“In my restless dreams, I see that town. Silent Hill”.
“You promised you’d take me there again someday”.
“But you never did”.
“Well, I’m alone there now… “.
“In our “special place”… “.
“Waiting for you… “.
This excerpt from Mary’s letter is the first thing you hear when starting Silent Hill 2. She wrote it while suffering through terminal illness. Its heartfelt lines and significance to the story have made it iconic.
So iconic, in fact, that the Swedish rock-band Totem Skin included it as part of their song: “Seasons Don’t Fear The Reaper, We Can Be Like They Are”.
Upon receiving the letter, James Sunderland ventures to the fog-laden town of Silent Hill. The letter doesn’t say much, but enough to blind him of reason, of the fact that his wife, Mary, has been dead for three years.
What could possibly drive a man on such a journey? Love? Delusion? Perhaps, a combination of both?
Video games — or any fiction, for that matter — often portray their characters as black and white. The villain is the antagonist because he causes suffering and chaos; the hero is the protagonist because he tries to stop him.
They rarely evolve into the polar opposite of who you thought they were and the same rings true for storytelling.
A strong story has its twists and turns, its intrigue. But by and large, you understand what’s going on. Contrarily, Silent Hill 2 only alludes to what’s going on, or even who you’re playing as.
When I played Silent Hill 2 for the first time, most of its story and finer nuances went over my head. After playing games like Resident Evil and Dino Crisis, it seemed like just another horror game.
In my defence, Silent Hill 2 goes out of its way to establish a cliché horror premise. It makes you oblivious of the fact that Silent Hill used to be a regular town when James and Mary visited just a few years before.
Now, covered by an unnaturally thick blanket of fog, shops and apartments stand abandoned. Even unsightly monsters wandering the town’s desolate streets and alleyways don’t raise an eyebrow.
Soon enough, your justification of it all becomes just as irrational as James’ search for the “special place”.
Part of it comes down to Guy Cihi’s portrayal of James Sunderland. He sounds so unassuming, so quaint and sincere, that you unquestionably believe in his desire to reunite with his deceased wife.
Not once did it cross my mind that James actually killed her…
Who’s the Monster?
Silent Hill 2’s greatest accomplishment is that it makes you believe that you’re the hero. Nay, the victim.
It creates the picture that you’re following the story of a man wrought with grief. A man so desperate that he’s willing to abandon common sense and make a leap of faith.
In reality, you’re playing as the nominal villain.
It’s not obvious right away, because the sin has been committed without you witnessing it. James didn’t get the letter from his wife. He received it from the nurse who was instructed to give him the letter after Mary’s passing.
Two conflicting feelings led to James’ misdeed, one of empathy and one of selfishness. He smothered Mary with a pillow because he could no longer endure seeing her in agony, but also because he wanted to be free of her.
Unwilling to face the horror of his deed, James fabricated an entire story based on the letter’s contents.
A story of Mary beckoning him to Silent Hill.
To further the indirect storytelling of Silent Hill 2, the town materializes threats based entirely on each individual’s psyche. Every monster that James encounters represents a part of his own mental domain.
The scantily clad nurse depicts his sexual frustration, his deprivation of intimacy due to Mary’s illness. The imposing Pyramid Head symbolizes James’ subconscious recognition of guilt and desire to receive punishment.
On the contrary, Eddie, the guy James meets in the Wood Side Apartments, sees an ever-increasing amount of dead bodies. For the suicidal Angela, everything in Silent Hill is constantly engulfed in a scorching wall of flames.
Meanwhile, the innocent little girl, Laura, doesn’t see anything unusual at all. Monsters, disturbing imagery and events occur only for those carrying an emotional burden: such as grief, humiliation and resentment.
There Was a Hole Here…
To anyone with a clear conscience, Silent Hill is indeed a regular town. Anyone with something to atone for, however, incites the town to transform in order to serve out their punishment.
James interprets the initial excerpt as Mary calling out to him. But instead, she describes her suffering through the illness, her longing for the time she spent with him.
“Waiting for you to come to see me”.
“But you never do”.
“I feel so pathetic and ugly laying here, waiting for you… “.
“Every day I stare up at the cracks in the ceiling and all I can think about is how unfair it all is… “.
“Even though our life together had to end like this, I still wouldn’t trade it for the world”.
Whenever you meet certain conditions, the letter gradually disappears, suggesting that it never existed in the first place. These revelations haunt you long after playing Silent Hill 2 and hit differently on a repeat playthrough.
Once you know the truth, it’s kind of like watching Fight Club again. Suddenly, you start paying attention to the smaller details and everything falls into its rightful place.
Silent Hill 2 blurs the line between a villain and a hero. Instead, it portrays someone we know as human. A person with a troubled past: someone who’s made mistakes, who’s sinned, but nonetheless seeks penance.
Someone who loves and hates in equal amount, and ultimately, summons their own version of hell.