he brutally mentioned all the organs in her body that were damaged because of what they did.
    • Another episode had Kerry Weaver firing an incompetent resident. When she publicly humiliates him by listing his many screw-ups, he counteracts with the fact that the entire ER staff despises her and that the only reason she's so dedicated to her job is because it's the only thing she has in her life.
  • Law and Order: Criminal Intent often does it the opposite way from a Hannibal Lecture, as many episodes -- particularly those with Goren in the lead detective role -- frequently build up to a final interrogation wherein the detectives do it to the perp, playing psychological mind games or confronting them with how inadequate or pathetic they are in order to get them to crack.
  • A Monster of the Week in Samurai Sentai Shinkenger named Zuboshimeshi has this as a superpower. He's able to search the minds of his victims and find the one word that is most hurtful to them, then turning the pain it causes them into an attack.
  • In Leverage, "The Experimental Job", a Breaking Speech by an interrogator is turned around into a Hannibal Lecture. A career CIA interrogator tries to break Eliot by getting him to talk about how many people Eliot has killed. Eliot convinces the CIA man that he's killed far more, and remembers far more details, and that it already haunts him far more, than the CIA man could possibly have imagined or could possibly invoke. The CIA man is so shaken that he ends the day's session right then and there.
  • At times, Frank Pembleton from Homicide: Life on the Street edges from Perp Sweating to this. In one episode, he talked someone into confessing proudly to a crime they BOTH knew he didn't do, just to keep an investigation open.
  • In a dazzling display of self-loathing, House (well, technically it's the guy who shot him, but it's all a hallucination, so...) manages to do this to himself:

Moriarty: You think that the only truth that matters is the truth that can be measured. Good intentions don't count, what's in your heart doesn't count, caring doesn't count, that a man's life can't be measured by how many tears are shed when he dies. It's because you can't measure them. It's because you don't want to measure them. Doesn't mean it's not real.
House: This doesn't make any sense.
Moriarty: And even if I'm wrong, you're still miserable. Did you really think that your life's purpose was to sacrifice yourself and get nothing in return? No. [As he speaks, we see House in a car with Moriarty's wife who supposedly killed herself because House told her about her husband's cheating. The car is in a smoke-filled garage.] You believe there is no purpose to anything. Even the lives you save, you dismiss. You take the one decent thing in your life, and you taint it, strip it of all meaning. You're miserable for nothing. I don't know why you'd want to live. [In the car, House closes his eyes, proving Moriarty right. And then we return to the hospital.]
House: [quietly and genuinely upset] I'm sorry.

  • In Justified, Donovan storms into Duffy's trailer and threatens to kill Quarles for murdering his friend Brady. Quarles talks down Donovan by telling him about how his father forced him into prostitution as a young man, and how Theo Tonin adopted him. Donovan lowers his gun, and a tearful Quarles embraces him as he starts crying. Unfortunately, we see Donovan bound and gagged in Quarles' bathroom at the end of the episode, suggesting that Quarles plans to torture and kill him just as he did Brady.
  • As he seems to have a neon sign on his forehead saying "SELF-LOATHING WOOBIE WITH DADDY ISSUES", Dean from Supernatural tends to get this done to him a lot. The Crossroads Demon (twice), The Yellow-Eyed Demon (twice), Sam whenever he's under the influence... The list goes on.
    • A good example of a Hannibal Lecture in Supernatural is the torture/interrogation scene with Dean and Alistair. Supposedly, Dean is extracting information on "who is killing the angels," but not only does Alistair have no idea, he strings Dean along and gives him a thorough mindfuck in between bouts of being eviscerated. The power dynamic in this scene goes back and forth like no other, between Dean relishing Alistair's pain and Alistair breaking Dean down.
    • The scene in My Bloody Valentine when he corners Famine in a diner is one of the most painful examples on the show:

Famine: Have you wondered why that is? How you can even walk in my presence?
Dean: I like to think it's because of my strength of character.
Famine: I disagree. Yes. I see. That's one deep, dark nothing you've got there, Dean. You can't fill it, can you? Not with food, nor drink; not even with sex. Oh, you can smirk and joke and lie to your brother, lie to yourself, but not to me. I can see inside you, Dean. I can see how broken you are, how defeated; you can't win and you know it, but you just keep trying, just keep going through the motions. You're not hungry, Dean, because inside you're already dead.

