The Good In Silent Hill: Downpour, Part 2

[content warning: discussion of ableism, child abuse, child death. and suicide]

GOD KNOWS EVERYBODY MAKES A MISTAKE OR TWO
Full disclosure, I really like the sidequests in Silent Hill: Downpour. Not only do I enjoy exploring the town, the design of which is one of the game’s strengths, these sidequests subtly add a great deal to the game’s narrative.
good in shdpbig2Though they vary in thematic significance, almost every sidequest has some connection to Murphy’s character and the overall themes of Downpour. Most of the quests involve helping people. Through these quests, Murphy helps trapped birds, a disabled child, a possibly mentally ill woman, abused wives and children, a lonely elderly person, and victims of theft. Though these sidequests have no bearing on what ending you receive (except the silly E ending), they go a long way toward establishing the kind of person Murphy is. Yes, there are often rewards in the form of ammunition, weapons, or health kits, but since the game’s combat is relatively inconsequential, the main reward for the quests is the act of helping. Of course, almost everyone Murphy helps is long dead, but Murphy isn’t here to deal out justice. As his Otherworld suggests, part of Murphy’s journey is learning the high cost of revenge, not only to himself but to other innocent people. Therefore, these quests rarely allow Murphy to punish anyone. Instead, he offers comfort to the dead, which reveals his capacity for compassion.

In many ways, these quests shed more light on Murphy’s character than any of the game’s Moral Choices. I understand, of course, why these quests can’t contribute directly to which ending the player achieves, as they’re easy to miss and it wouldn’t be fair to those who can’t spend hours running around town, but thematically, they do the job better much better than the heavy-handed decisions presented via giant buttons beside Murphy’s head.

Now, to the quests.

FREE TO FLY
One of the first quests Murphy finds after entering Silent Hill involves releasing birds he finds in cages around town. Each time a bird is released, Murphy has a flashback to a happy memory of himself and Charlie. Obviously, the connection between caged birds and freedom borders on cliché, but freedom is a very important theme in Murphy’s story, freedom from prison and from guilt. The happy memory he recreates each time he releases a bird suggests that he’s learning to move on from his misery, while still holding his son in his heart.

[It’s also interesting that the game references the concept of “augury,” the ancient Roman practice of divining the will of the gods by observing the flight of birds. This can be compared to “haruspicy,” divination through examining the entrails of sacrificed animals, which is also referenced in-game. These practices have similar goals and both involve living things, but they accomplish those goals in very different ways. Perhaps this could hint at the two paths in front of Murphy, one that ends the cycle of violence and leads him to freedom and one that continues it and traps him in Silent Hill forever]

It’s also interesting to note that completing this quest unlocks a gallery picture of DJ Ricks, the character who literally tells Murphy about “the key to [his boat] Freedom” and who often gives Murphy obscure hints and clues via the songs he plays on the radio.

Finally, this quest shows Murphy’s concern for those weaker and more helpless than himself. Each time he opens a cage, he punctuates the act by saying, “Poor little guy,” which while repetitive, shows that Murphy is doing this because he cares, not because he thinks there’s any reward in store. Despite Murphy himself being trapped in Silent Hill (and in his own miserable life), he still takes time to care about these tiny helpless creatures. And though flying free in Silent Hill might not be the safest life, it’s better than slowly starving behind bars. By opening the doors, Murphy gives these birds a chance, the same chance he wants for himself.

RIGHTFUL OWNERS
In the apartment building, Murphy finds the hanging body of a thief along with his abandoned loot, which Murphy can then return to their owner’s apartments. All of these items have a great deal of sentimental value and include a locket, a watch, a child’s piggybank, and a war medal (specifically a Purple Heart, awarded to those injured or killed in service). Though the owners are long gone, memories linger, a crying woman, a wildly ticking watch, a weeping child, and exploding artillery. Returning each item changes the sounds, the crying and ticking stop, the children start to laugh, and the bombs and gunfire turn to light fanfare. In all cases, returning these items seems to lay these anxious memories to rest.

After completing the quest, Murphy can return to the room where the thief was hanging and find the body gone, leaving behind a new set of clothes for Murphy. It seems that he has laid both the victims and the perpetrator of the crime to rest. The point of completing this quest isn’t justice but comfort. Murphy can’t punish the criminal because he’s already punished himself, but by returning the items, he comforts the victims and softens the guilt of the thief. It’s therefore not a surprise that this quest unlocks a picture of the nun in the gallery, offering forgiveness and redemption as a more productive path than vengeance.

It’s also interesting that Murphy can take the thief’s clothes. Perhaps it’s meant to suggest that Murphy is moving farther from his prisoner existence and his dark past. However, he’s still wearing the clothes of a dead man, an identity not his own, and so will still end up back in a prison uniform by the end of the game.

DYING FOR THE ART
This quest is not as thematically relevant as the others, but it’s still worth talking about. In this quest, Murphy finds paintings scattered around town and arranges them in the art gallery to form a map. The quest itself doesn’t add much to the narrative, though it’s interesting you’re following in the footsteps of a curator who threatened and blackmailed people into selling their paintings, which perhaps explains why this quest eventually leads you to a weapon rather than health items. Though again, because the sidequests don’t affect the endings, it’s hard to say for sure whether any are straightforwardly Bad Choices.

The names of the paintings, however, are worth mentioning: “Despair,” “Sunrise,” “Wonder,” “Certainty,” “Hope,” and “Freedom.” These are the stages Murphy must move through in order to “get his life back.” Currently, he’s trapped in despair, but when the sun (depending on his choices) rises again after his ordeal in Silent Hill, he will wonder at the beauty and potential left in the world, and he’ll finally arrive at the certainty of what he did and who he is. And finally, the forgiveness offered by Charlie and Anne will allow him to hope for a new life  in freedom, not just freedom from prison but also freedom from guilt and despair.

The narrative significance of this quest is a bit unclear as Murphy is technically completing the work of a clearly unpleasant person and the reward encourages more violence. However, the names of the linked paintings reflect the game’s relatively hopeful theme.

LIFE OF CRIME
The bank sidequest is a bit shallower. This is the only sidequest that requires combat and in it, Murphy defeats waves of enemies in order to open bank vaults and shut off the alarm. This quest perhaps serves to remind us that while there are immediate benefits to committing crimes, it’s probably not worth it in the long run nor particularly good for Murphy’s physical or mental health.

Moral of this sidequest? Don’t rob banks.

CALLING ALL CARS
This quest calls the Silent Hill police, which seems to be almost entirely staffed by Screamers, off of Murphy. There’s not too much narratively to say about this quest, except that it’s a clue to Murphy’s innocence (in most endings) as he doesn’t really deserve to have the police pursuing him like this. This could explain why Cunningham is the gallery picture unlocked by this quest because she believes Murphy is guilty of a crime he didn’t commit (again, in most endings and yes, this ambiguity is still narratively problematic).

IF YOU TEACH A MAN TO FISH…
In this sidequest, Murphy helps a homeless man who tells him how to unlock the abandoned subway tunnels, which he can use to safely and quickly travel through Silent Hill. Over several encounters, Murphy finds the man food, a coat, and a fishing rod. Sadly, the homeless man ends up dead no matter what Murphy does, but this quest reinforces the theme of Murphy giving his time and effort to help those more in need than himself. And of course, there’s the pretty direct reference to the proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” which again points Murphy toward positive action. Instead of the destructive, one-time relief of revenge, which leads straight to prison, this path opens up a myriad of roads to explore.

RIBBONS
This is easily the most heartbreaking and narratively significant sidequest in the game. During this quest, Murphy follows the trail of a lost child to discover a dark and horrible truth. Murphy discovers a missing child poster describing Ariadne Johnson. Ariadne is an eight-year-old autistic girl who disappeared on her way home from school (much as Charlie did). After finding Ariadne’s lunchbox and a note from her mother, Murphy follows the same ribbon-marked path she did and discovers that Ariadne’s mother deliberately led her child to her death.

