Once we leave the men’s toilet another cutscene begins. In the background, a vista of Silent Hill. The bathroom is parallel to a car park, within which James has secured presumably a nondescript light-blue sedan. Small in the frame, our protagonist leans against a short wall and gazes out over the town, our villain. Mary, in voiceover, begins to read her letter:
In my restless dreams, I see that place: Silent Hill.
You promised you’d take me there again some day
But you never did
Well, I’m alone there now…
In our “special place”…
Waiting for you…
James’ narration, which follows immediately after Mary’s, is a concession to narrative clarity. Unnecessarily, considering what we’ve learned already from his personal items, he describes both receiving Mary’s letter and that she died from “that damn disease.” Only his last few sentences, wherein he supposes what Mary could have meant by “special place” are important:
“This whole town was our special place…could she mean the park by the lake?”
Mary and James having previously visited Silent Hill becomes straightforwardly important later on; the places in town they favoured together –- the park, a hotel –- serve as objectives and “levels” and add structure and purpose to James’ exploration. We need to know they’ve been here before so we know also why we’re looking in these places. But given the state of Silent Hill as we encounter it in the game, haunted, sentient, existing beyond the rules of spatial possibility, etc., it makes me speculate precisely what the place was like when Mary and James went before the game started. Silent Hill franchise lore, to which successive game studios have added successive volumes, attempting to consolidate a successively dissolute family of stories and characters into something that passes for more like a deliberate and holistic original vision –- to modulate all the disparate sequels, prequels, spin-offs and remakes into the apparently always-intended, flawlessly planned chapters of an ongoing, single epic fiction, exactingly delivered over thirteen years, from Silent Hill in 1999, to Silent Hill: Book of Memories in 2012 –- dictates that the town, if/when visited without much guilt or psychiatric burden, appears pretty much as a normal town, providing the simplest explanation for how Mary and James could have honeymooned there: they were both fine at that time, and the town concordantly behaved. Laura, the little girl we meet later in Silent Hill 2, who skips and plays and acts completely oblivious to the horrifying visage of the town which James perceives constantly, seems to prove out this loric clause. A child, innocent of life experience and its attendant psychological or emotional conditions, nothing within her Silent Hill can use to arm itself –- Mary and James, when younger and first married, were arguably similarly hurtless, not completely pure or naïve, but sufficiently so the town left them alone, and when they went there it was normal.
But although that’s the clearest explanation for Silent Hill’s binary and malleative nature, Laura’s character if you ask me contradicts rather than qualifies it. While it’s true that she’s left alone by the town, implying that it only “works” on people it deems suitably adulterated and guilty, it’s questionable, the nature of her being there in the first place. She doesn’t see monsters, but she doesn’t see anything else either. The only people with whom Laura interacts are James and the other personae dramatis who collide as part of his redemptory adventure. Silent Hill isn’t horrible or supernatural to Laura in the way it is to James et al, but it’s certainly not a normal town either. The official explanation for her being there is that she met Mary when Mary was in hospital and that just before Mary died Mary sent her a letter saying she was going somewhere “high up” and “peaceful”, meaning Heaven but which Laura misinterpreted as meaning the town, and that she escaped from the orphanage she was living at to go and see her erstwhile friend in Silent Hill — a later cutscene shows Laura bickering with Eddie outside a parked van while he cluelessly scrutinises a map, implying she may have been picked up by him and hitchhiked her way to the town. She plays such a fundamental and exquisite role in James’ torment, though, that Laura’s magnetism to Silent Hill and experience at it becomes difficult to explain as largely coincidental. Rather than attracting or accepting various people for various reasons, the town seems to select individuals with complementary or more like mismated, antonymous personalities in order to like gravity and the cosmos crush and compact them together until something new explodes to life, in this instance a potentially redeemed and more conscious James. The nature of the town may be subjective but each interloper’s subjective affliction is designed to deepen, possibly also clarify and help to resolve, everyone else’s. What Laura doesn’t see encourages her to behave in a way that forces James to see something else which resultant behaviour affects what Eddie sees and so on and so on: everyone in Silent Hill is whether they realise it or not communicating and cooperating. Laura seeing nothing — and Eddie seeing people who constantly bully him and Angela seeing flames and the apparition of her father — forces James to realise that what he is seeing is exclusive to him, in turn forcing him to confront the fact that there is something he’s done exclusively to motivate the town to react to him the way it does, which realisation leads him ultimately to either make peace or die trying with the reality he killed his wife. I’m not sure whether this process is optimistic, insofar as it implies that people can “help” one another to become better, or incredibly tragic, very painfully and totally misanthropic and wounded by life, insofar as it implies the agony of other people is worth being embroiled in only so much as the being embroiled can be useful towards the resolution of your own agony. I’ve gotten involved deliberately with people because they’ve needed help and I’ve wanted to help them in order to make myself feel better about myself being that kind of person. Especially in relationships and for sex I’ve sought out the scarred and bitter planning that they are most likely to feel an obligation to listen, and understand, and sort of through our shared unhappiness enable me to feel more like I am seeing their and mine and everyone’s souls for what they truly are, that I have established some deeper connection to emotional truth, a keener sense of the edges of reality that most people commonly prefer to ignore or don’t even know exist, and thus am a man of more considerable insight, credibility and brutal kind of romance. I’ve given to charity just so I could tell everyone about it. But I think surely we all do that, don’t we?