    • The best came from Lucifer in the late season 5 episode "Hammer of the Gods" in a speech to Mercury.

Lucifer You know, I never understood you pagans, you're such petty little things. Always fighting, always happy to sell out your own kind. You, are worse than humans. You're worse than demons. And yet you claim to be gods. No wonder you forfeited this planet to us. And they call me prideful.

    • Done by several Leviathans in 7.06 "Slash Fiction". Bobby mostly shrugs off his double's taunts, but Sam gets hit hard by Leviathan!Dean's revelation.


Professional Wrestling[edit | hide]

  • Shawn Michaels was a regular recipient of these speeches, particularly in the later parts of his career once he turned perma-face, but he usually interrupted them with Sweet Chin Music. Occasionally, after knocking his lecturer out cold, he'd deliver his own over their unconscious (or at least stunned) body. (Of course, if it's done to someone unconscious, it can't really qualify for the trope.) He was particularly fond of doing this to Chris Jericho.
    • Back in his heel days, he used to hand them out himself like party favors. Even as a face, he'd break them out occasionally, and he's the one guy pretty much ever who could get away with throwing them at The Undertaker.
  • Vin Gerard performed a number of these on Shane Storm—playing off Storm's betrayal of the technicos by selling out the counter to the Chikara Special (a Chikara Moral Event Horizon if there ever was one) and then twisting his world on its axis as Vin thanked him for it. Ended with Storm 'transforming' into the rudo STIGMA, dropping the colour from his outfits, the bright mullet becoming a black mohawk and joining with Vin Gerard and Colin Delaney to become the UnStable.
    • Then inverted when Vin tries the same thing on Jigsaw, who had removed his mask elsewhere and hadn't been seen in Chikara for a year. Vin said that he'd never seen the boys in the back as angry at anyone as they were at Jigsaw ("No matter what I did, I never had to buy a ticket!") and there was no way to get back on their good side - Jigsaw might as well join the UnStable. Jigsaw responded with superkicks.
  • Chris Jericho. Back in 2008 and early 2009 when everyone took his heel character completely seriously, Jericho would do this weekly. They rarely worked, but they were awesome.
  • CM Punk in his Straight Edge persona. He is so awesome that he can actually give these while he's in the middle of a match.


Radio[edit | hide]

  • Brilliantly used in That Mitchell and Webb Sound, a radio programme. In multiple segments, Webb's character insults a woman's dress sense, weight or intelligence, eventually turning into a full-blown Breaking Speech. When the woman has been reduced to a wreck, Webb asks for a date, to cheer the woman up.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • On the (very) few occasions when the Dark Powers of Ravenloft have apparently communicated directly to anyone, it's been to do this to a potential darklord, delivered in familiar voices. Strahd heard the voices of Tatyana and Sergei taunting him, while Azalin heard the voices of his son and his mentor in wizardry.
  • New World of Darkness sourcebook Slasher (which deals with exactly what you think it does) has this as a talent of the Genius Undertaking and its natural progression, the Maniac. The Genius has the ability to instinctively profile anyone and learn what facts they'd hate to have revealed. The Maniac uses this knowledge to always have advantage over a certain target, and, with time, to convert the target to his point of view (a la Jigsaw).


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Baldur's Gate:
    • In the sequence of mysterious dreams in the first game, the sinister presence lurking behind the Player Character's soul makes itself known and tries to bend them to its will, sometimes in words but just as often in images. The last dream ends with the equivalent of a World of Cardboard Speech, where the protagonist recognises they can control their own fate.
    • In BG II: Shadows of Amn, there is a similar but less focused sequence of dreams where something that looks like the Big Bad lectures you.