Obviously, this is a disgusting, unforgivable act, but again, there is no punishment to be found here. Ariadne’s mother is long gone by the time Murphy finds her confession. But by walking the path Ariadne walked and discovering the truth of what was done to her, Murphy not only identifies with this forsaken child, but also takes on a parental role for a child whose own parent violently rejected her. It’s too late for Murphy to save Ariadne, but in contrast to Ariadne’s mother, he at least cares enough to seek the truth and express horror at what occurred. After completing this quest, Murphy can enter Ariadne’s room, getting another small glimpse into who this child was, while also finding health kits. Again, Murphy receives a nonviolent reward for showing compassion for a person who was shown very little in life.

This quest unlocks a gallery picture titled “A Boy,” which clearly depicts Charlie, another child who was horribly mistreated and murdered. This sidequest more than any other puts Murphy in a parental role, someone who strives to protect and care for children, especially those who are mistreated or unloved.

Which for the seven thousandth time makes the implication that Murphy murdered Charlie in the D Ending a cheap nonsensical twist that adds nothing to the narrative.

I clearly have a lot of feelings on this subject, so moving on…

CINEMA OF TRUTH (Cinéma Vérité)
This sidequest involves splicing together film reels, entering the resulting film, and finding a golden gun and some ammunition. This quest is interesting but rather obscure. The film Murphy recreates seems to hint at what happened to Charlie, who was abducted and murdered by his neighbor. As I mentioned in my earlier post, by making Charlie’s story a film, it’s made clear that it cannot be changed no matter how many times Murphy relives.

It’s also interesting that the reward for this quest is a weapon (and only after obtaining said weapon do monsters appear in the film to attack Murphy). Perhaps this implies that by seeking violent revenge for what happened to Charlie, Murphy accomplished nothing but hurting himself and other innocent people.

The gallery picture unlocked for this quest is the Postman, a character who repeatedly points Murphy toward the truth, which could solidify the above theory, seeing as the final chapter of Murphy’s journey reveals the true cost of the deal with the devil he made to obtain his revenge.

IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME…
In this sidequest, Murphy uses a gramophone to witness a horrific crime – a father murdering his family with an axe. Murphy then lays the victims’ spirits to rest by destroying the murderer’s portrait. This quest is interesting in a couple of ways. One, we have the concept of “turning back time,” something Murphy very much wants to do but can’t. Even here, Murphy can’t actually stop the crime from occurring, he can only rewind time to see the truth. Two, much like the Ribbons quest, this quest isn’t about justice but comforting the victims of the crime, in this case by removing the memory of the one who hurt them. It’s also almost certainly significant that Murphy drives the murderer’s spirit away through nonviolent means – burning the portrait.

Like in Ribbons, here Murphy protects people who have been betrayed by their protectors. Perhaps it’s becoming clear why I take so much umbrage with the D Ending. Murphy is consistently set in contrast to people (especially parents) who harm those they’re meant to care for. If I’m being extremely generous, I can see how the D Ending could be meant as a Shocking Twist, but there simply isn’t any narrative foundation for it. None of Murphy’s behavior during these quests seems false or forced; he always seems genuinely horrified by the crimes he’s witnessing. Perhaps if he showed some remorse in the D Ending, I could buy it, but his only emotion is his hatred of Sewell. As it stands, I think the game would have benefited by coming up with a Terrible No Good Very Bad Ending that made a bit more sense with how Murphy’s character.

Getting back on track, this quest unlocks the picture of Napier, again contrasting Murphy with the predators who deliberately target those most in need of protection.

SHADOWS
All right, this one I fully admit to being stumped by. It doesn’t seem to relate specifically to Murphy, but it must be significant because it’s this quest that unlocks Murphy’s picture in the gallery. So let’s take a look.

This quest involves using light and shadow to form specific sigils on walls around Silent Hill. That idea alone is interesting, needing both light and shadow to see the whole picture. This could hint at the fact that Murphy must both venture deep into the darkness of Silent Hill while also seeking the light in order to uncover the truth and find his freedom. If you stretch the idea even further, perhaps this idea could be connected to the storm theme which permeates the game. The violent storms involve both dark clouds and flashes of lightning. Murphy must brave all aspects of the storm to escape Silent Hill.

The names of these sigils may also be significant: Soul-Eye, Four, Healing, Enlightenment, and Harmony (the symbol of which has been broken into two parts). Now, these names are slightly more obscure than the paintings, but they’re worth discussing. Soul-Eye suggests soul-searching, something Murphy clearly needs to do. Four is very obscure and I’m going to take a lot of shots in the dark here. In numerology (the belief in divine or mystical connections between numbers and events), a common interpretation of the number four is creation, which could reference the Silent Hill Murphy has created in order to lead himself through purgatory to healing, enlightenment, and harmony. Also, (and I fully admit to be grasping here), we also have the Four Noble Truth of Buddhism, which describe suffering, the reason for suffering, and the path to end suffering, which could reference the path Murphy must follow to escape Silent Hill. On the other hand, in some East Asian languages, the word for “four” is very close to the word for “death,” which could hint at the death and suffering Murphy caused by seeking revenge for his son’s murder.

It’s also possible to find the number four in combinations of characters throughout the game. Interestingly, it seems that three characters can exist in somewhat harmoniously before the fourth throws a wrench in the works. For example, we have Murphy, his wife Carol, and Charlie who seemed to be a happy family until Napier tears them apart forever. Then we have the prison staff, Coleridge, Sewell, and Anne who seemed to have existed in uneasy equilibrium until Murphy gave Sewell the tool he needed to get rid of Coleridge. Finally, in a probably less significant example, Murphy, Anne, and DJ Ricks all meet up in the radio tower and at least for a moment seem to be coming to some understanding of what’s happening to them in Silent Hill, but then the “fourth person” (a group Screamers) show up to separate them once more.

The other sigils are a little clearer. Healing, enlightenment, and harmony are all part of the ideal endings. In the best ending, both Anne and Murphy heal from their guilt and despair, discover enlightenment both by learning the objective truth of what happened Anne’s father and the abstract truth about the futility of revenge. Of course, in the B Ending, Anne rejects that final truth and confronts Sewell (though it’s hard to feel anything other than satisfaction at his potential comeuppance, we don’t know what the consequences of Anne’s choice will be, just as Murphy didn’t anticipate the consequences of confronting Napier). Anne and Murphy establish harmony with one another via forgiveness and they both escape Silent Hill.

It’s also interesting that arranging the tokens properly at the end of the quest gets you a demon statue, which Murphy can use as a weapon. I suppose the obvious interpretation here is that the statue represents Murphy’s inner demons and he can either claim and acknowledge them or – quite literally – take them out on others.

But again, it’s vague. It’s certainly very, very vague.

THE TELL-TALE HEART
This quest is a bit more straightforward. Murphy discovers the body of a murdered man, who has quite literally had his heart ripped from his chest. To retrieve the still-beating heart, Murphy must brave an underground maze filled with monsters and receives a first aid kit as a reward. Once again, Murphy risks his own well-being to help lay another soul to rest, this time by literally giving the dead man his heart back. Completing the quest makes the body vanish, much like the thief in the apartments. Once again, Murphy shows concern for a stranger, helping them at great risk to himself.

This quest unlocks the picture of JP Sater, which is intriguing as one of the big Moral Choices involves whether or not you attempt talk Sater out of committing suicide. Though trying to stop him has about as much affect as replacing a dead man’s heart, the emotion behind both acts is very similar; it’s an act of compassion for compassion’s sake. Also, it seems that both the dead man and Sater committed some sort of crime before their death (though cheating at cards is obviously nowhere in the same league as drunkenly crashing a mining train full of children), a crime that caused them great suffering. And like with the thief in the apartments, Murphy shows them a compassion he can’t show himself.

ASHES TO ASHES, DUST TO DUST
This quest also focuses on a small act of unremarked upon kindness. In a house, Murphy finds an urn and a request that the ashes be laid to rest at a special place, something which clearly no one took the time to do. By scattering the ashes at this special place, Murphy receives the code to open a safe which contains a gun. This quest is pretty straightforward narratively. By taking the time to fulfill a last request that no one else would, Murphy once again shows his compassion for the mistreated and forgotten. As with just about everyone Murphy helps, the person inside the urn is already long dead, but by honoring their final wishes, Murphy reveals the gentler side of his character.

