[Please be aware that this article contains extensive spoilers for Silent Hill 2. It's also a work of the writer's opinions and are no way official explanations of the events that take place in the game.]
My fellow writer Joshua Hugo and I have teamed up to piece together a character analysis of the game’s protagonist, James Sunderland, to lobby whether he is a merciful or monstrous man stemming from his murderous actions prior to the events of the game itself. He ended the life of his sick wife, Mary, but did he act to end her suffering… or his own?
James Sunderland, the main protagonist of Silent Hill 2, has been the center of a controversy since the game’s release in 2001. We’ve been debating whether he’s a merciful, caring man or if he’s really a selfish, monstrous one. As the murderer of his sick and dying wife, Mary, it would seem easy to say he’s an awful person, but there’s a lot more to it (unsurprising considering how deep and involving Silent Hill is known to be).
Take a moment to imagine how hard it would be to watch the love of your life descend into sickness and madness. He had to endure the grief of seeing her suffer and how cruel she had become. She was becoming colder and meaner to those around her and James got the worst of it- to the point where he had to avoid visiting her. We all have our limits and I believe he definitely met the end of the road for his ability to cope with the situation.
Yes, it’s true James did have a growing resentment towards Mary; he was the focus of her rage and the he was lacking in sexual satisfaction since she’d fallen ill, but it’s also made clear he was also deeply tormented by her suffering. He was in a constant state of emotional trauma and emptiness. The very events James comes across in Silent Hill stem directly from his guilt for the murder he repressed. The monster Pyramid Head is a physical manifestation of our protagonist’s need to be punished. He isn’t happy with his wife’s passing (which in his mind, the sickness killed her) and if anything, he’s even more distressed and lost. It’s hard to believe that if he did kill her for his own gain that he’d trek to Silent Hill in the hopes of finding her again. Why would his mind conjure up any hope that she was alive out there if he truly hated her and wished her gone?
It’s also been discussed that James was actually a sex-crazed lunatic deprived of his joys and that’s what pushed him to rid himself of Mary. Mary was terminally ill and the couple was unable to express themselves through intimacy. Anyone would feel frustrated in that situation and I highly doubt folks would resort to murder over it (at least I hope not…). Besides, if James were a sex-fiend, then why does he act the way he does around Maria- so withdrawn and meek? He appears to have little to no attraction to her whatsoever aside from her resemblance to Mary. I’d image she’d spark lust within him considering her outfit, her profession as a stripper, and especially with her constant attempts to flirt with him.
On the same note, fingers are pointed to many of the monsters that roam Silent Hill and how feminine and sexual they are as if it’s evidence of how perverse James really is. It makes more sense to me that they’re a sign of his frustration and these monsters are, in a way, there to tempt him and remind him of what he’s been missing. If James were a straight-up pervert, part of me doubts the fem-monsters would be so grotesque. Perhaps they’re simply another form of punishment, as if he’s being judged for having sexual desires away from his wife.
Last, but not least, dialogue between Mary and James in one of the endings holds evidence to my argument.
Mary: I told you that I wanted to die, James. I wanted the pain to end.
James: That’s why I did it, honey. I just couldn’t watch you suffer. No. That’s not true… You also said that you didn’t want to die. The truth is I hated you. I wanted you out of the way. I wanted my life back…
Mary: James, if that were true… then why do you look so sad?
Leave is about as self-explanatory as it gets. James is verbally admitting all the dark and terrible things he felt and what he believes his motives were and Mary sees through it all. James’ expression gives him away and she can see that there’s more to it. He didn’t kill her in hatred.
Although frustrated, James acted out of love. It’s not likely he was in the right mind when he acted, but even so, he killed Mary to end her suffering. Her moods were off the wall, and she often screamed, cried and pleaded for her husband to kill her. He was in a confused state and in that state, he kissed his wife one last time and then snuffed her life out with a pillow.
