Thursday, February 18, 2010

Character Profile: James Sunderland and Angela Orosco

Like the town itself, there’s a mystique surrounding the characters of Silent Hill. But before I get into this profile, I’ve got something to get out of the way. I love these games. Everything about the series just makes me pulsate with excitement. I recently played through Silent Hill and Silent Hill 4, which were both amazing experiences, but my mind was always wandering back towards Silent Hill 2. In most players’ minds, the second game is definitely the best. James Sunderland is an enthralling protagonist because of his ambiguous nature and segmented psychological profile. He has lost his self within Silent Hill. He’s really just a big, metaphorical question posed to the player. The town itself is a reflection of his psychological state, but one character stands apart from it. Angela Orosco is in her own Silent Hill, and she’s going to be the main focus of this article. But to understand Angela, we first have to look at James.

James has just received a letter from his dead wife Mary who said to meet her at their “special place.” James immediately sets out for Silent Hill, a resort town located somewhere in the United States. This game starts off much like the first. James finds himself walking through the fog filled and deserted streets of the town looking for someone. This is the first time his psychological state becomes apparent. When he looks into the mirror at the roadside stop he sees himself, but as we go into the town of Silent Hill it begins to fill with fog. This is James’s “Fog World.” It is the essence of his confusion and his muddled nature. His world and its inhabitants represent all the desires he has suppressed and memories he has compartmentalized throughout the course of his life. His memories, his anger, his sexual frustrations, they are all hiding and lurking within the fog. The first real manifestation of this is the straight-jacket creature. It’s called the Lying Figure and it’s symbolic of James’s internal suffering, but it also plays another role. It introduces the player to the kind of experience you are about to embark upon. The survival horror genre is as much about constraining the character as the player. Let’s look at another example.

The Mannequin is constructed of the bottom half of two women, you probably get the picture and you probably see what key desire James has been suppressing. Everything in Silent Hill: the town, the people, the fog and the creatures are all apart of James’s psychological state. And this brings up another interesting and unavoidable point. The people who James meets in Silent Hill are all constructed from his mind. Maria is extremely sexualized and for a good reason, she is the ideal state of his dead wife. She is what James desired most out of Mary. He wants Mary to be her sexually active self. Quite Freudian if you ask me, but I digress. Every character and every monster in his town make James whole, it’s like they are his manifested persona. The obscurity of the self becomes a major theme of this game and this is reflected in its characters. James can be broken down into his id, ego and superego. Eddie is his id, Maria is his ego and Silent Hill is his superego. Without getting into a deep Freudian reading of his character, you might want to take a look at this: There are certain things I agree with, especially his reading of Eidde, and there are other things I disagree with this analysis of the game. Whoever wrote this has disappeared since 2008, but I think he has a pretty good understanding of Silent Hill.

The problem with taking a reading of Silent Hill from a “James Only” perspective is that we assume his quest is central to the game. Of course it’s the main focus, but Angela Orosco begs an important question. What is the true nature Silent Hill? I’ve always thought of it as a transformational area, a place where a person’s subconscious manifests itself into a physical form. Just take a look at the first game. Alyssa’s Silent Hill is filled with fog and cold. She was trapped within a hospital for almost her entire life and had a limited view of the world. The fog would only come naturally to someone like her who has been trapped within a room for ages. Henry Townsend from Silent Hill 4 has a very different view of Silent Hill. Like Harry Mason, he has an outsider’s perspective on the town and its surroundings. What separates him is exactly just what I just described, they are outside of the psychological scope of Silent Hill and they are experiences another person’s manifestation. What makes Angela so interesting is that her reality runs parallel to James. She has her own Silent Hill that actively engages with his.

Angela is a 19-year-old runaway, she’s was also abused as a child and it’s alluded to that she was repeatedly raped. She came to Silent Hill looking for her mother, but she is unable to find anyone. What makes her reality so interesting is unlike James’s fog, she has her fire. There’s a piece of dialogue right at the last time we see Angela where James remarks, “It’s hot as hell in here” to which she responds “It’s like this all the time for me.” Her Silent Hill is filled with engulfing flames that are constantly trying to catch her. It’s all the pain of her life manifested into something terrifying and encroaching. As James has his confusions, Angela has her pain. Unlike Eddie, who is a manifestation of James’ id; Laura, Mary’s innocence and Maria, James’ sexual frustration, Angela totally stands a part. What has to be understood about her is that when she is with James their realities merge. In some of the scenes where they interact, she acts as though she does not know James, as if they had never met. She acts confused and muddled, like she’s suffering from smoke inhalation. This is how James affects her. This is also what separates her from his reality.

What does the Lying Figure or the Mannequin mean to Angela? Absolutely nothing, but that’s not necessarily the case. If you take a reading of her character you can see that the characters who exist to James are of no consequence to her. If Eddie was really a person, why don’t we see any interaction between him and Angela? Why doesn’t she know about Laura? Why is it that whenever the two meet, she moves onto a separate path unavailable to James, it is because she has her own hell to go through, she has her own memories to conquer. This is what makes Silent Hill as a transformational environment so interesting and a character like Angela so intriguing.