This quest unlocks the picture of Coleridge, who though dead, remains very much alive in the minds and hearts of both Anne and Murphy. Coleridge himself showed great compassion for those rejected and forgotten by the world and by completing sidequests like this one, Murphy is, in a small way, following in his footsteps. This also hints that the darker parts of Coleridge’s memory (the Wheelman and Anne’s Bogeyman) need to be laid to rest via the discovery and acknowledgement of what happened to him and who was truly responsible.

MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL
In this quest, Murphy follows in the footsteps of a young woman who lived in fear of the “people in the mirror.” It’s unclear whether these people were true monsters or simply products of delusions (if Murphy takes too long he will be attacked by an invisible Screamer, but again, this is Silent Hill, so who can really say what’s real and what’s not?), but that’s not the point. The point is that by following the woman’s ritual, Murphy show sympathy and respect for her state of mind. And doing so shatters the mirror, ending the nightmare for good.

So not only does this quest help another lost soul find peace but it also brings up the idea of truth, especially the kind not easily seen. It’s therefore unsurprising that this quest unlocks the picture of Sewell in the gallery. Because in the end, it’s Sewell, who hides behind the trappings of authority and respectability while abusing and taking advantage of those weaker than himself, who turns out to be the real monster.

ARCHAEOLOGY
Now, I almost didn’t bring up this sidequest because it only becomes available after finishing the game once and all it really does is earn the amusing but intentionally goofy Surprise Ending. However, since it also unlocks Carol’s picture in the gallery, I figured it deserved at least a little thought.

In this quest, Murphy digs up several Silent Hill artifacts marked by candles. And that’s pretty much it. I suppose the connection to Carol is that she is also a part of Murphy’s past that he’s tried to bury, but since he never actually uncovers her in-game, the connection is weak to say the least. I’ll be the first to say that Carol is one of the most poorly written parts of the game. For all the impact she has on Murphy’s story, Murphy might as well have been a single father. We don’t even find the letter from her until the final section of the game. Yes, the Screamers are apparently meant to represent her, but without deeper knowledge of what kind of person Carol was, this connection is pretty meaningless to the player. In the end, I guess it makes sense that the image of such a superfluous character would be unlocked by a superfluous sidequest, but it’s still a bit disappointing that she isn’t explored in more detail.

So yeah, that’s pretty much all I’ve got on this one. The ending is pretty funny, though. I recommend it.

SO I DON’T THINK HEAVEN’S GONNA HOLD IT AGAINST YOU
In conclusion, despite a few odd moments, these sidequests really add a lot to the themes and general atmosphere of Downpour. Overall, Murphy’s Silent Hill is unusually bright and welcoming. Yes, it’s crawling with monsters and yes, the passing thunderstorms can be dangerous, but in general, there’s an aura of melancholy gentleness not present in any other game in the series.

Now, some would argue this lighter and kinder atmosphere doesn’t fit with Silent Hill as a franchise, but I would argue it perfectly fits Murphy’s Silent Hill. As the games goes on, we discover that Murphy is neither a murderer in denial (well, usually) nor a hideously abused child who transforms their world into an unremittingly dark nightmare. No, as stated before, in most endings Murphy’s main crimes are those of inaction and his guilt comes as a result of not doing enough to protect those he cared for rather than harming them. It therefore makes perfect sense that Murphy’s Silent Hill gives him chances to risk his life in order to perform small services for the helpless and mistreated. These acts of kindness reinforce the game’s overarching narrative by suggesting an alternative to revenge. Murphy doesn’t get to give the lost souls justice. Instead, he acknowledges the wrongs that have been done to them and offers what comfort he can. As the nun in the monastery says, “revenge is a long and treacherous road” and these sidequests, though they demand a good deal of time and risk, offer another, kinder path for Murphy to follow.

The Good in Silent Hill Downpour, Part 1

Let’s begin with the obvious, is Downpour a great game? No, I wouldn’t go that far. Does it suffer from glaring problems that negatively impact the entire game? Oh yeah. Does it do some shit that’s just plain bizarre and silly? Yep. But does it take some interesting risks that make it worth talking about? I think so.

So let’s talk a bit about those.good in shdpbigFirst, let’s get the game’s major weaknesses out of the way: the monster design is terrible, the handling of the Black characters is clumsy and trope-y, some of the endings make no sense thematically with the rest of the game, and the Moral Choice system is so ham-handedly managed that it undermines its intent.

But there are some strong positives, too. Because the game is so uneven I’ll divide the discussion into multiple posts, dealing with the facets of the game I thought worked well. Beginning with Murphy’s Otherworld, which is actually quite well-thought out, embodying many of the game’s themes and our protagonist’s personal struggle, just like any good Silent Hill Otherworld should.

“REVENGE IS A LONG AND TREACHEROUS ROAD”
Like in Silent Hill 3, valves play a large part in Murphy’s Otherworld. Obviously, valves and waterwheels are used to control and utilize water in various ways and therefore fit with the game’s aesthetic. However, they also suggest cycles, which in Downpour means the cycle of vengeance that makes up the core of the game’s narrative. The horrific crime committed against Murphy’s son drove Murphy to get himself sent to prison (much as he opens his own Otherworld for the first time via valve in the diner kitchen). While in prison, Murphy made a deal with the devil to get his revenge, which pushed him into committing (or at least almost committing – and this ambiguity is one of the game’s weaknesses) the crime that drove Anne Cunningham to hunt him down. And of course, at the end of the game, Murphy must choose whether or not to strike Anne down once and for all.

While the game’s narrative is occasionally confused – some of the endings simply do not follow from the established themes – this idea of the ultimate futility of vengeance is always present. Obviously, no one is going to feel bad for Napier, but the fact that Murphy ruined his own life and the lives of others in order to get his revenge leads us to question whether that revenge was worth it – and whether the cycle of revenge and violence can ever be broken.

In many ways, the game itself is cyclical. Murphy begins the game in prison, tries to flee back to a normal life, but ends up back in prison by the game’s end, suggesting that Murphy cannot escape his feelings of guilt and helplessness by running away from them. Of course, the fact that in the better endings, he literally runs away again at the very end feels a little off, but I never said the narrative was perfect.

This cycle of vengeance is also the core of Cunningham’s character. In her desire to get Murphy where she could punish him, she ends up trapped in Silent Hill with him. And in Silent Hill, we see her struggle against what she wants to do – kill Murphy for what she believes he did to her father – and what she knows her father would want her to do: show mercy.

“We’ve got unfinished business, you and I.”

Silent Hill: Downpour is built around the idea of revenge and its consequences. The many valves and wheels found within Murphy’s Otherworld symbolize both this as well as the impossibility of escaping the consequences of one’s actions. What goes around, comes around, and the scales of justice must balance in the end.

SLAVE TO THE SYSTEM
Murphy’s Otherworld also suggests a lack of control: fast running water, impossible spaces that are difficult to navigate, doors that slam shut without warning, and tight corridors that twist and turn without logic. This is Murphy’s hell. Just as his life spiraled out of control after his son’s death, so does his Otherworld as it shuttles him through dark, twisting mazes.

Another motif in Murphy’s Otherworld is confinement. Doors and passages are blocked in strange ways, representing how Murphy is confined both literally by prison bars and figuratively by his own poor life choices. Hallways stretch and turn unexpectedly; Murphy is never sure where he’s going. Gates slam in his face, driving him in desperate circles and down slick slides. All of this comes together to show just how little control Murphy has over his own life, both as a prisoner and a tool of Officer Sewell. It’s no surprise then that one of the most memorable Otherworld experiences (in one of the least memorable environments) comes in the form of a out-of-control rollercoaster.

It therefore makes sense that many of the Otherworld puzzles involve opening timed doors and inching through tight corridors lined with spikes, highlighting both Murphy’s feeling of confinement and his need to escape.