"Why do you stand for this!? Why do you submit to the flesh when death is bred in your bones?"

    • Turns out though that it isn't quite what it seems. By the point the lecturer is replaced by your sister you'll have figured out the origin though...

"What does an eternity of nothingness matter when you can defeat all your opponents as easily as one... two... three... four... FIVE!"

    • In BG II: Throne of Bhaal, this is done by some wraiths to both the protagonist and their possible love interest by taking the forms of their lost loved ones and making hurtful accusations. It's a ploy to make the victims break down and become easy prey.
  • Before the final battle in Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark, Big Bad Mephistopheles does this to each of your party members in turn, turning them to his side unless you can talk them back out of it.
  • Planescape: Torment:
    • Ravel, a mid-way adversary, confronts any and all characters in the party with a (de)moralizing tirade about how their particular history of suffering, self-deception, and misdeeds have shaped them, noting that in the end it was these things that led them to follow the lead character on his quest, so ensnared in circumstances that the choice never truly was their own. Though she is promptly defeated after this, the things she alludes to usually cast the pasts of both the NPCs and the Player Character in a new (and usually less pretty) light.
    • The Nameless One himself can use the technique on the resident Knight Templar, which convinces him to pass on as there's nothing worth holding on to in his unlife any longer.
  • In World of Warcraft, as you progress through the questline to create Shadowmourne, a legendary weapon to match the The Lich King's own, he whispers to you about how you and he both harvest souls for your own ends, he too once sought a weapon of great power, how he commands powers beyond you, et cetera.
  • Archer in the visual novel Fate/stay night hammers Shirou. And considering Archer IS Shirou from the future, he knows exactly how to reduce him to complete Heroic BSOD.

"You need to become a hero. That is your only emotion, and it's not even your own. You knew. Yes, but you kept that from yourself. I remember, it's not that you felt guilty for being the Sole Survivor. You just admired your Kiritsugu; he looked so happy when he saved you. But you went too far. It would have been fine to admire him. But he left you a curse. I don't even need to say it. That is everything for you. Your ideal is borrowed. You are only imitating what Kiritsugu wanted, what Kiritsugu thought was right. A superhero? Don't make me laugh. Over and over you said you wished to help people, but that's not even your wish. It's conceited to think you could help anyone! That's right! You admired his desire to save people because it was beautiful! But none of that feeling was your own! What else can you call that but hypocrisy!? Driven by your need to help someone, you don't notice how wrong you are! But it's all fake. You can't save anything. You don't even know what you wanted to save in the first place! That ideal is a failure. It's all fantasy. If you can only live holding on to that, drown in your ideals."
"....Shut up."

    • The worst part about Archer's speech is that, unlike the modified version above, halfway through it he starts to talk about himself, using "I" instead of "you."
  • In the Far Cry 3 trailers we are introduced to one of the major villains of the story in this manner. Our protagonist Jason Brody is trying to stay alive on a crazy Island that was supposed to be a vacation spot until some thugs tried to kill him and kidnapped his girlfriend. Eventually he is captured by these thugs and their leader Vaas asks a simple question as Jason is waking up, "Did I ever tell you the definition of insanity?" Vaas goes on a tangent about how insanity is repeating certain behavioral patterns over and over again expecting different results from those actions and that if you think about it life is composed of little everyday moments of insanity. He proves this by talking about how during his life he has witnessed "a bunch of pricks doing the same thing over and over again expecting shit to change." After this Vaas proclaims that he tried killing Jason once before but it isn't like he is crazy or anything, he then pushes Jason down into a pool of water below with a rock attached to his feet. After Jason survives this Vaas finds Jason alive in the aftermath of a helicopter crash and asks once again, "Did I ever tell you the definition of insanity?"
  • AM from I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream does this to his captives at the beginning of the game.


