Broken Silence – Silent Hill: The Town, The Monster
How do you make your homework less grueling? Base it on something you love! That’s what I did for a class I had two semesters ago. The goal was to define a monstrous figure using theories by Freud, Mary Douglas, and Aristotle. I decided to base the assignment on Silent Hill 2. Think of this as a little disclaimer before you read the article. It was originally submitted as a paper for an assignment. Therefore, it will contain theories stated as absolutes and lack some information regarding other characters in the game. My goal was to simply define Silent Hill has a monster and use the terms required. So, please keep that in mind as you may read some things that are still debatable among the fanbase.
Silent Hill is the town and the entity in which will be discussed in this paper. This force has much power and is not only monstrous, but incredibly uncanny due to its physical and spiritual nature. The town has been the most prominent role in the aptly named video game series of the same name. The series has been known for its dark psychological horror. The town itself has power over all those near, and its influence knows no bounds. It is a mysterious entity fueled by old gods predating history. It’s pure animosity from reality and a force that takes in people with damaged souls. Silent Hill is not only a place, but a plane of existence out side of our own.
The Silent Hill series debuted in 1999 for the Playstation home video game console. Unlike other video games, Silent Hill relies on deep, complex adult themes to instill fear on players rather than cheap surprise scares. The only recurring character throughout the series has been the town itself. There have been several games, graphic novels and two movies within the franchise. The Silent Hill series was Konami Entertainment’s jump into the survival horror genre after the success of Capcom’s Resident Evil. Unlike the Resident Evil series, Silent Hill was incredible for its macabre story that dealt with human emotion and the spiritual forces drawn to them. The one game in the series that showed how monstrous and uncanny the town was, was Silent Hill 2.
The story of Silent Hill 2 is a powerful one. James Sunderland, a simple clerk and husband, has a heartbreaking experience. His wife has become ill from an incurable disease. In her extended sickness, James goes under an immense emotional toll. His wife is dying, he is powerless, and the longer she lives, the worse his life becomes. James eventually has a moment of temporary insanity and kills his sick wife Mary. This was what happened in our reality, but the forces of the town of Silent Hill became stirred by James’s traumatic deed.
Three years have passed since Mary died from her illness–at least this is what James believes. He has come to the town of Silent Hill because of a letter he received from Mary. He can not believe that she could really be alive. Three long years have passed since her death, and James is confused. He enters Silent Hill hoping to find her at what she calls their “special place”. James enters the foggy town of Silent Hill in search of Mary, and what he finds takes him down a road of his own subconscious.
When the town of Silent Hill draws someone into it, they are brought to the Otherworld. This foggy reality is a mirror of the town itself, but it has become isolated, quiet, and filled with unnaturally thick fog. The origins of the town’s mysterious power is linked to the Native Americans. The area that would become Silent Hill was a holy land where Native Americans prayed to their gods. While the power of the town is not necessarily evil, historical events have distorted its influence. Toluca lake, located in the very center of the large town harbors much power. Throughout history, the lake has been a source for many accidents and mysterious events. The town itself is a monstrous being.
Using Aristotle’s definition of a monster in Aristole’s conceptualization of reproduction and monstrosity, Silent Hill will fit in perfectly. Aristotle details a monster as something that is just not correct; It has been altered against the norm. Its “perfect” form did not carry over into a next generation. (Aristotle p.420) By his terms, a woman is a monster because she is not a man. Silent Hill is a monster because it is not just a place to live, it’s something more. The town’s birth came from the amalgamation of Native American gods and human desire. The gods took on the form of human desire and shaped its identity from their emotions. The secret cult of the town, simply called The Order, believed that long ago, humans prayed to the sun for better times: for joy and salvation. A god was created from those two people who wanted nothing but a better existence. From that god came lesser gods, angels and beings to show people the path to paradise. The town was created from human emotion, and that is what it feeds on.
James’s emotion was guilt. He did not remember that he killed his wife, but his underlying guilt is what made the town draw him in. His own subconscious gave the town an identity. The way James’ Otherworld appeared was different from any other character he ran across. James suppressed many emotions during the time of his wife’s sickness, and the town took on those feelings and created manifestations. In Aristotle’s terms, James provided the town with “semen”(Aristotle p. 385). This “semen” carried James’ identity. In the case of Silent Hill, also his suppressed desires and emotions. James’s semen, as well as the town’s, created his own specific Otherworld and its inhabitants. These creatures are all representations of James’ emotion. They themselves can be called monsters, but the town is the creator. They are extensions of the primary monster that is the town itself.