Now, one confusing symbol that repeats very often in the Otherworld is the appearance of cars and other vehicles in strange places. Obviously, Murphy got himself sent to prison by stealing a cop car and he certainly seems to have an interest in automobiles, but at first glance this motif still seems excessively vague. Perhaps they’re again meant to symbolize a lack of agency, of mobility. Cars are meant to take people places, so seeing them stuck on ceilings or crashed in watery tunnels highlights Murphy’s lack of agency. He got himself sent to prison in a car, but he’s not going anywhere now.

After water, the most common theme in Murphy’s Otherworld is machinery. As soon as he entered prison, Murphy became a cog in the prison system, in Sewell’s nasty plan, and now in Silent Hill’s machinations. The machines found in the Otherworld, often powered by underground rivers, depict Murphy’s position as a small part in other people’s plans, a man who’s pulled along without much personal agency of his own. It’s certainly also no mistake that the creature Murphy follows throughout the game is confined to a wheelchair, symbolizing both Murphy’s guilt over what happened to Officer Coleridge and the physical confinement Coleridge endured as a result of Sewell’s (or Murphy’s) brutal attack.

In general, Murphy’s Otherworld has a consistent theme of confinement and loss of control. Nothing there makes sense, but the pounding of machinery suggests a dark purpose beyond Murphy’s comprehension, which is exactly what Murphy’s life has become over the past few years. After all, as our mysterious (and excessively tropey) mailman tells him. “Son, you still don’t get it. It doesn’t matter what you want.”

BUT WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON WITH THE VOID?
Good question. Honestly, while it’s certainly an interesting idea, the void chase sequences don’t work particularly well. It’s hard to understand exactly why it’s pursuing Murphy, which makes it hard to be properly afraid. The ideas behind the void are interesting, if not particularly clearly expressed. The void could represent many things: the lack of meaning in Murphy’s life following Charlie’s death, the way revenge consumes everything in its path, and the emptiness left in Murphy after getting his revenge, an emptiness that threatens to consume him. But a little clarification could have gone a long way toward making us understand why this void was so frightening and how it relates personally to Murphy. Ambiguity does not always equal depth.

What is very interesting is the fact that it’s possible to knock the caged monsters into the void’s path to buy Murphy time. This, at least, clearly calls back to the many innocents who were unintentionally but undeniably harmed by Murphy’s quest for revenge.

THE VILLAIN OF SOMEONE ELSE’S STORY
Not only is Murphy the Bogeyman of Cunningham’s story, but much of his Otherworld adventures revolve around art. Paintings must be rotated, a film must be completed (all right, technically that’s a sidequest, but bear with me), a play must be staged, and a poem must be found. This hearkens back to the fact that in many ways Murphy is just a bit player in other people’ stories. He acts out his small part in Sewell’s plan and Cunningham’s loss, but his own story is one of helplessness. Only by taking control and ending the cycle of revenge and violence (I’m only really going to talk about the A, B, and C endings, because the D ending makes no narrative sense whatsoever and I choose to pretend it does not exist) can he free himself and Anne from Silent Hill. Otherwise, he’s doomed to repeat the cycle again.

These stories within a story make plain how little control Murphy feels he has over his life. Perhaps the most quietly affecting moment comes when he enters a film silently depicting what happened to Charlie, reminding Murphy that his son’s story is over and done and though Murphy can relive it, he can never change it.

“DID YOU ENJOY THE RIDE, MURPHY?”
Murphy’s Otherworld is actually quite cohesive and well-designed. Despite the confusing ambiguity of the void, it’s easy to see how Murphy’s personal purgatory reflects his own fears, his fear that everything he’s done is pointless, his fear that he has no control over his life and never has, and his fear that he wasn’t strong enough to help the people he should have.

And that’s perhaps the most interesting part of Murphy’s character. In the endings that make sense, Murphy’s crimes turn out to be not crimes of action but of inaction. He failed to protect his son from Napier and he failed to protect Coleridge from Sewell. His guilt for this failure manifests as a complete loss of control, an inability to choose his own fate. This provides a strong narrative justification for the lighter and softer sidequests in the game, which shape Murphy’s morality far more gracefully than the rather heavy-handed Moral Decisions. Murphy must of course strive to end the cycle of violence in a big way, but he can also move toward personal redemption through these small acts of kindness, these small proofs that, yes, he can do the right thing and he needs to stop running to prove it.

[This is one point where the Moral Decisions are somewhat effective as they don’t really matter (Anne falls whether Murphy tries to help her or not and he can’t prevent JP’s suicide) until the final moment of the game, where his final choice either ends or begins again the cycle of revenge.]

This idea is best illustrated in the endless staircase he encounters in the first Otherworld segment. He can run up the stairs forever, but he won’t get anywhere. Only by turning around, facing the void and the rushing water, can Murphy escape the Otherworld. Only by facing the awful truth of what he did and failed to do, can he leave Silent Hill and have a chance at finding meaning in his life again. And again (no, I can’t stop harping on it), this makes him escaping from prison at the end very weird. If we had some indication of what he planned to do after escaping, it might work better, but as it is, it ends the game on a discordant note.

But regardless of its issues, Murphy’s Otherworld is absolutely unique and fitting, embodying his struggles and hinting at what he needs to do to move forward.

And that’s our first post on The Good In Silent Hill: Downpour! Follow-up posts will include Murphy’s gentler Silent Hill, some of the sidequests, and Anne Cunningham. Because shut up, I loved Anne Cunningham.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Women of Silent Hill: Angela Orosco

[content warning: discussion of rape, child abuse, and suicide]

LITTLE GIRL LOST
Of all the women in Silent Hill 2, Angela’s story is the most independent of James’. While James struggles with his conflicted feelings toward his dead wife (feelings that often present themselves in disturbingly violent and sexual ways), Angela struggles with the trauma and guilt she feels as a result of a lifetime of parental abuse. After murdering her abusive father (potentially in self-defense), she flees to Silent Hill to search for her absent mother.
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“Even Mama said it, I
deserved what happened.”

Angela’s story proves that Silent Hill is not about objective justice, but the psyche of the individual. It’s true that, like James and Eddie, Angela committed a crime (killing her abusive, rapist father), but Angela’s guilt extends beyond that. She is tortured by guilt not only for the killing but for the abuse itself, which her family made her believe was her fault. There is nothing objective about the punishment Angela inflicts on herself; it’s a miserable and tragic display of the scars abuse can leave on the mind and soul.

Angela is also hugely significant to the overall narrative of the game. She embodies the essential themes of undeserved suffering and guilt. Like James and Eddie, she committed a violent crime which leaves her tortured by self-loathing, but like Mary and Maria, she is also a victim of violence, her suffering beyond anything she could possibly deserve. Angela bridges the gap between the guilty and the innocent, showing the gray area in between as well as showing how even undeserved guilt can destroy a person.

And of course, Angela has a huge impact on James’ narrative. In order to get the “In Water” ending, in which James commits suicide by driving his car into Toluca Lake, James must, among other things, remain at low health for most of the game and repeatedly inspect Angela’s knife (which he believes she planned to use on herself). To achieve this ending, James must mimic Angela’s behavior, accepting suffering – because he believes himself deserving of it – and pondering death rather than striving for life. After all, what’s the point of running from death if life offers only further suffering?

And that is the arc of Angela’s heartbreaking story.

ANGEL CAST OUT OF HEAVEN
The association between Angela and the word “angel” is obvious, but it carries with it many implications. On the one hand, it suggests her relative innocence when compared to the other victims of Silent Hill’s machinations. On the other, it expresses the idea of a “fallen angel,” which could refer to both a loss of innocence (which happened much too soon in Angela’s life) and her defiance of her “Father,” an act which has unfairly damned her to hell. Finally, the name Angela means “messenger” and at several points in the game, Angela serves as a messenger to James, reminding him of his quest (“Aren’t you looking for someone?”) and forcing him to confront parts of himself he’d rather not (“You only care about yourself anyway! You disgusting pig!”)