Webcomics[edit | hide]

Right-Eye: "Brother, you may have had a lifetime, but you haven't had a life since the day you put on that cloak. Life is about growing -- growing older, growing wiser, growing closer to your loved ones. But you, you're frozen in time. You're the same angry kid who took that artifact off of your master's corpse that day.
Redcloak: Oh, so now you've gained some insight on the universe by letting your body and mind deteriorate?
Right-Eye: YES! When you're faced with your own mortality, you have no choice but to consider what's best for the next generation. And this deal with Xykon is killing our spirit as fast as it's killing our bodies. You don't know what it is you're trying to better, because you don't know what it's like not to serve an undead overlord, or a petty spiteful god.
Redcloak: ...What did you just say to me?
Right-Eye: Come on. You have to realize that the Dark One doen't care about us. Why else would he let you throw goblin lives away on this plan?
Redcloak: Throw away lives? How dare you?! Every goblin that has died since I've been high priest has been to further The Plan! Their deaths were a necessary sacrifice! They were NOT my fault!
Right-Eye: Wait... that's it, isn't it? It's all about whose fault it is... If I kill Xykon now, then it was all a waste. You ordered goblins to their deaths believing in the Plan- so if we abandon it now, then you were wrong. You let them die for nothing. You're willing to throw good lives after bad so that you don't have to admit that we were wrong to work with Xykon in the first place, much less help him cheat death.

Bun-bun: When we first shanghaied you, I thought I saw something in you that I liked. Now that I have the opportunity to crush your soul, I like you even more.

    • In "A Time for Healing", the zombie Jane gives Gwynn a "The Reason You Suck" Speech at least bordering on this about how annoying and shallow she finds her and how someone like her couldn't use real magic. Unfortunately for Jane, her last taunts makes Gwynn angry enough that she's finally able to show that yes, she does have access to about a hundred times more powerful magic than Jane does.
    • In "bROKEN", Bun-bun traps Oasis in a sauna and, after berating her for stupidity, starts verbally tormenting her with images of her "beloved" with another woman. It ends up almost as badly for him as in Jane's case.
  • Xkcd:
    • During the first meeting of Black Hat Guy and his girlfriend. Here and here.
    • And later, by the same character, when someone tries "negging: you belittle chicks to undermine their self-confidence so they'll be more vulnerable and seek your approval" on her. Alt Text: "Son, don't try to play 'make you feel bad' with the Michael Jordan of making you feel bad."
  • In Goblins, when Dellyn figures out that Thaco has taken levels as though he were a Player Character, he calls it the 'most perverse thing he's ever heard of', and points out that by doing so, Thaco has admitted that goblins will always be inferior to humans.
  • A subversion occurs in this strip of It's Walky, in which the main villain—who has a tendency to do this to certain heroes and play on their insecurities and the secrets he's learnt about them—finds his ability hampered when faced with members of the team that he knows next-to-nothing about, and what little he does know doesn't bother them in the slightest when he tries to throw it back at them. Frustrated, he curses himself for 'playing favorites'.
  • Hunter Ravenwood of Suicide for Hire sometimes does this to people who annoy him.
  • This is a power of Thrawn, demon of half-truths, from Shades – whenever somebody gets caught in his tentacles, he can see victim's dearest ideals and describe them through dark, twisted point of view. The worst part? What he says is always at least partly true.
  • Cuanta Vida, page 136. Rojo attempted to backstab Bleu, and for his efforts he received a broken nose and a vicious beating from Jeremy's crutch. While lying defenseless on the ground, Rojo attempts to appeal to Bleu's pacifistic nature: "Put down the gun...How many people have you killed today? Too many, right? Why add another?" Too bad it didn't work.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Slade from Teen Titans is a master at this trope. Especially when Robin is the victim.
  • In the Family Guy episode "Seahorse Seashell Party", Meg finally breaks down and points out all of their hypocritical acts of ganging up on her and puting her down making her feel awful, and how they raised her specifically for that purpose. Her Lecture is harsh enough to send Lois into tears, and then makes all of the members of the family turn onto one another, ending with Peter crying and fleeing upstairs where Lois goes to look for him.
  • Justice League:
    • In the episode "A Better World", the Mirror Universe President Lex Luthor uses one of these on his version of Superman. It partially succeeds. Superman does indeed break down as a result...just not in the way Luthor wanted.
    • In the same episode, Batman also pulls one of these...on himself.
      • And he won. When you think about it, Lord!Batman manages to win the first one ("We created a world where no eight year old boy will ever lose his parents... because of some punk with a gun.") and Batman does this later while driving in the Batmobile ("They'd love it here, Mom and Dad. They would be so proud of you.").