The Lying Figure is a humanoid creature that appears to be wrapped in a straight jacket made of flesh. No features are present but protruding shapes in the form of crossed arms. The creature writhes in pain. It can be thought of a direct manifestation of James’ suffering. The Mannequin, a form created by two sets of conjoined female legs, stands for James’ natural sexual urges during the time of Mary’s hospitalization. The Mannequin creatures can be seen getting suggestively abused by another manifestation. This creature takes the form of a figure from the town’s past which James’ had seen in a painting. This creature stands for James’s guilt, and its primary goal is to give James’ the punishment which he feels he deserves. This being is modeled after the executioner of the town’s past. The creature is referred to by James as the “Red Pyramid Thing”. Its body is quite slim; it wears a dirty, bloody apron, and its head is a rusty metal pyramid. The being carries with it an extremely heavy sword, which symbolizes an overbearing punishment. These creatures are all imperfect “children” of James and the town. Neither is completely one or the other.
Multiple aspects of James’s identity is given form because of the town. These creatures are “sub-monsters” created by the primary monster that is the town itself, they are born once James arrives. He can be seen as the father; the town can be seen as the mother (Aristotle p. 395). She gives form to these creations; she is a creation, and the byproducts are living metaphors to James’ own mind. The manifestations do not end here. In his journey through the town, James runs into Maria. This woman looks exactly like his late wife Mary. The only difference being her clothes and attitude. Maria can be described as a raunchy woman. Her clothes indicate that she’s a bit wild, and her attitude suggests the same. This is a special case of identity. The town creates Maria from James’ desire to see his wife again. His love for his wife Mary creates Maria. In this case her identity is influenced by James’s own desire; her form given to by the town. James’ feelings for his wife’s image, her identity, is translated over to the town. The town provides matter for her form; James provides her identity–or his own ideal identity for her based on his current desires.
Sigmund Freud defines the uncanny as “that class of frightening which leads back to what is known of old and familiar.”(Freud p.220). Silent Hill 2 is an game filled with the uncanny. For one, the town itself is merely a location, yet below the surface of this reality, lies another plain of existence. The concept of an entire town being haunted is uncanny. Towns are places where people live, where comfort can be had. Yet Silent Hill is not just a town. Its location is not bound by the earth which it rests on. It’s an entity.
James carries much anxiety, which is why he was pulled into the Otherwold. He endured a long and painful time with his wife while she was sick. Her death was slow and taking its own toll on him. Anxiety is another one of Freud’s aspects of the uncanny (Freud p.233).
Another anxiety, and perhaps and the first case of doubling, can be seen throughout the game with dead bodies. Freud explains doubling as the minds ego becoming more independent. This allows for people to become aware of their own consciousness (Freud p.236). There are instances where James finds unknown corpses mutilated by unknown means. Upon further inspection, these corpses are James. James never realizes this, but it is up to the player to make the identification. This can possibly be explained by James’ interpretation of reality. His mind can not see that he is in fact the corpse in front of him. The uncanny double here is for the player to realize. Only from an outside perspective can we see the delusions that James can not. For him, he’s seeing what the town wants him to see.
Another case of doubling, arguably the most important, is the case of Mary and Maria. The town manifests Maria out of James’ desires. She is an exact copy, but with a new persona. When James first meets her, he mistakes her for Mary, but quickly realizes that she isn’t his late wife. Maria can be seen as James’ solution to being alone. He rather be with a ghost, or doppelganger, than the real thing–at least for now because of subconscious feelings of guilt to what he did to Mary. This can be approached by saying that Maria is Heimlich. Heimlich, by Freud’s terms is a familiar, ghostly influence. This Heimlich is also a secret and will lead to discovery (Freud p. 224) Maria is a familiar, friendly, and intimate partner as well a substitute for Mary. James’ own ignorance and forgotten memory can perhaps be called Heimlich as well because he has repressed moments from his past.
Throughout the story, James’ does not fully accept her as her own individual person or as his late wife Mary. Maria’s identity is stuck in a quagmire. The distinction between the two are often blurred through out the story when Maria starts to do and say things that Mary once did. In one scene she reminisces about how forgetful James was when they were together, but Maria has previously established her individuality to James. Maria does not know that she switches to Mary’s personality. This bring about another of Freud’s uncanny aspects.
Repetition is extremely prevalent in Silent Hill 2. Before James can fully realize his guilt, numerous things repeat themselves. The corpses that are doubles of James appear numerous times; Maria says or does things that make her more like Mary, and Maria continually dies in the later parts of the story by the hand of the Red Pyramid. These repetitive actions are uncanny because they feel like something out of a nightmare. They happen again and again but no resolution is found until the very end of the story. Freud mentions repetition as “experiences which arouse this kind of uncanny feeling are not very frequent occurrence…” (Freud p.248). Repetition leads to uncanny feelings. These things that repeat would never do so in the real world, just fiction. Yet James must encounter these uncanny feelings of repetition.