It’s no surprise that Angela’s name lends itself to multiple interpretations as Angela herself is a fractured character, an idea that is suggested visually at several points during the game. In the apartment building, James finds Angela lying in front of a mirror and when she sits up, she and her reflection are shot dramatically side by side. Later, when Angela berates James after the Abstract Daddy fight, she casts a dark shadow on the wall behind her. The trauma Angela has endured has splintered her personality, causing her to snap violently between the fearful child still searching for her mother and the angry adult who has lost all hope.

Naturally, Angela’s two personalities interact with James in very different ways. The childlike persona is apologetic and fearful, liable to slipping back into childlike tones and vocabulary (“I’m looking for my mama – I mean, my mother”). Every conversation is punctuated by multiple “I’m sorry’s” and she shrinks from conflict. She wanders Silent Hill in a desperate search for her “mama,” but this craving for maternal love and protection is heartbreakingly futile. As the more mature Angela reveals near the end of the game, her mother blamed Angela for the abuse her father inflicted on her. It’s possible that this was the final truth Angela discovered on her journey through Silent Hill; it’s certainly horrible enough.

In contrast, her more mature personality aggressively challenges James. Like Laura, she forces him to reexamine what he really felt for Mary and the way he treated her. This Angela is also more explicit about what her father did to her. While her childlike persona just pleads and apologizes, the more mature Angela straightforwardly says that he father used to “beat [her] up” and “force [her],” the implications of which are painfully obvious. Unfortunately, though this personality is more clear-eyed and honest about her miserable circumstances (she switches from tearfully cringing from the Abstract Daddy to smashing a television set onto its back), she’s also cynical and death-seeking, utterly without hope, even the childish hope of being comforted by her mother.

BUT, MAN, HE HAD IT COMING
The foundation of Angela’s story is violence – the violence inflicted on her, the violence she has inflicted on others, and the violence she considers inflicting to herself. When James inquires about the knife she has with her in the apartment building, she asks him to take it, saying, “if I kept it, I’m not sure what I might do.” At this point, James and the player consider only the possibility that Angela might use the knife to hurt herself. However, later in the game, James discovers a newspaper article which reveals that Angela’s father, Thomas Orosco, was stabbed to death. Now Angela’s words have a double-meaning: if she kept the knife would she hurt herself, or would she hurt someone else? Obviously, it’s hard to feel anything other than a grim sense of justice-done when it comes to Thomas’ death, but it is tragic that Angela, clearly not a person predisposed to violence, was driven to kill him. The fact that she wants to give the knife to James despite her understandable terror of men speaks volumes of her desire to break the cycle of violence. Unfortunately, as discussed before, the abuse Angela endured has left her painfully fractured, her behavior unpredictable even to herself.

When James reaches for the offered knife, Angela screams and turns it on him, sobbing, “I’m sorry, I’ve been bad, please don’t!” She then sets the knife down on the table and walks from the room. Here again, we see the division within Angela: the Angela who wants to move on and stop the circle of violence and the Angela overwhelmed by rage and pain, who both shrinks from the risk of abuse and lashes out in order to prevent it.

And it must also be noted that she does in fact leave the knife behind, implying that at this point in the game, Angela is still fighting against her demons, resisting the urge to hurt herself or anyone else. Unfortunately, Angela still has much of her horrifying journey left to go.

HOME SWEET HOME
After taking Angela’s knife, James finds a torn photo on the floor. The photo shows a divided family, a mother and a baby girl on one side, and a father and older brother on the other. Of course, as we find out later, even Angela’s mother was never actually on her side, making this depressing image an almost hopeful delusion. Beside the knife, James finds the prisoner coin, which suggests that Angela is a prisoner of her past just as James is a prisoner of his. The game takes this idea further as the next time James and Angela will meet is within the underground prison, where he will also come face to face with her particular monster.

After finding the newspaper article describing Thomas Orosco’s murder, James hears Angela crying, “No, Daddy, please don’t!” He follows her cries to a disturbingly commonplace door for the bizarre setting and finds Angela cowering from the monstrous aspect of her father in a chamber that half living room and half phallic nightmare. Angela remains frozen in fear until the monster is knocked down. However, when James tries to help her up, she jerks away before viciously kicking the fallen Abstract Daddy and slamming a television set on to its back.

Then she turns on James, tearing into him and her father both for the heinous crimes they committed against those who depended on them. I’ll get into this exchange in more detail later, but this seems like as good a place as any to talk a bit about the Abstract Daddy monster.

ABSTRACT DADDY
The Abstract Daddy monster is easily the most disturbing monster in the game. Though there has been some debate over what it represents, in my eyes, its shape is disturbingly clear. The Abstract Daddy is a physical depiction of the horrific sexual abuse Angela suffered. The monster depicts two figures on a bed, the larger figure looming over the screaming smaller figure. If the horrifying imagery weren’t enough, Angela’s terror and rage – as well as what she says to James following the fight – seems to prove the intent. Angela’s father abused and raped her from the time she was a child and just as Pyramid Head was born from James’ lust, guilt, and self-loathing, Angela’s rage and guilt and terror at her father’s abuse created the Abstract Daddy.

And just as the fearsome Pyramid Head embodies aspects of James himself, the Abstract Daddy contains aspects of Angela. The Abstract Daddy does not only depict Thomas Orosco, it depicts Thomas Orosco in the act of assaulting and victimizing his daughter. And that’s what Angela most hates and fears. She hates her father for hurting her, but she also hates herself for being hurt and fears she will never stop being a victim. The most terrifying monster her mind can concoct is not just her father, but her father and herself permanently entwined in the act of abuse.

It seems Angela’s worst fear is that, even if she kills her father again and again, she will never escape the abuse he inflicted on her. She fears she will always be that frightened child, who was abused because –in her mind – she wasn’t strong enough to prevent it. When she kills the Abstract Daddy, she isn’t only trying to kill her father; she’s also trying to kill that part of herself. But just as murdering her father only drove her into a hell of her own making, beating down the Abstract Daddy seems to leave her only more miserable and disgusted with herself and the world.

[As a sidenote, Angela’s clothing also reveals her history of abuse. As with all of the women in the game, the way she chooses to dress tells a story. While Laura’s outfit is youthful and girlish, Mary’s modest nearly to the point of old-fashioned, and Maria’s aggressively sexual and eye-catching, Angela’s clothing is primarily defensive. She covers up completely from neck to foot and tends to hold her arms protectively in front of her. Angela lives in fear of being victimized again and who could blame her? But that fear and disgust at her own suffering leaves her trapped and hurting, unable to heal].

“THIS TOWN… THERE’S SOMETHING… WRONG WITH IT”
Perhaps as a side-effect of a lifetime of suffering, Angela has a greater understanding of Silent Hill than either James or Eddie. From the beginning, she recognizes the danger in Silent Hill and in her uncertain voice, she warns James to stay away. Interestingly, when he brushes her advice away, her response is “I’m not lying!” (a choice of words that immediately links her with Laura and childhood).

Moreover, even this early in the game, Angela seems to have some understanding of not just Silent Hill’s dangers but also its purpose. When James tells her that he’s lost, she replies, “Lost?” in what seems like an excessively incredulous tone. I mean, yeah, of course he’s lost. Look at this fog. Anyone would be lost.

But as the game goes on, it becomes clear that Angela knows they’re all in Silent Hill for a reason. And that being so, how could he be lost? After all, they’re all going to the same place, to the only place they deserve to go. And, furthermore, though Angela warns James about Silent Hill, she’s also the one to give him directions.

ANGELA:
It’s hard to see with all this fog, but there’s only the one road. You can’t miss it.

And for Angela, there really is only one road. One road into Silent Hill and no way out.

Angela, like Laura, also seems to have special insight into James’ character. This is first revealed when, after finding her again in the apartment, James tries to talk Angela out of hurting herself.

JAMES: I don’t know what you’re planning, but there’s always another way.
ANGELA: Really? But… you’re the same as me. It’s easier just to run. Besides, it’s what we deserve.
JAMES: No, I’m not like you!
ANGELA: Are you afraid?