What would it have been like to have played through her experience? I remember playing through Maria’s Born from a Dream and feeling kind of disappointed. It really didn’t add any depth to Silent Hill even though it helped explore Maria’s character. To have played through Angela’s journey would have made for a better experience. The only draw back is that this article would basically be useless, and you wouldn’t want that. What Angela represents is another lens through which to understand Silent Hill. It’s kind of like a purgatorial quest. I always thought that James and Angela are together because they had died at the same time. The only problem is that purgatory for them is a symbolism filled hell.

Angela is a rape victim. This is what drives her psychological state. There’s a scene in the game where she is being attacked by a monster called the Abstract Daddy. In walls of the flesh-coated room metal pistons steadily pulsate in and out of small holes. When James kills the monster, Angela lashes out against it and viciously attacks it. We can see here that the Abstract Daddy is her manifestation because it only has a small representative nature to James. After the fight, she accuses James of hating his wife and then disappears. Through her lens James is a representation of her oppressor, he is her father. Every time he reaches out to her with compassion and caring, she recoils because her father and her mother were unlike that. One part of the human psyche is developed through our interaction with role models and parents. This is the superego. The values that are passed on by our parents act as a mediator between the ego and the id. Her ego and id are out of sync with one another because of her lacking of a superego. This isn’t her fault; no one can say that what happened to her was her fault. This is also what makes her character so tragic, her mother also blamed her. This is her pain, she’s running away from the memory associated with her rape. It’s quite sad.

What makes all of this so important is that she solidifies the nature of Silent Hill as transformational. I could write an entire character profile on the town itself and one day I might, but right now I’ll keep the focus on James and Angela’s relationship. This is an easy way of visualizing it. Imagine that they exist within two spheres. Both spheres have a separate theme and effect on the surrounding area of Silent Hill. James’s clouds everything within fog and Angela’s creates walls of flame. When the two spheres interact they merge and create a middle ground for both characters to interact with. You can see this in their last scene together. Angela mistakes James for her mother while James comments on the intensity of the flames. Utter hopelessness is the feeling that can encapsulate that scene. As a player, the only thing I wanted to do at that point was run up those stairs and tells Angela that wherever she is going isn’t the right way. Burning to death in your own fiery hell isn’t the right way of dealing with pain, but James really isn’t a character who can relate to this.

Spoiler alert! I’ve alluded to this a few times before, but just in case this next part will be covering a few endgame events. I’ll do a small recap right now of what I’ve covered just to make sure everyone gets my point. Angela is equally as important as James because she has her own path. Unlike Eddie or Maria, she is her own person constructed of her own memories and schisms. Everything about her stands in contrast to James’s character and she acts as a reflection to his plight. He has his Mary, she has her pain. What makes her so important to the series as a whole is because she changed Silent Hill. Instead of it being a simple little town somewhere in America, she transformed it into an allegorical place where lost souls go on a purgatorial journey. James did play a big part in developing this, but she solidified this theory about Silent Hill being more than just a special place.

On with the article.

James killed Mary. He killed her because he was tired of her being so sick and being a burden upon him. He felt that by ending her pain she could finally rest, but he also had an ulterior motive. He hated her for stealing away his life, he felt that he had wasted so much of his energy and what he had keeping her alive within his heart. When I said, James can’t relate to Angela, I meant that the way he dealt with his internal pain was no better than Angela’s contemplation of suicide. At least her way is morally neutral, but murder is a sin, it’s something that goes against most laws and tenets of society, it’s something that will land you in Silent Hill. This is why the “Leave” ending is the true ending. He reveals all of what he felt to her and then leaves Silent Hill with Laura. James casts away his guilty conscience and moves on with his life. It’s a sad ending, but one with some closure.

Angela doesn’t get any of this, and this is why she’s a tragic figure. Unlike James, she is left undeveloped. We only meet with her four times each of which only last about five minutes. That’s not a lot of time for her to develop, but that really all she needed to become one of the most engrossing and interesting characters within the series. When she walks up those stairs no one can really tell what awaits her. Maybe she was able to confront her father and mother like James and Mary or maybe she found her way to the afterlife. This is why I like Angela so much. She’s an ambiguous character. Characters like her have been lost in modern videogaming, and it’s kind of sad. Everything always has to be explained and there’s hardly anything within the subtext. She is something special when it comes to character creation and development. Her ambiguity is her biggest draw and her depth leaves the player wanting more.

I love Silent Hill. It’s a series laden with meaning. The latest instalments, not so much, but every game up until four is filled with interesting characters to profile and to examine. Angela and James are just two characters, but two of the most interesting. How they interact with Silent Hill is truly remarkable and how they interact with each other speaks worlds about their personalities. They are tormented, confused, angry and filled with sorrow. They are thoroughly human and they remind me why Silent Hill 2 is one of the best games ever made.

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