SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t played Silent Hill this post will not make any sense and will most likely be very boring. Frankly I’m not sure why you clicked on it. Spoilers, y’all.
Silent Hill- why is it so popular and why do people spend unhealthy amounts of time theorizing about things that we’re never part of the original games? Sometimes I feel silly writing about the subtle nuances of a video game universe… then I remember I’m on the internet. All systems GO!
There are fans who like to focus more on the cult aspects of the story, whereas as others see the cult as a symptom of a larger issue. I fall into the latter category. In fact, I actually prefer to ignore the cult business as much as possible as I really felt Silent Hill didn’t hit it’s stride until Silent Hill 2. A game in which the cult is mercifully absent. So here is my interpretation of Silent Hill- don’t like it? Get your own damn website.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…
There are allusions in the series of a nebulous force that pervades the area. This indicates that Silent Hill isn’t in and of itself evil by nature. But only a place of unprecedented psychic energy…
Native Americans conduct mysterious and religious rituals here. The land is valued as a sacred place to the Natives. They revered the town as “The Place of the Silent Spirits”. The land is known as a holy place and seems to possess a mysterious power. – The Book of Memories.
The idea that the Native Americans practiced rituals there also supports the theory of it being a more neutral power. Like a base that one must add intention to in order to render it good or evil. Further history includes the Natives being removed from the area for white European settlement. And this is where things start to go a little batshit. The area is repopulated with a culture completely ignorant of the town’s abilities.
[I'd like to note: I sense some stereotyping about the corrupted Europeans that usurp the good and altruistic natives that of course never ever did anything wrong and are totally peace-loving tree spirits crapola. But that gets into privilege, white guilt, and other topics entirely.]
One of the reasons Silent Hill is such a powerful idea is because it’s very old and represents something intrinsically frightening to just about everyone on Earth. Namely, Judgement. Entering Silent Hill is like looking into a mirror that shows you your true self in agonizing detail. You are set on the scales of judgement and must face all your inner demons brought to life. But I would argue that this not a sentient entity, but a reaction to a stimuli. James is a murderer, but he also hates himself for it. He’s drawn to the town because he knows on some subconscious level the town will make him face what he has done. It will make him suffer because he feels it’s what he deserves. Angela Orosco even says so implicitly.
Silent Hill was inspired heavily by the 1990 movie Jacob’s Ladder which involved a man coming to terms with his fate. This particular quote from the film is very telling,
The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won’t let go of life, your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away. But they’re not punishing you”, he said. “They’re freeing your soul. So, if you’re frightened of dying and… you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. – Jacob’s Ladder
Although it’s not exact, there are a lot of parallels between the two narratives. Both men are hiding from some truth they refuse to face. And an outside power forces them to face their demons who manifest themselves physically. We also see that relatively innocent characters are left alone and don’t experience the violent nature of the town. Case in point: Laura. Laura is… well, she’s a brat. But she too young to feel guilty about it. Laura is consistently confused by James and Eddie’s concern over her wandering around alone. Because she doesn’t experience any of the town’s judgement. It’s as if the negative emotions of those dealing with severe guilt serves as a bee sting to Silent Hill, and the surge of violent psychic energy is a form of anaphylaxis. The area swells with power depending on the particular “poison” that’s been introduced.
The idea that the power is neutral is a little problematic. This point on it’s own would infer that someone who is just and righteous might step into Silent Hill and it would suddenly be raining teddy bears and kittens. That’s not what I’m saying. It may be that the presence of the evil cult has permanently tainted the town’s energy, that the once neutral force is too heavy with the stench of sacrifice and sin to ever be used for good ever again. It could be that the town is highly conductive to negative energy and not so much to others. But I think the most important thing to remember is that the details don’t really matter. The town is only a symbol, a means to an end to make the protagonist face themselves head on.
In conclusion, Silent Hill is cool and I don’t know how to end things.