Here, Angela calls James out on his reasons for being in Silent Hill while again displaying greater than average knowledge as to the purpose of the town. The question, “Are you afraid?” is especially poignant because James is afraid, afraid to face the truth of what he’s done and afraid to face himself. Angela, in contrast, spends most of this scene staring into a mirror – as James did in the very first cutscene of the game. But though Angela might stare herself dead in the eye, her view of herself remains distorted by guilt and self-loathing. Like James, she sees herself as monstrous. Only by overcoming that part of herself – the part that despises the victimized child she was – can she escape Silent Hill, but this challenge is even greater for Angela than it is for James, as she has been conditioned since childhood to blame herself for her pain. As she says to James here, it’s so much easier to run from the monsters within – and James certainly flees from his many times.

This scene is interesting in another way. Normally, James is the one confused and put off by the odd characters he meets in Silent Hill, but here he makes Angela uncomfortable. After telling her that his wife, who he claims to be searching for, has been dead for three years, he quickly adds, “Don’t worry, I’m not crazy. At least I don’t think so.”

Yeah, very reassuring, James.

Angela is understandably unsettled by this turn in the conversation and moves to leave. James offers to go with her to help protect her from the monsters, but Angela declines, saying she’ll be fine on her own (after what she’s gone through, no doubt a normal man like James seems just as dangerous as any monster). This is a sharp contrast to how James first interacts with Maria. At first, James seems nearly indifferent to Maria’s safety, not even considering bringing her along until she demands it, but here, he volunteers to accompany Angela.

Why the difference? Does James feel a subconscious distaste toward Maria because she was created by his own mind to tempt and torment him, or does Angela’s seemingly greater vulnerability tap into his desire to play the hero? If I had to guess, I’d say it’s some combination of the two, but regardless, Angela rejects him as he will later reject Maria. This rejection is important because it again forces us to reconsider the kind of person James is based on how other characters see him. At first, he seems to be a perfectly pleasant if potentially bland everyman, but Laura and Angela’s consistently less-than-positive reactions to him force the player to question that first impression.

In the prison, Angela’s attitude toward James shifts from wariness to outright hostility. After killing the monstrous version of her father (an act that brings her no more joy than the actual murder), she transfers her pent-up hatred to James. This scene has two layers. On the surface, we see how a lifetime of abuse has destroyed Angela’s ability to see any good in people, but on a deeper level, though Angela’s perception of James is clouded by what her father put her through, her accusations hit painfully close to home. After all, based on the sexual aggression exhibited by Pyramid Head as well as the smaller Abstract Daddies he can encounter later in the game, James himself fears that an abusive monster like Thomas Orosco may exist within himself.

ANGELA: You said your wife Mary was dead, right?
JAMES: Yes, she was ill.
ANGELA: Liar! I know about you, you didn’t want her around anymore! You probably found someone else!

And that’s how Angela spoiled the entirety of Silent Hill 2.

Yes, Mary was ill, but her illness wasn’t what killed her, and James has found someone else, Maria, the idealized woman he created to protect him from the knowledge that he has lost Mary forever. In the “Leave” ending, James even admits to the “true” Mary in his mind that he did want her out of the way, so he could have his life back. Of course, Mary herself doubts James’ interpretation of his motives and in the end, how true Angela’s accusations are depends on the player. Does James reject the false Mary and accept responsibility for his crimes? Or does he flee from his guilt, taking comfort in denial and proving that he really does “only care about himself.”

Adding further weight to Angela’s words is the fact that James can’t even summon a retort until she has already left the room. This delay makes his, “That’s ridiculous. I never…” sound weak and unconvincing. Like Laura, Angela sows doubt in the minds of James and the player, leaving them to wonder whether James is who he believes himself to be or whether he’s a monster in the same family as Angela’s vile father.

This dichotomy colors all of Angela and James’ interactions: the abused and the potential abuser meeting face to face, catching glimpses of each other’s personal purgatories.

STAIRWAY TO HELL
Just as Angela displays keen insight into James, James also gets peeks into Angela’s psyche. At several points in Silent Hill 2, James steps inside Angela’s purgatory – he finds a newspaper clipping about Thomas Orosco’s murder, he confronts the Abstract Daddy monster in that disturbing living room (and later meets those same monsters in his own Silent Hill), and speaks with Angela on the burning staircase that symbolizes that perpetual horror of her life. There is a clear kinship between the two characters, a kinship tainted by distrust and fear. Though Angela is definitely the protagonist of her own story, she also acts as another guide for James. While Mary’s memory leads James into Silent Hill to begin his journey of realization, Laura leads him out of town toward a new life, and Maria leads him back into denial, Angela leads James toward death.

Angela is connected with death from her very first appearance. Not only does James find her grave near Eddie’s in the underground prison, but he initially meets her in the graveyard outside of town. In the very first shot, we see her standing up from behind a gravestone, as if stepping out of the ground. And death dogs her narrative from then on. In the apartment building, James assumes she’s contemplating suicide and, in the prison, James finds out about her father’s death and watches Angela violently finish off the fallen Abstract Daddy. Finally, in one of the most heartrending scenes in the game, James steps inside Angela’s world for the last time as Angela finally stops running.

At the beginning of this scene, Angela, standing alone on a burning staircase, confuses James for her mother. Angela has now linked James with both of the two people who hurt her most, her father through outright abuse and her mother through the validation of Angela guilt and shame. It’s no coincidence that James is linked with two abusers right before he goes on to face the twin Pyramid Heads, the monsters that represent the twisted combination of violence, lust, and shame that exists within him.

Furthermore, Angela confusing James for her mother parallels James constantly mistaking Maria for Mary. And just as Maria is of no real use to James, James is of no real use to Angela. He can’t help her, he can’t love her, and he can’t save her. He knows it and she knows it. Interestingly, when speaking to James-as-Mother, Angela asks, “Why are you running away?” which is very similar to what she said to James in the apartments (“It’s easier just to run”). It’s possible that Angela hoped to do away with her mother just as she did her father (and potentially brother) and therefore rid herself of everyone who hurt her, ending with herself. So this question has two implications. One, that her journey through Silent Hill has worn her down to the point that she doesn’t want to run anymore and two, it reminds James that he’s spent the whole game running from his own truth and it’s time that he face it, come what may.

“Thank you for saving me,” Angela says after realizing her mistake, “but I wish you hadn’t. Even Mama said it, I deserved what happened.”

And this is what makes Angela’s story so important. Angela isn’t in Silent Hill because she deserves to be punished, she’s in Silent Hill because she believes she deserves to be punished. Not just for killing her father, but for being abused by him. Angela’s narrative is so tragic because she is perhaps the one person in Silent Hill most deserving of redemption and healing, but because she doesn’t believe she deserves it, she can’t attain it. In order to get his own second chance, James has to overcome the idea that he deserves to die. Angela can’t do that, haunted as she is by years of pain and shame, and so remains trapped in the flames (which interestingly, is the opposite of the element James uses to end his life in the “In Water” ending). Angela doesn’t believe she is worthy even of pity and she believes, quite rightly, that James isn’t capable of saving her. He may not even be capable of saving himself.

Angela also asks for her knife back (remember, this knife is tied completely to self-harm throughout the game; it can’t even be used as a weapon on the monsters), but James refuses. This interaction, like almost all interactions in Silent Hill 2, can be read in several different ways. Is he trying to help her the only way he can think of? Or is he just unwilling to shoulder the guilt of being party to her suicide? Or does he, as Angela says, want to keep it for himself? All of these interpretations are valid, depending on the course James has followed up to this point.

ANGELA: Saving it for yourself?
JAMES: Me? No, I’d never kill myself.

The tone of this exchange changes greatly depending on which ending James is headed towards. “Leave” ending? He speaks the truth; James won’t kill himself because, after facing his demons, he’s going to leave Silent Hill to start a new life. “Maria” ending? James also won’t kill himself, but he might very end up killing Maria in the future as he once again puts his hands over his ears and refuses to hear the truth. “In Water” ending? He’s in denial and the truth of Mary’s death (and the fact that he caused it) will drive him to suicide by the end of the game. After this ambiguous exchange, Angela turns away from James and begins to walk up the burning stairs.

