In my restless dreams, I see that town . . . Silent Hill.Mary Sunderland (Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams)
Silent Hill 2: Restless dreams is a fan favorite of the series and for good reasons. It introduced an entirely different version of Silent Hill that the player was unfamiliar with. While the previous game explored the evils of man and the dangers of cults, this version of Silent Hill explored themes that were more personal to the character such as guilt and our perception of reality. Let’s take a little deeper peek in the philosophy of Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams.
The story begins with James Sunderland parked at a rest stop just outside Silent Hill. Through his opening narration, it is revealed that he received a letter from his wife, who had died three years earlier due to a terminal illness, beckoning for him to come back to that town and meet her in their “special place.”
Along the way, James meets various other people that seemed to be lost in the town. Among these people are:
- Angela Orosoco, a tortured soul who suffered abuse at the hands of her father and brother. She is in search of her mother.
- Eddie Dombrowski, a man on the run after killing a dog and injuring the owner.
- Laura, a little girl who who had befriend James’ wife while in the hospital. She, too, is looking for Mary Sunderland.
James also meets a woman named Maria at Rosewater Park. She is the spitting image of his late wife, although her hair, fashion style, and personality are much more seductive than that of Mary Sunderland. Maria is arguably the most important character in the game besides James Sunderland himself.
Perception is Reality
As opposed to the first Silent Hill which had the town itself trapped in the supernatural grasp of a child with special abilities, this version of Silent Hill introduced the concept that the town itself possesses a power, drawing people in and forcing them to confront their inner demons. The town’s appearance looks different based on the individual’s inner struggles. This is exemplified in a brilliant scene on a fiery staircase, where James comes across Angela, who is still looking for her mother. Angela’s world is in flames, symbolic of the hell she constantly lived through being abused by her father and brother.
The character of Eddie, who grew up bullied and alone all of his life is tormented by the town amplifying this insecurity and self-loathing by making it a reality for him. He sees people everywhere constantly making fun of him and is ultimately pushed over the edge into homicidal madness.
The character of James Sunderland sees the nightmare as a dead and decaying hellscape, symbolizing the illness that slowly ate away at his wife Mary and the decay of his life after her death.
Perception is an individuals understanding of the tangible world, based on past experiences. For example, a person that has had a bad experience with a dentist may view all dentists to be bad or even evil. Our perception of the world is based in emotion and Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams uses striking imagery through visual metaphors to build on this theme. Reality is rarely ever black and white.
We are Prisoners of our Own Guilt
As the game progress, James encounters multiple monsters, each representing something deep in his own psyche. The most notable of these monsters is the Red Pyramid. Throughout the game, the Red Pyramid stalks James and can even be seen sexually assaulting the other monsters.
As the game progresses, James partners with Maria who sees die on three different occasions, making him question even more what exactly is going on in this town. This ultimately builds to the revelation that Maria was conjured up by the town out of James’ memories of his dead wife. Maria dying so many times is symbolic of the fact that James cannot escape the truth behind his wife’s death, forcing him to relive it over and over again through Maria.
It is eventually revealed via a startling videotape that James himself killed his wife out of mercy from the illness that she was suffering from. The Red Pyramid represented James’ guilt and desire to be punished for what he had done. In the end, James overcomes his guilt and decides that he no longer needs the Red Pyramid to punish him.
This type of philosophy borders on spiritualism. The concept of forgiveness is a topic I’ve discussed more than once. As human beings, it seems to be in our nature to want to punish ourselves for our past wrongdoings. Hate and holding onto grudges is much easier to do than forgiveness, because it gives us a sense of power. However, much like James in the game, we end up becoming prisoners of our own emotions.
Silent Hill doesn’t just function well as a horror game, it is a brilliant character study, too. It doesn’t rely on jump scares or gore rather it goes for that slow and subtle psychological horror that will linger with the gamer for years to come. By the end of the game, the gamer may even start questioning what it is that they perceive to be reality.