As the game starts, James has already made his journey to the outskirts of Silent Hill and, having gotten out of his car to stretch his legs, is standing inside a men’s toilet –- the foreground in the initial shots of the opening cutscene shows us urinals. The very first shot, however, is of James’ face reflected in a mirror. Silent Hill 2 is about introspection; in both the spiritual (sadness, guilt, anger, cowardice) and literal (guts, blood, germs, disease) senses, its about what’s inside people. Set in a town which takes what’s inside and transfigures it into living reflections, and following a character both driven and cowed by his own past, as an opening shot, James looking at himself provides the foundations for Silent Hill 2’s story and symbolism. There’s something wrong with James, something that he’s done that he can’t reconcile and that he’s trying to work out. But the same personal interest fueling his search for answers is arguably what caused him to kill his wife and create, as it were, the questions for himself in the first place. When he looks in the mirror, it’s out of searching and inner unease, but also fascination. As much as it tortures and threatens to destroy him, the physical town of Silent Hill, as he explores it, is subordinate to and fluctuative around James’ –- albeit subconscious –- personality. Everything in it is a reflection of everything in him. Only in context of the rest of the game, but this opening shot suggests what will become something central to James’ character, that he hates himself and but also pays himself and his hating of himself a lot of attention. Masturbation is one of Silent Hill 2’s motifs.
Via the mirror James is split into two versions of himself, the real — the back of his head and shoulders in the foreground — and the reflected — his face in the background. The fact Silent Hill 2 is a sequel made me initially apprehensive to write this book; it feels unfair, insufficient, to write about this game without first exploring in equitable depth the, especially aesthetic, groundwork laid by its predecessor. I still feel this way. But considering James and the mirror, and the fact ‘duality of nature’ becomes Silent Hill 2’s predominating both narrative and visual theme — James as victim/James as killer; Eddie as comedy/Eddie as horror; Mary as wife/Maria as mistress; the town as ‘day’/the town as nightmare — the titular ‘2’ becomes an accidental, alliterative kind of rhyme, referencing concisely the game’s theme of duplexity. I think of it basically as missing a colon. Silent Hill: 2.
James’ first word, and the first word of the game, spoken into the mirror, is “Mary.” Mary’s at the centre of James’ story. Her letter suggests she might be alive and James naturally is impelled to find her. He begins the game as the archetypal male (especially videogame male) hero, questing after his woman either because she’s helpless and needs rescuing, a la Mario and Peach, Snake and Meryl, Leon and Ashley, or because, as is more common in the contemporary game canon (see Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us, John and Abigail in Red Dead Redemption, Nathan and Elena in Uncharted), procuring her will resolve and cure some hitherto consumptive psychological torment of his, the woman as simple nostrum for whatever ails the more complicated man. Notable though is the fact that Mary is dead, already dead at the start of the game, and therefore unavailable for rescue. She is also dead in a way which precludes James embarking on the standard revenge mission, since because he killed her, there is nobody for James to take revenge on, undermining, actually subverting the fairy tale/action film/videogame male heroic arc whereby even a dead woman is still used for the recovery of the man’s honour. James saying “Mary” as the first thing he says becomes ironic: he’s obsessed and driven by saving her, but she isn’t there for him to save, nor is there anyone to save her from, not even himself since she’s dead already. At some level, he knows she’s gone and that he did it, but uses their love as basis for a personal, ongoing tragedy, one that both protects him from guilt and — going back to the idea of masturbation; fitting the game should open in a men’s bathroom, the masturbational act’s natural stadium — allow him to remain the centre of his own attention. James comes to Silent Hill for Mary, but also comes to Silent Hill for Mary for himself. As he says her name, he is still looking in the mirror.
We’ll also notice James’ clothing. Woodland green and covered in patches, his jacket resembles one that might form part of a soldier’s dress uniform. This, too, is an ironising of the typical game hero, in fact, the typical man, on the outside strong, driven and clear in thought — think of the simplicity and singularity of purpose denoted by the appellations like “grunt” and “jarhead”; a soldier has orders and conventionally executes them without consideration — while on the inside as emotionally confused, hurt, afraid and fucked up as the histrionic female stereotype that a man might derisively deploy. Whispering military, and especially contrasted with his full, blonde hair and soft, effete voice, James’ jacket betrays not only a duality but also an hypocrisy of nature, a man trying to be something he’s not — something no-one is. With one final shot, and just before this introductory cutscene concludes, the camera, such as it can be called, scrutinises James from the toilet’s middle distance. He becomes blurry. The camera is on its side, and twists slowly around before James is brought into focus and viewed the right way up. Quite literally, when at the start of Silent Hill 2, we are not seeing our character straight.