JAMES: It’s hot as hell in here.
ANGELA: You see it too? For me, it’s always like this.

Again, James is given a glimpse into what it’s like to be Angela, what it’s like to live in a world of guilt and torment not just within the bounds of Silent Hill but always. Angela’s life is hell, and because she believes herself damned, she turns into the fire, going somewhere James can’t follow (as I mentioned before, in one ending James can commit suicide via water but James is repelled by Angela’s flames). James and Angela’s paths may have crossed and their self-imposed purgatories may have even blurred together at points, but where Angela goes now, she goes alone, willingly walking into hell as James goes, also alone, to face his own demons. Whether his final ending will mirror Angela’s remains to be seen.

Another interesting note: just as Angela’s manner of suicide mirrors James’, while James spends most of the game moving downward into the depths of his Silent Hill, Angela walks up into her hell. This, along with a mutual association with mirrors and their parallel but opposite roles (Angela, the brutalized child who might have killed in self-defense, and James, the potential abuser who might have killed for mercy), cements Angela and James as mirror images of each other, in some ways identical and in others completely opposed.

Finally, the “In Water” credits’ music is “Angel’s Thanatos.” Thanatos is the personification of death in Greek mythology and also the word for a (controversial) concept in psychology known as “the death drive,” which causes people to act in risky and self-destructive ways. This certainly captures Angela’s behavior throughout the game as well as the way James must behave in order to get the “In Water” ending. And obviously, the use of the word “angel” in the title cannot be accidental.

HONEY, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?
Angela is an utterly tragic character. She is a victim who has been conditioned to blame herself for her victimization and therefore remains trapped in her own personal hell, believing herself unworthy of redemption or salvation. Not only can she never escape the fearful child she once was but she also finds no joy in her maturity as age has given her only an unfocused anger coupled with increased self-loathing. Even killing those who hurt her gives her no peace but only fills her with more poisonous guilt that eats away at her from the inside.

Of all the characters in Silent Hill 2, Angela is the most clearly painted as a victim (though Mary, Maria, and even Eddie to an extent have elements of victimhood in their characters) – a victim of every manner of vile abuse and betrayal. By facing Angela and her incriminations, James is forced to confront the fact that he himself might be capable the kind of cruelty that creates tragedies like Angela’s, but Angela’s effect on James is secondary to her own heartbreaking journey, which ends so suddenly and so unfairly.

The final woman to be discussed in this series is Mary, James’ murdered wife. Mary is a challenge to talk about because she permeates the entire game, but except for a few letters we see nothing of her except for as she appears filtered through James’ unreliable memories and perceptions. More even than Maria, Mary is a ghost, but she haunts the entire game with both her presence and her absence.

 

The Women of Silent Hill 2: Maria, Part 2

[content warning: discussion of suicide and sexual themes]

THE SHADOW OF MEMORY
Throughout Silent Hill 2, Maria is torn between acting out the role for which she was created and struggling against it. Maria was “born” from James’ wish for an idealized Mary, a Mary who is alive, healthy, and sexually available. However, Maria doesn’t want to be Mary.  Again and again, she asserts her own identity, but by the end of the game, it’s heartbreakingly clear that she cannot escape the purpose for which she was created, not even by attempting to destroy her beloved creator.
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“When will you stop making that mistake?”

NOT ALL THAT GLITTERS
As with the deformed but well-endowed nurses, James’ myriad sexual issues are reflected in Maria’s appearance. Her clothes are tight and revealing, the colors and patterns bright to the point of garishness. They also don’t seem to fit quite comfortably, appearing less a conscious style choice and more an ill-fitting costume. Given Maria’s role as an idealized Mary, one has to wonder just how much of her presentation is a reflection of her personality and how much is a result of James’ repressed sexuality. It’s a disturbing question, but one that needs to be taken in to account when discussing Maria’s highly sexualized dress and behavior.

In many ways, Maria represents temptation. If, during the game, James focuses his attention on Maria rather than his lost wife, he leaves Silent Hill without having learned the lessons he needed to. In this way, Maria is Laura’s narrative opposite. While Laura is a very much real outsider who can lead James to truth, Maria is an unreal denizen of James’ tumultuous psyche who can lead him only deeper into self-deception.

As a result, Maria’s manner is also over-the-top seductive. “Feel how warm I am,” she says when she and James first meet, proving her reality by touching James and having him touch her. In the prison, she again asserts herself through touch, saying, “I’m real,” as she reaches out to him and implies further sexual rewards.

Maria is a Mary that James can feel free desiring and interacting with sexually. He himself says that Maria and Mary could be twins if not for Maria’s clothing and hair (which are notably “sexier” than Mary’s). In fact, it is Maria’s forwardness that prompts him to say, “You’re really not Mary,” drawing an early contrast between what James believes he wants – a healthy, more sexually appealing Mary – and what he’s really searching for – Mary before her illness, who wasn’t much like Maria at all. Years of sexual repression have twisted James’ desires into something flat and garish, which explains the pink jungle print miniskirt (apologies to any owners of similar jungle print miniskirts). However, despite drawing early distinctions between them, James continually confuses Mary and Maria in his mind.

And Maria hates this confusion, even as she herself falls victim to it.

THE YOU THAT ISN’T YOU
Maria doesn’t want to be Mary and yet she sometimes confuses the issue herself. She has memories that don’t belong to her; she cares about people she has no reason to care about (James and Laura). She attaches herself to James from the moment they meet and tells him later that she feels “it’s up to [her] to protect [Laura].” This makes sense for Mary who wanted to adopt Laura, but Maria has no reason to feel such strong responsibility toward a child she’s never met before.

Maria’s connection to Laura is especially interesting, because it is the only thing Maria shares with Mary that she probably didn’t get from James. Many of the similarities between them can be chocked up to James’ mind confusing the real Maria with his idealized version of her in Maria, but as far as we know, James knows nothing about Laura. He certainly doesn’t recognize her, though she clearly knows him immediately. This could be explained by him having repressed his knowledge of Laura along with the three years since Mary’s “death,” but it’s interesting nonetheless, especially because, as discussed in her post, Laura is deeply connected with truth. Therefore, Mary’s feelings for Laura are potentially the unreal Mary’s one true emotion that can’t be written off as something James subconsciously wants her to feel.

Overall, Maria’s personality is far less stable in the main game than in “Born From a Wish.” Even in the sub-scenario, she has knowledge she shouldn’t, but there is an essential Maria Personality that the player can get a hold of. She is lonely but determined and willing to take risks to help others. But by the beginning of the main game, the distinction between Mary and Maria has already started to break down. And the more they blur together, the more resentful of the comparisons Maria becomes.

The first time they meet, Maria takes James’ confusion lightly, even joking about whether she looks like a ghost (which becomes less funny when the player realizes that Maria really is a kind of ghost). Even more interestingly, she actually uses her similarity to Mary to influence James, saying, “I look like Mary, don’t I? You loved her, right?” Already it’s plain that Maria herself isn’t sure how she feels about being Mary’s double. Yes, she can use that fact to gain some affection from James, but it isn’t truly affection for her; it’s just leftover feelings for the dead woman she resembles. Perhaps realizing this, she asks in this same conversation if perhaps James hated Mary instead, risking angering him despite wanting his protection. So from the beginning, Maria is torn between wanting the affection that James shows her when he confuses her with Mary, but resenting that she cannot get that affection any other way.

A very similar exchange occurs after Maria and James reunite in the hospital. Again, James confuses her for Mary and is disappointed when he realizes who it actually is, saying only, “Anyway, I’m glad you’re alive.” This causes Maria to fly into a rage, desperate to assert her living self over the dead Mary in James’ concern. She then breaks down in tears, pleading with James not to leave her alone and sobbing that he’s “supposed to take care of [her].” This single conversation captures Maria’s complicated feelings toward James. She wants him to care for her, but she realizes he will only ever see the ghost of Mary in her face. This breaks her heart even as she slips further into Mary herself.

