Silent Hill 2: psychological analysis
If there is a video game that features unparalleled narrative intelligence and that for years, as well as today, has remained in many minds, it is surely Silent Hill 2.
Labeled as survival horror, SH2 was released in 2001 on Play Station 2, Xbox and Microsoft Windows, immediately confirming itself as an epochal success: just one month after its launch on the market, one million copies were sold.
SH2 is part of a videoulic trend that in those years received an enormous consensus from the public: in 1998 Resident Evil 2 had marked the entire history of video games, establishing itself as a symbol of the genre itself and of the "Play Station Generation", as well as to have immediately entered the collective imagination of his time.
Both RE2 and SH2 therefore fall within the same serialized vein but differ in one fundamental aspect: the first follows the horror genre based on monsters as an end in themselves to be fought and annihilated, the second transcends the notion of video game, probes the subconscious (of which monsters are a vivid and palpable metaphor) with a Jungian cathartic effect and contradict the player's perception of the world and of himself.
The plot of SH2 revolves around James Sunderland, who arrives in Silent Hill after receiving a letter from Mary, his wife who died three years earlier. Once in the left of the city, he meets numerous characters (human and otherwise) until he reaches the truth that he is behind the mysterious letter and himself.
As it is easy to guess, in SH2 nothing is left to chance. The influences are multiple and bearers of deep meanings as well as drawing and having references also in mass culture, starting with the main characters.
James Sunderland is a 29-year-old employee.
His name derives from Joseph, aka Joseph Barnett, suspected of being serial killer Jack the Ripper.
Mary Shepherd, housewife and wife of James who "officially" died at 25 of a rare and incurable disease. Before she died, she visited Silent Hill with her husband.
Her name derives from Mary Jane Kelly, Irish prostitute, former girlfriend and roommate of Joseph Barnett, allegedly Jack the Ripper, as well as being a victim of her.
Maria is a girl who works as a stripper at Silent Hill's Heaven's Night.
Her appearance is identical to Mary's, while her character and attire are totally different. This dual contrast suggests Mary's possible personality disorder on the one hand and her opposite of her as a woman.
Maria has a butterfly-shaped tattoo on her belly: in Japanese popular beliefs the butterfly carries the souls of the dead or more simply represents them. Its symbolic meaning is also that of the girl in love or, more generally, an expression of the female gender.
Maria's face was inspired by actress Cameron Diaz in The Mask (1994), while the clothing is a reference to that worn by Christina Aguilera at the 1999 live at the Teen Choise Awards.
Angela Orosco is a mentally unstable young woman who ran away from home due to her father's abuse. She comes to Silent Hill to look for her mother.
Her name alludes to the protagonist of The Net (1995).
Eddie Dombrowski is a bullied and violent boy.
Laura is an 8 year old girl who met Mary in the hospital. Orphan, she sees Mary as her mother and Mary understands her as an adopted daughter: in this sense Laura represents the woman's failed motherhood.
Her character is inspired by the protagonist of Richard D'Ambrosio's No Language But A Cry (1970), a little girl in search of happiness to overcome the traumas of abuse.
Ernest Baldwin is a man who lives confined to Silent Hill and who plans an esoteric ritual to bring back to life his daughter Amy, who disappeared at the age of 6. The most accepted theory is that he is a ghost.
If the main characters reveal a glimpse of the United States of small towns, the monsters that often appear over and over again in the town of Silent Hill are the projection of the protagonists' sub-conscious. They move in a convulsive and jerky way, they are intentionally loaded with "erotic essence"; a choice dictated by the desire to add a masochistic status to a game already saturated with psycho-sexual nuances.
Patient Demon or Lying Creature: its shapes are reminiscent of an asylum patient with a straitjacket made of flesh. He hits James by spraying an acidic liquid.
It represents the suffering of the protagonist.
Mannequin: monster with feminine features, headless and with a pair of legs instead of the upper limbs.
It represents James' sexual desires and the destruction of innocence: it is no coincidence that two Mannequins are shown as victims of sexual abuse by Pyramid Head.
Although Masahiro Ito (the artist who designed Silent Hill) has claimed to be inspired by Japanese folklore, in reality it would seem that the Mannequins are an obvious reference to the plaster and papier mache dolls of the German artist Hans Bellmer. The latter's subversive work has been the subject of criticism in the art world: synonymous with erotic manipulation, dolls explore sadistic and masochistic instincts to bring the viewer's ego to face its own fragmentation and disintegration.
Giant Roach or Creeper: Huge monster in the shape of a greenish cockroach.
Underhanger or Mandarin: monstrous creature hanging under the floor.
It represents James' anguish and is therefore confined underground.
The Prisoner: impossible to see him directly, his presence is perceived by pointing the weapon towards the cells, from where a lament comes. However, it is possible to kill him: if you shoot towards his position, a bloodstain will appear on the floor.
Doorman or Abstract Daddy: Door-like creature with human prominences.
It would be generated from the mind of Angela Orosco.
Nurse Demon or Bubble Head Nurse: Faceless creature with the appearance of a nurse, armed with an iron rod.
It is a reference to Mary's hospital stay, it also represents James's sexual frustration and is certainly one of the monsters that have remained most impressed in the collective imagination of Silent Hill users. Also present in the other chapters of the series (also as a character in the story, as shown in the first chapter by Lisa Garland, a clear reference to the nurse from The Exorcist III), here it is partly inspired by the film Jacob's Ladder (1990).
