The Bared Teeth of the Fog: Silent Hill and Jacques Lacan, Part I

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Silent Hill 2.

Silent Hill is a franchise that has been analyzed ad nauseam; oftentimes these analyses end up revealing more about the analyst themselves than they do the seminal, survival horror franchise. They range from boomer-tier hack jobs about satanic, Illuminati, foreskin harvests to pseudo-intellectual, word salad wankery written by androgynous, neon-haired, sociology majors who totally don’t have Daddy issues. In the spirit of the latter, I present to you this crusty, curmudgeonly, crouton: Jacques Lacan.

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Alright, that last bit isn’t entirely fair to Lacan, the blue hair brigade tend to view his work as “phallogocentric” (read: he dared to write about things and also have a penis), although they do share the same impenetrable pretentiousness. However, since I’m not here to drown you in polysyllabic nonsense, let’s get to the meat of this article.

Lacan was a French, post-Freudian psychoanalyst who remains controversial to this very day, with intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky referring to him as an “amusing and perfectly self-conscious charlatan.” I don’t care to comment on the clinical practicality of his work, as I don’t possess the qualifications, but I have played every Silent Hill game that isn’t a Pachinko machine and watched an unhealthy amount of Slavoj Zizek lectures, which allowed me to find some striking parallels. Hooray for our public school system.

One of Lacan’s contributions to the field of psychoanalysis is “The Mirror Phase,” which involves the first time an infant sees itself in a mirror and realizes “Oh, that’s me.” Lacan theorized that this particular moment has the potential to be extremely unsettling, as what we see in the mirror rarely coincides with how we feel. On the inside, we’re oftentimes a leaky ship in stormy seas, wracked by ambivalence, insecurities, and guilt, our literal “mirror image” betrays none of this, however. I find it highly appropriate that one of the first shots in Silent Hill 2 is this image:

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Silent Hill 2 begins very shortly after the protagonist, James Sunderland, smothers his ill wife, Mary, with a pillow on her death bed. Of course, this isn’t revealed to the player until the end of the game; we’re simply told that James received a letter from his dead wife telling him that she’s waiting in their “special place” (Silent Hill) and the journey begins. This introduction is representative of James’ “rebirth,” his first time looking at himself in the mirror after his psychotic break that leads to the death of his sickly wife.

He reaches up to touch his own face, no longer identifying with what he sees, disassociating himself from his previous identity in a last-ditch effort to grasp whatever frayed ends of sanity he may have left. The effort is fruitless and over the course of the game, the “old” James’ sins slowly reveal themselves to the “new” James, leading up to the reveal of the iconic adversary and James’ id made flesh, “The Red Pyramid Thing,” colloquially referred to as “Pyramid Head.” The town of Silent Hill sees James’ darkest secrets, repressed desires and it will display them to James in the most vulgar way possible.

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The ending to Silent Hill 2 that Team Silent considered canon (known as “In Water”), shows James being unable to cope with these revelations and taking his own life by driving his car into nearby Toluca Lake, possibly with the body of his murdered wife still in the trunk. This ending leads me to a favorite quote of mine from one of Lacan’s biggest inspirations, German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel:

The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.”

We often can’t realize brutal, ugly truths about ourselves until it’s too late, once night has already fallen. Although I doubt many of you have secrets as dark as James’, are you able to live with what you see in the mirror and if not, will you be able to rectify that dissonance before it’s too late?

“The gap in the door… it’s a separate reality. The only me is me. Are you sure the only you is you?”
-Sentient, Brown, Paper Bag, “P.T,” 2014

Join me in the second part of this series, coming soon, where I further explore The Mirror Phase, Silent Hill’s triadic symbolism and Lacan’s theory of the Imaginary, Symbolic and Real.