By the time James and Maria speak in the underground prison, even she seems to have lost track of who she is. During this conversation, she speaks in Mary’s cadences and references Mary’s memories. Here especially, the two women overlap in James’ perception. And still Maria resists the blending.

JAMES: Aren’t you Maria?
MARIA: I’m not your Mary.

And perhaps that’s the clearest answer she can give. Because she’s not Mary, but she’s not entirely Maria anymore either. She is both and neither and in some ways, no one at all. This is made even clearer when she tells James, “I am [Maria], if you want me to be,” because that’s the truth of it. Maria is who James wants her to be. She goes on to say that “it doesn’t matter who [she is]” as long as she’s there for James. Here again, she emphasizes that she is real. And she is – to a point. She is real as long as she’s there for James; she is real as long as James needs her to be real.

MARIA:
Don’t you want to touch me?
JAMES: I… don’t know.

And that’s the heart of the conflict. James doesn’t know whether he wants Maria or not. He spends most of their interactions torn between attraction and indifference. Maria herself seems to know that she can only entice James through her sexuality, which may not be within her control, and by playing on his love for Mary, which only reminds her that he will never love her for herself. In the end, Maria’s personality is dependent on how James’ perceives her and her body is a tool to further his development.

THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD
Maria’s body is not just an object of temptation for James, it is also a bloody reminder of his guilt. Both within the game’s narrative and the narrative constructed within Silent Hill by James’ disturbed mind, Maria is a woman in a refrigerator, a plot device personified, doomed to die for James’ emotional development.

In the hospital, Maria is taken out of commission for a long while. She is left lying on a hospital bed, her seductive pose distorted by the setting and her persistent cough. In James’ mind, however, there is a clear connection between sex and death. One result of Mary’s illness was his sexual repression, and we can see that plainly displayed here: Maria reclining invitingly on a hospital bed even as she fights wracking coughs. Maria’s many deaths are also sexualized. Not only is she repeatedly cut down by James’ particular monster (the hyper-masculine, hyper-physically-and-sexually aggressive representation of James’ self-loathing), but she is also always stabbed, first by Pyramid’s Head massively oversized knife and later by his spear.

It should also be noted that Maria is always stabbed in the back, perhaps symbolizing James’ betrayal of both Mary and Maria. James betrayed Mary by murdering her in her bed and Maria is betrayed by her very existence, a woman created to love and suffer for her creator until he finds the strength to reject her in favor of the true source of his grief. This is best illustrated when, after finding that Maria has been killed again in the prison, James’ last murmured word of grief is, “Mary.”

Yes, Maria’s death is significant only in what it represents. Even when her third death gives James the knowledge he needs to fight back against his demons, the realization comes too late to save Maria from the slaughter – quite right too, because Maria isn’t meant to be saved. She’s meant to be overcome.

Even in the “Maria” ending, the one ending in which Maria technically gets what she wants, she’s still doomed to die. As she leaves Silent Hill with James, Maria begins to cough, implying that Mary’s illness is now taking hold of her double. And even in this ending, James doesn’t truly love Maria; he’s just clinging to her in order to avoid facing up to what he did to Mary and why. And because of his cowardice, Maria is doomed to die from the same illness that destroyed Mary – that is if James doesn’t get rid of her first.

So even Maria’s “happy ending” is only the prelude to a tragedy. Worse, the tragedy isn’t even hers but James’. And on some level, Maria appears to understand and resent this unfairness. Maria’s feelings for James are a volatile mix of love and rage that drive her, in most endings, to become Silent Hill 2‘s final monster.

[As an interesting side note before we move into the endings, there is some undeniable crucifixion imagery in the Mary/Maria monster, which seems to – in every ending except the “Maria Ending,” of course – add weight to the idea that Maria is a sacrifice to James’ emotional journey]

THE FINAL SACRIFICE
In each of the endings, James argues with Maria, who at this point has gone so far as to wear Mary’s clothes and hair style. These conversations all vary slightly, but they share a general theme: Maria offers herself to James and is rejected.

Let’s begin with the “Rebirth” ending because it’s the least canon of the ones under discussion. Interestingly, this is the only ending in which James does not accidentally refer to Maria as “Mary” when he first sees her. Perhaps because James is already planning to revive the real Mary, the line between her and Maria is now clearer in his mind. In this ending, the crux of Maria’s argument is that Mary is dead and never coming back. This is interesting both because of what James plans to do and because Maria, of all people, should understand that death in Silent Hill is hardly final. In general, however, the Maria in this ending is less aggressive and more heartbroken than most.

MARIA: Why don’t you want me?
JAMES:  Because you’re not Mary.

Maria’s final lines (“you must be joking”) condemn the dangerous path James is heading down, but she cannot stop him. In this ending, James first causes death, then seeks to gain dominion over it by reviving his wife. He therefore gains great power – but only by giving in to Silent Hill.

In the “In Water” ending, a more somber James tells Maria outright that the problem is that she isn’t Mary, not truly, and that it’s Mary he wants but can’t have. This prompts Maria to declare that she will never let him have Mary back. And she’s right, James can’t have Mary back – except in death, which he seeks out after destroying this final monster.

In both “Rebirth” and “In Water,” Maria stands between James and a reunion with Mary, a reunion achieved either through necromancy or suicide. Though throughout the game, the line between Mary and Maria has blurred in James’ mind, here she has become entirely the False Mary, the final obstacle he must overcome to reach the real thing.

It is interesting to note that her final lines in this ending are, “I’ll never let you have your Mary back,” rather than something like, “I won’t let her have you!” The focus here isn’t on keeping James for herself, but instead on keeping him away from Mary. After all, even in death, he might be “going to a different place than Mary.” No matter how James strives, Mary is forever out of his reach – and it’s his fault. Even if he destroys Maria, he will never truly regain what he has lost. And that again, is what makes these endings a middle ground between the outright rejection of the “Maria” ending and the complete acceptance and understanding of the “Leave” ending.

Unsurprisingly, the “Leave Ending” is slightly different. In this ending, Maria responds to James’ “Mary?” with “When will you stop making that mistake?” and then tells him that he should choose her because,“[she’s] different from Mary.” In this ending, more than the others, Maria aggressively asserts her identity. This makes sense because, in this ending, her not-Maryness isn’t really the problem.

In both “Rebirth” and “In Water,” James has accepted the truth, but can’t bring himself to move on. He wants Mary back and he will get to her by any means necessary. But in the “Leave Ending,” James is prepared to return to his life. That being the case, the problem with this Maria isn’t that she isn’t Mary, it’s that she isn’t real. She’s part of the nightmare James wants to escape. It therefore comes as no surprise that Maria’s last lines here are, “You deserve to die too, James!” Because that feeling of deserving to die is what James has to overcome if he is to walk away from Silent Hill. In order to get the “Leave” ending, James has to want to live. So here Maria stands not between James and Mary, but James and life.

From Maria’s point-of-view, it’s possible to read these final lines in a few different ways. They could simply represent James’ psyche speaking to itself, the monstrous vestiges of his suicidal urges. They could also simply be the words of a woman-scorned: if Maria can’t have him, no one can! Or then again, perhaps they aren’t the words of a spurned lover, but rather those of a Frankenstein’s monster rebelling against her creator. Perhaps the “too” refers not just to the murdered Mary, but to Maria herself. Maria has died several times after all and maybe it’s James’ turn to pay for what his twisted mind has done to her.

In the end, however, Maria remains doomed by her creation. She isn’t the game’s final antagonist because of anything she chose, but because of what she represents: the remnants of James’ self-deception and inability to accept responsibility. Maria serves as a mouthpiece for James’ own demons and insecurities, which he must defeat if he is ever to heal. Just like her ghostly friend Ernest Baldwin, by the end of the game, Maria is little more than an empty room, filled up by the memories and desires of another.

And when the door of truth is flung wide, even those memories vanish like empty air.

(Speaking of characters who break my heart, the next post will focus on one who doesn’t just break mine but actually crushes it to fine powder: Angela Orosco)