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The Narrative Frame of Silent Hill 4: The Room

I haven't been able to get back to playing SH2, so I haven't finshed my SH2 symbolism series just yet.  But, I thought I'd share something I wrote about SH4 in the meanwhile.  Enjoy!

Silent Hill 4 is a strangely told story.  It lacks a great deal of the themes and motifs of previous games; locations are transient and are returned to repeatedly; puzzles, as they were before, do not exist; the loneliness of previous games is relieved by the large cast and the presence of a bustling town outside your window, though the feeling of isolation is still strong.

These alterations make this a story that is hard to understand, especially because half of the tale has already happened.  By the time Henry is involved, 15 of the sacraments have occurred.  But the most difficult thing is that the frame of the story is so different compared to the first three games.

I think I’ve come to understand it, though.   The difficultly is that there’s an invisible player in the tale, someone that easily goes unnoticed.   Silent Hill itself is at play.  Think of it – the previous games often involved both the cult and the town coming to blows in some way.  It was most obvious in the first game, where the will of Dahlia and the will of Alessa clashed, culminating in Dahlia’s death, and Alessa’s rebirth as Heather.

But the two never stop colliding – they are constantly in the background of these stories.  Mentions of the cult’s crimes are in so many of the notes and signs found in these games.   The town, of course, has a will of its own, something born of the cult and Alessa and the psyches of the people present, yet also something completely individual from these things.   The cult members have the power to control and alter Silent Hill to a degree, but it is not in their complete control.

In 3, Claudia manipulates the town and attempts to resurrect the God, but she can’t control it completely, and many of its agents work independently of her.  Valtiel, most notably, does nothing to help her, and when Heather intervenes to stop the birth, Valtiel makes no move to stop her.  The most he does is appear when Claudia’s half-baked God is born, to welcome it to the world – but he does nothing to stop Heather from killing it, and allows her to leave when she is through.  In fact, when she dies in game, he is the one who brings her back to life.  While many of the themes associated with him have to do with more threatening themes of stalking and violation, it is my belief that he represents the will of Silent Hill here: unable to directly intervene against Claudia’s will and power, but still working in the background to ensure Heather’s success and survival.

So, what does all of that have to do with Silent Hill 4?  Because the very same thing is occurring here.  Walter locks Henry in his room for a week, leaving a message which says “don’t go out!”  It makes no sense for him to be the one who creates the holes that allows Henry to escape.  He doesn’t even seem to be aware Henry is leaving until the Apartment world halfway through the game, when they interact for the first time.  These holes allow Henry the chance to stop Walter, something the man would never have allowed had he imagined his failure was a possibility.

It must be Silent Hill which allowed Henry’s escape.  Much like with Heather, the town cannot directly stop Walter, but can indirectly intervene to give Henry a chance to live.  But there’s more than that happening here.  There are even more major differences between the games which are present here.

The psychology which influences the Otherworld in this game, and the appearance of the monsters, is Walter’s.  The levels are associated with him and his memories.  The items which appear are from his past, and relate to him; the creepy events which occur are from his mind.

In the first game, it was Alessa’s mind which influenced the town; in the second, it was James’; and the third, Heather’s for the most part.  But in the fourth, Henry has nothing to do with what’s going on with Silent Hill.  Why would that be?  If the Otherworlds are as under Walter’s control as they are assumed to be, then why would he allow the creation of places and monsters which are born of his worst memories and fears, which target his weaknesses, which bring to light his dark truths?

The fact is, he wouldn’t.  But Silent Hill sure would.

Silent Hill can’t stop Walter, but Walter can’t completely control Silent Hill.  He can’t keep the town from manifesting in ways which target him, and he can’t stop the town from giving Henry the chance to fight.  So, what’s happening here?  Think about who Walter resembles in this series best.  Not Harry, who enters Silent Hill as an innocent to save his beloved child.  Not Heather, who enters as an innocent to enact her vengeance.   But is Walter not a conflicted character, guilty of great crimes, unable to completely face to the truth he represses about himself and his mother?

Walter is most like James Sunderland.  Looking into his background, the case can be easily made that he is a man pushed to the edge, pressed into a desperate corner, which inevitably breaks him and he reacts with great violence.  He is guilty, not because he wishes to cause violence or desires it, but due to extreme circumstances in which he chose violence to escape.  This causes him pain and guilt, present in the form of his younger self who attempts to stop him from killing Eileen, and the twin monsters who represent the two most innocent and tragic of his victims.  While he has not truly repressed things like James, he has certainly started clinging to delusions to survive, much like James with Maria and the letter from Mary.

So, what is Silent Hill’s role in this?  The town exists to punish the wicked.  It is reachable only by those who are forcibly dragged there, like Walter’s victims, or those whose lives have caused them such terror that they fall victim to the feelings which connect them to the town.  Walter certainly matches the second criteria.  Is Silent Hill not doing to Walter what it did to James?  Trying to force him to face his guilt and admit to the wrongness of his crimes?  Using his memories and experiences against him?

What is Henry’s role, then?  Well, it seems unlikely that the town – as it is influenced greatly by Alessa, who was always against the Order – would want Walter or any Order member to succeed at such a dastardly thing.  More than that, what Walter thinks will happen is not at all what will happen: his mother is a delusion, and Silent Hill is not one to let the guilty harbor their delusions.

In the first Silent Hill, Alessa was acting as the agent of Silent Hill, attempting to lead Harry in the right direction, to stop Dahlia from succeeding.  In 2, the town’s agent was Pyramid Head, who punished, directed, and influenced James from the beginning.  In 3, Valtiel served the town’s will and protected Heather.

But in 4, Walter isn’t really in Silent Hill.  He is using Silent Hill’s powers, even coming close to the town in many instances, but they never really enter the area of the town’s influence.  The game is set mostly in Walter’s mind, and Walter himself is more powerful than Claudia, and perhaps even Alessa.  I would doubt the town would be able to get someone like Pyramid Head or Valtiel into Walter’s mind against his will – unable to insert its own agent, only able to manipulate what is already present in Walter’s mind.

So what can the town do?  It still has power.  It can manipulate reality, particularly the realms outside of the real world, like Henry’s locked apartment.  It can open a hole, let Henry out, and begin leading him in the right direction, giving him chances to intervene and stop Walter.

Henry is Silent Hill’s agent in this game.  Walter is on trial – he is facing Silent Hill’s punishment, it’s condemnation.  Henry is his judge, jury, and executioner.  This is why the player learns about Walter, not Henry.  This is why the game focuses upon Walter’s mind, his past, his crimes, what happened to him.  Why else would red notes informing Henry about what has happened, and how to stop Walter, appear under his door?  Why else would holes open up to lead him in the direction necessary to stop Walter?  Why else would candles and medallions be found which help Henry fight the darkness in his apartment?  Walter has no reason or desire to help.  But Silent Hill has plenty of reason to keep another Order member from enacting his violent goals.

Silent Hill 4 is confusing because it is the typical Silent Hill narrative, reversed.  Instead of playing as the “focus”, if you will, of Silent Hill’s attention and judgment, you play as the enforcer, the “tool” which acts out Silent Hill’s will.  That is to say, you aren’t James Sunderland – you’re Pyramid Head.

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