Of course, there could also be a more monstrous side to James Sunderland. This aspect of James has been talked about quite profoundly with most of the argument centered on the killing of his wife, Mary. However, even this has been halfway debated as to whether it could have been a mercy killing, where he killed her to end her suffering, or the reason of where James had become tired of taking care of her and ended the situation. I wanted to talk about a different reason as to why James killed his wife that’s more atrocious (in reasoning for the fact still stands that he kills his wife either way): James might have killed his wife more on the sole reason that he was disgusted with her appearance and couldn’t stand the sight of her anymore.
I feel like the town of Silent Hill could have projected this theory in a couple of ways. The first being in the look of the creatures. Most of the creatures in the game are, of course, feminine in appearance. That much is known. I’d like to think that the reasoning behind this in connection to Mary Shepard. Not only their feminine appearance, but their twisted, scarred appearances could, on a subconscious level, represent how James saw his wife before he killed her (I say subconscious because James is still in Silent Hill thinking his wife died simply of the illness after having evicted the murder from his mind. That fact still stands).
The town, when reverted to the Other World, can project this image onto James. Even though the look is not on par with how the Other World is in Silent Hill or Silent Hill 3, the Other World still retains a scarred and rusted look that could help symbolize the visage of Mary during her illness. The further aggression of the creatures, as mentioned before previously as possibly being a subconscious images of Mary increased to the extreme, could be relative to Mary’s anger at James for murdering her in the reason described. Thus, these mental projections of Mary’s appearance are sent in to attack James.
There are a couple of already existing elements about the game that could connect to this theory. There is the sexualized appearance of some of the creatures: Mannequins with long, female legs present, Lying Figures with their chest openings, which could be seen as looking vaginal, and the nurses who have a more exposed bosom than other nurses in the series (except the Homecoming one based off of the film version which was based off this game).
Of course, there’s also Maria. I feel like everything about her can still stand and hold up with this theory: Maria is the version of Mary that James wanted all that time wherein she looks like Mary, but is more sexual, flirtatious, and introverted toward James. The fact that she represents what James wanted out of Mary during her illness is possibly why he is not afraid or disgusted by her, unlike the other creatures he sees. I find this comes more in play during the jail scene where Maria tells James to “come and get her” to which he flat-out obliges to. The point I make here is that James is not very hesitant to make his way to Maria’s side in a time of need. One could vouch that it’s simply because she looks like Mary, but James knows that she isn’t despite the appearance. In the case of Mary during her hospitalization, James made a habit of not showing up often to see her which could be because he simply DIDN’T want to see her. Maria, on the other hand who is meant to represent what James wanted from his wife, gains his attention quite frequently whenever she’s present.
Of course when talking about James, Mary, and Maria, I can’t forget Mr. Pyramid Head. In regards to the theory I’m presenting, since the Other World might be seen as an embodiment of Mary herself and since Pyramid Head only shows up in the Other World, it could be seen as a much more grotesque presentation of James. If the Other World is seen as an embodiment of Mary in some form, it could explain the constant murders of Maria not only as a reminder of what James did, but also in anger toward Maria for being the person that James wanted and sought after.
I could go around and around with this. Silent Hill games are always great at making people think on a more psychological level. There could be many other ideas and theories as to how James, deep down mentally, could be seen as a monster. This theory, where James killed his wife over his disgust of her and the lack of sexual attention that he received, is just one random one. However, despite the theoretical opinions on this and that, I think everyone can agree:
Regardless of the motive, James killed his wife. No amount of mental healing or realizations will bring her back in the end and that, right there, is a monstrous act in and of itself.
Both sides are easy enough to argue and that’s what makes Silent Hill 2 such a beautiful game. Not only did it manage to scare the pants off of many gamers out there, it his us all right in the feels. There are so many twists and turns that leave us wondering which way is up. James can be argued as “innocent” just as easily as he can be argued to be the true guilty party. What do you believe? Did end Mary’s life for love, or for his own selfish intent? Let us know!