Sexual Identity in Silent Hill

By Justin Tokarski, Video Games Section Editor

I love the horror genre. When done well, horror can connect with those primal fears that rest in the back of your mind, and there is a certain pleasure associated with being able to safely explore fear and the unknown. When done very well however, horror can function as the perfect bait-and-switch. Because horror focuses the reader, viewer, player, etc. so much on their own fear, thematic motifs and hidden meanings are often placed into works of horror and subtly taken in.  This brings me to Silent Hill, a game about the burdens of female sexual maturity, pregnancy, and rape.

(Because this analysis deals with the game as a whole, spoiler warnings are in effect. If you haven’t played Silent Hill, you should go do so right now anyway.)

If you are familiar with Silent Hill‘s plot, feel free to skip this refresher.  7 years before the events of Silent Hill, a woman named Dahlia Gillespie performed a ritual to impregnate her daughter Alessa with the god of Silent Hill’s cult by immolating her. Alessa survived because housing the god rendered her immortal, and was subsequently kept at Alchemilla Hospital under the care of Doctor Kaufmann and nurse Lisa Garland. Alessa split her soul in two in an attempt to stop the birth of the god in her, and the other half of her soul was reborn as a baby who was found and adopted by Harry Mason and his wife. Dahlia cast a spell to bring Cheryl back to Silent Hill, and the town was cut off from the world and filled with monsters by Alessa’s new found powers. As the game proper starts, Harry and Cheryl are driving to Silent Hill, but are in a car accident and Cheryl goes missing. He is helped along the way by a police officer named Cybil who is stuck in the town. Cybil becomes possessed by one of the town’s monsters and attacks him, but Harry saves her with a strange liquid he found in the hospital. Dahlia tricks Harry into helping her reconnect Alessa to Cheryl, but Doctor Kaufmann appears and uses a substance called Aglaophotis to force the god to be born prematurely by splashing Alessa with it. After Harry defeats the unfinished god, Alessa leaves Harry her soul in the form of a new baby and they escape Silent Hill.

Now we are ready to look at the implicit meaning of the game.  Let’s begin by looking at Alessa. At the time of the ritual which impregnated her with the cult’s god, she was 7 years old. She splits her soul, which results in the ‘birth’ of a new baby, Cheryl. When Cheryl comes back to the town, Alessa has aged 7 years and would be sexually matured enough to become naturally pregnant. She attempts to preserve her sexual immaturity by flooding the town with monsters and setting up symbols around the town to stop her mother from completing the ritual. Once reunited with the other half of her soul however, she becomes a creature known as the Incubator. The name is less than subtle, as an incubator is something which maintains the optimal conditions for the growth of biological matter. Typically this is done with cell cultures, tissue samples, and eggs, but the concept of an incubator can easily be extended to a pregnant woman. Within the game’s canonical ending however, Kaufmann appears and splashes Incubator with Aglaophotis, causing the god being incubated inside Alessa to emerge prematurely as the final boss Incubus. Given the role Alessa plays in the game, her transformation into an incubator, and the method of the emergence of Incubus, it seems that Aglaophotis causes Alessa to undergo a chemically induced abortion. As she dies, Alessa once more gives ‘birth’ to a baby which carries her soul. In Alessa, we see a girl who tries to fight off her impending sexual maturity out of fear of her pregnancy by rape, but who willingly gives birth twice as a way to regain the innocence she lost.

Dahlia likewise has a unique relationship with issues of pregnancy.  She gives birth naturally to her daughter Alessa, but during the events of the game we can assume she is post-menopausal given her appearance. Though biologically infertile, she vicariously engages in procreation by being the catalyst for her daughter’s impregnation. When Cheryl returns to Silent Hill, she is directly responsible for reuniting Cheryl and Alessa and bringing them both to full sexual maturity and fulfilling her daughter’s pregnancy.

While much of Cheryl’s experience with regards to her sexual maturity are mirrored in those of Alessa, her relationship with her father is note worthy. When Cheryl was 3, Harry’s wife died of an unmentioned illness. Because of the absence of a sexual partner, Harry too lacks the ability to procreate. Harry does have a subtle relationship with his adoptive daughter’s sexual maturing however. When he is tricked by Dahlia, Harry unwittingly brings about his daughter’s aging and impregnation through her merge with Alessa. This is further supported by the fact that, according to Silent Hill‘s director Keiichiro Toyama, Harry and Cheryl were originally going to be named Humbert and Dolores respectively. These refer to the characters in Vladmir Nabokov’s novel Lolita, wherein Humbert is the stepfather, and sexual partner, of the young Dolores. Like Humbert, Harry brings his non-biological daughter into sexual maturity.

Creator comments translated from the Book of Lost Memories.

When Cybil is possessed by one of the monsters in the town, the method of possession is very important. There is a creature which attaches itself to doctors and nurses in the hospital like a parasite and is able to control them. This is the creature which possesses Cybil. Though typically when ‘parasite’ is used, it is given a negative connotation,when taking the term neutrally it can apply quite aptly to the relationship between fetus and mother. Unlike many benign parasites, the social and biological realities of pregnancy have a great effect, to the point of the fetus exerting control over the mother. This possession by a parasite is also physically forced upon Cybil, and thus is another instance of rape, if this possession represents a pregnancy. Now, comparing Cybil’s possession to pregnancy might seem like a stretch if not for one very important fact. Harry saves Cybil by killing the parasite with Aglaophotis. There is no doubt that when Kaufmann uses Aglaophotis on Alessa, it functions as an abortion drug. If the use of Aglaophotis represents an abortion, then the death of Cybil’s parasite is also an abortion.

Having gone through all of the characters and events of the game, it seems fitting that we end at the beginning. Silent Hill opens with the quote “The fear of blood tends to create fear for the flesh”. This quote never appears within the game, nor is it ever referenced or explained. It may be viewed as just a general statement about blood and death that fits the mold of a horror game, but assuming that the game is about sexual maturity, it takes on a different and more defined tone. For most women, their first direct experience of their reproductive sexual identity comes from their first period. Culturally, menstruation has been viewed in many different ways, and fear or revulsion is not uncommon. Within some societies, women were sent away during their periods, and others viewed menstruation as unclean. Even within our own society, discussing periods are avoided and associated with overly emotional behaviour. “Fear of blood” could very well refer to the negative cultural and individual relationship with menstruation, and a subsequent vilifying of the female body and sexuality as the “fear of the flesh”.

Monsters in Silent Hill games represent the psychological trauma that the characters have gone through.  The themes of pregnancy and rape which flow through Silent Hill similarly represent the kinds of trauma and responses to it that having sexual maturity thrust on one by pregnancy and/or rape can produce.  Like other great works of horror, Silent Hill doesn’t pose questions or give answers, but merely presents itself and lets us, the players, safely explore it’s dark alleyways.