The character of the nurse is actually a theme very present in the history of cinema and in mass culture. In 2003 (a few years after the release of SH2, therefore) Kill Bill made this figure extremely iconic through the character Elle Driver.
Marc Jacobs then asked Richard Prince to collaborate on Louis Vuitton's SS 2008 collection. The artist, among the many works of him, is known in the art world for having recovered the covers of American economic novels (pulp romance) and having them scanned and brought back on canvas, personalizing them with acrylic colors.
In 2005 the canvases had also become an object of interest for the world of music, so much so that they appeared on the cover of the Sonic Youth album Sonic nurse (2004).
The sub-conscious of the characters is revealed in an even more dark and monstrous way through the bosses that follow one another throughout the game:
Pyramid Head: SH2 main boss. He attacks with a large knife or a pike and has human features with a huge pyramid on his head that hides his face - Masahiro Ito, a great tank enthusiast of the Second World War, was inspired by the lower hull of a German tank, the panzer King Tiger.
Pyramid Head represents James' double: his brutal sexual desire and at the same time his sexual frustration towards Mary during her hospitalization - not surprisingly, the monster is shown during a rape of two Mannequins. It also represents James's sense of guilt, appearing several times throughout the game as an "eternal return" of what the protagonist has committed.
The duality of James and Pyramid Head is also found in the balance of complementary colors that characterize the graphics of the game: green (James: his eyes and his jacket, for example) and red (Pyramid Head).
Mary: demonic form of the deceased woman, disfigured and locked up in a bed, as in a cell.
The theme of the bars is recurring in Silent Hill 2, famous is in fact the scene in which Maria talks with James (in what seems almost a psychological session) in a room that looks like a prison cell.
The creators of Silent Hill were largely inspired by Francis Bacon's painting, where grotesquely warped, blurry and distorted figures are enclosed in lines and squares that establish perspective and delimit space just like the bars of a cell.
The cell in Silent Hill 2 is both the one in which Mary is confined (the hospital room and bed), and the metaphorical one in which James's mind escapes the guilt.
Another artist to whom the Team Silent has been largely inspired is the American photographer Joel-Peter Witkin: drawing on mythology, literature and classical art, he has created transgressive and complex tableaux, inclusive of countless medical oddities. His work is a continuous discussion of decency, normality and beauty.
One of the most famous representations that refer to his work is certainly the SS 2001 collection entitled Voss by Alexander McQueen, where the disturbing protagonist of Sanitarium (a work of 1985) appears from the shattered glass of a cell, among butterflies.
All design, the video game is disturbing, deteriorated and is proposed as the projection of the human psyche: as the latter and the encounters between the protagonists change, the environment and the course of events change (there are in fact six alternative endings).
The setting is industrialized and confused, made extremely claustrophobic and anxious by the omnipresent fog and trademark of the series. Just the fog is inspired by the novel The fog taken from the novel Skeletons (1985) by Stephen King and The fog (1990) by John Carpenter.
The soundtrack, created by Akira Yamaoka, is melancholy and poignant, enriched with alienating metal rock and industrial songs - he claimed to have been influenced by Midge Ure's New Wave, German techno, Metallica, Depeche Mode and Angelo Badalamenti. Everything is interspersed with the white crackle of the radio announcing the presence of monsters or with deep silences, placed ad hoc after moments of strong climax.
Everything is steeped in taboos, trauma, abuse, repression and guilt, universal concerns about sex and death: the plot is elaborate and full of twists, strongly inspired by the novel Crime and Punishment (1866) by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
SH2's horror collects from American cinematography through a series of quotes, such as the scream and the way James holds up the chainsaw, a clear reference to Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).
But the director who most influenced SH2 is David Lynch. The double of the Maria-Mary characters is clearly inspired by the character played by Patricia Arquette in Lost highways (1997), just as the walk-in closet scene is a blatant reference to Blue Velvet (1986).
Silent Hill and the work of David Lynch have numerous topoi in common: metaphorical and aesthetic spaces, isolation, marginalization but above all the rot beneath the surface of small American cities. Silent Hill is a seemingly normal place, an ideal place for tourism and a symbol of the "American way of life", the map of the city shows the typical ordinariness of the provincial town .. At the same time, however, it is home to unspeakable secrets - just like Twin Peaks.
The United States is a vast territory and boasts a myriad of isolated territories and centers that were once inhabited and then abandoned due to natural disasters or epidemics. In American literature and cinema since the 1960s, the ghost town is the metaphor of modern America born of hatred and violence, the deformed mirror of normality that highlights the unspoken and ambiguities.
The town of Silent Hill is set in Maine near the fictional Toluca Lake. It is based in San Bruno, California.
In reality, in the USA there is a city that seems to have all the characteristics of Silent Hill, namely Centralia, a semi-abandoned town in Pennsylvania. This town commune in 1962 was the scene of a terrible fire caused, apparently, by some volunteers of the firefighters who had the task of burning waste in the vicinity of an abandoned coal mine. The fire reached the anthracite-rich subsoil through old open tunnels, becoming a devastating fire that also caused deep chasms in the ground. The air soon became unbreathable and toxic to carbon monoxide and within twenty years the town was almost totally evacuated (in 2013 there were about ten inhabitants, willing to continue living there despite the conditions).
To date, the underground fire is still ongoing and it is estimated that the city will not be habitable for at least 250 years.