The town searches for the darkness in people’s hearts, and James’ is not the only person in the town at the time of his visit. Angela’s dark past which involved her father sexually abusing her was also manifested within the game. James’s meets Angela early in the story where she tells him that she is looking for her mother. Angela experiences her own dark adventure as well as her own unique Otherworld. When James is near Angela their two Otherworlds conflic. Aspects from both of their subconscious’ combine in some areas of the game. Aristotle would classify this as competing semen, or competing identities (Aristotle p.403). The mastery of identity and form was in favor of Angela at this point. Her world set her off to her own destruction, and James became a witness who could not help her.
A creature manifested from Angela’s subconscious was called the Abstract Daddy. Its form was that of what appeared to be a man hunched over a small bed on top of another form. Angela’s father raped her throughout her childhood, and the town set her on her own journey. She crosses paths with James several times. Each time losing more of her grasp on reality as well as being more consumed by her past nightmare. Angela appears to be quite old. Visually in her early thirties, but her personality is that of a child. The town has reawakened her infantile anxiety, and it has her reliving her past, while also trying to find closure from it. Angela carries the fear of a child. Common infantile anxieties are about isolation, the dark, and silence (Freud p.252) Silent Hill employs all of these fears, but Angela’s specific fears of her father are realized by the town and given form.
The town forces people to experience things they know–this is, by Freud’s definition, uncanny. They know of all the things that they are experiencing, because it is being created from their own minds. Each character in the story has repressed something. Freud would call it an example of repressed complex (Freud p.251). James repressed what he did to Mary. To him, she died three years ago, but in reality, it was closer to three days ago. The town took him into itself when he was leaving with Mary’s body. This memory was repressed as well as his feelings throughout her sickness. Natural sexual urges manifested itself as suggestive actions between the Red Pyramid and one of the Mannequins, as well as themes of penetration and sex. His psychotic break being the result of his repression.
While not as expansive as say Freud’s uncanny concept, Mary Douglas’s system of boundaries, transgressions and order work in Silent Hill 2. A boundary is an established system pertaining to cultural normalcy. (Douglas p.5) A transgression breaks those boundaries. The first boundary that can be seen is that of reality and the Otherworld. The town of Silent Hill looks normal to the rest of the world. Minus its odd history and folklore, the town exists and functions like any other. Only when someone with deep emotional turmoil gets close, or has a tie to the town, will it reach out and pull them into the Otherworld. The boundary between these realities can not be transgressed unless a person has darkness in their souls. James, as well as Angela traveled through that boundary. The previous boundary can also lead into that of imagination and reality. The Otherworld is molded by a person’s own mind. Their fears, their desires, and their hatred is picked up by the town’s power and shaped into a world. The town becomes a gateway for the transgression by providing form. It also forces transgression as to formulate order.
Calling Silent Hill dirt may apply if the town is compared to the rest of the world. Dirt is the inevitable disorder resulting in society’s need to create order (Douglas p.44). It is a byproduct of instituting systems of order. Silent Hill is an entity, and a town, that appears to be disorder to the world. It is supernatural and does not function like anything else seen in the world. But, the town can also be seen as a system of order in itself. Silent Hill is attracted to those with darkness in their souls: disruption. The town seeks them out in an effort to resolve their disruption by forcing them to face their subconscious. Silent Hill seeks out to create order from fragmented minds and souls. The dirt from this process could be determined as the danger the person is presented with. James could easily be killed by his manifestations, but his success in surviving leads to him realizing what he did to Mary. Thus, healing his soul from guilt and sadness.
The journey to overcoming mental anguish is done so by physical trials. These trials all come from his own consciousness. The town provides these emotions and desires into matter in which it creates a world suited for James, as well as Angela. This monster allows for James to find inner peace and repent for his misdoings. In its own way, the town is a necessary monster with a goal to create spiritual order. To call the town a evil force would not be correct. It is simply a force that is attracted to intense human emotion.
Arisotle. Generation of Animals. Trans A.L. Peck. Cambridge Loeb,. 1942. Print.
Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger. New York: Routledge Classics, 1966. Print.
Freud, Sigmund. English Translation: The Uncanny. 1925. Print.
Silent Hill 2. Dir. Masashi Tsuboyama. Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo. 2001. Optical Disc.