The commentary states that the scene was created by one half of the production team debating the other from Batman's point of view. And to actually keep the viewer in the dark, neither Batman nor Lord!Batman faced the audience while talking, thus allowing a one sided conversation that either Batman could have been winning until the reveal.

Evil Flash: Slacker! Child! Clown! We have no place here among the world's greatest heroes!
Flash: Says you! I've got a seat at the big conference table. I'm gonna paint my logo on it! [punches through Evil Flash's chest] watch it here

  • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic:
    • In "The Return of Harmony", the especially vicious Faux Affably Evil villain Discord corrupts each of the main ponies to keep them from using the Elements of Harmony that they represent against him. Ultimately he just brainwashes each of them with magic (aside from Twilight Sparkle), but he also takes the trouble to break each down before that, usually by talking. In Applejack's case, he manipulates her to doubt the value of honesty (her element) by showing her a terrible "truth" that she can't accept, before turning her into a liar. For Pinkie Pie (laughter), he makes her think her friends laugh at her all the time, before turning her unhappy and hostile. Fluttershy (kindness) is the only one on whom his speech doesn't work, because she's too trusting, and accepting of her own flaws... So he just zaps her into being cruel anyway.

Discord: Well, it must be so upsetting to know how weak and helpless they think you are.
Fluttershy: Not at all! I am weak and helpless, and I appreciate their understanding.

    • In "Putting Your Hoof Down", of all ponies to deliver one, Fluttershy does it to both Pinkie Pie and Rarity, calling their interests frivolous and driving them both to tears. Yikes.
  • Kung Fu Panda 2: Lord Shen, when Po confronts him in the foundry and demands to know what he knows about his past. Shen uses short hurtful claims in the lines of "You parents abandoned you" to distract Po and gain the upper hand between attacks.
  • Megatron tries this on Optimus Primal in their climactic battle in the final episode of Beast Wars. He even quotes scripture from the Covenant of Primus (a book of actually truthful prophecies) to prove that Optimus would fail. Then Optimus turns it against him in an epic Shut UP, Hannibal moment.

Megatron: "And there came a hero who said, 'Hurt not the earth, nor the trees, nor the seas, nor the very fabric of time.' But the hero would not prevail!'"
Optimus: "Finish the quote, Megatron! 'NOR WOULD HE SURRENDER!'"

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • A series of independent experiments carried out by a sadistic Harvard psychology professor in the 1960s could be counted as an extreme (and, as it turned out, extremely unfortunate) real-life example of Breaking Them by Talking. University students were instructed to write an essay summarizing their personal philosophy on life and underlying principles, then went into a room expecting to debate philosophy with a fellow student. They instead faced an interrogation by a far more experienced opponent, whose sole purpose was to attack and ridicule their beliefs at length. Since one of the main goals of the experiment was to induce stress and upset the subject as much as possible, it's not surprising that many students came out feeling traumatized. One of them eventually went completely over the edge (for this reason or some other) and became the Unabomber.
The professor had worked with the CIA in developing a test that tested pilots' wills, preventing them from possibly being brainwashed if captured. He decided to "fine tune" his technique using students as test subjects, but really, the guy was a sadist who got off on this sort of thing. WNYC's Radio Lab covered this story in one of their pieces titled "Oops"; you can hear it here starting at 4:20.
  • A favorite technique of many Trolls.

  1. Mainly so that there's a term that can handily replace "Hannibal Lecture" where editors have used that incorrectly; see below for the difference