My cosplay for 2010-2011
Silent Hill is sadly one of the most misunderstood game franchises in existence. Part of this is due to the fragmentary and disjointed way in which the original games tell their stories. The designers of the first three games didn't just tell the player what the game's story is. There is no “Bond villian wrap-up” at the end. The designers respected the intelligence of the player, gave us clues piece by piece over the course of each game, and relied on us to put it all together in the end.
But too many fans rely on information that has been circulated by many third-party documents, including some “official” strategy guides and plot analysis that contain possibly inaccurate information that ignores information specifically provided within the game. And when Team Silent disbanded after Silent Hill 4, this erroneous information became the basis for the plots of the future games (and the movie), further tainting people's ideas of the original plots.
As such, this is going to be the first in a series of analysis and interpretation articles that I will be posting on this blog in anticipation of the upcoming Silent Hill Downpour.
Of course, any discussion of Pyramid Head is going to include PLOT SPOILERS for the game. If you haven't played the game yet, read ahead at your own risk. Also, this post contains images and video that may not be safe for work!
The “Rape Time” myth
One example of an unfortunate misunderstanding with the franchise is that Silent Hill fans have latched onto this idea that Red Pyramid Thing (a.k.a. “Pyramid Head”) is a raving serial mannequin-rapist. I believe that label is unjustified.
The idea that Red Pyramid Thing is a mannequin rapist comes almost exclusively from this first major encounter with the creature in the apartment buildings.
Turn off the friggin' flashlight you moron!
First sighting of Red Pyramid Thing
Prior to the above sequence, the monster had only been glimpsed once. Through bars in a hallway in the apartment prior to entering the room in which James heard a gunshot (this room happens to be one of the most interesting rooms in the whole game for many reasons which I won't discuss here). At this point, however, Red Pyramid Thing is just standing behind the bars motionless. The player cannot interact with it at all, and it is unclear whether the thing is alive, or just something propped up on the other side of the bars similar to the myriad of hanging bodies present in the first game.
While the actions of Red Pyramid Thing in the mannequin scene do appear to have sexual connotations, no actual physical “rape” occurs. Many viewers of this scene symbolically attach the idea of rape to it, probably because the scene so closely mirrors a scene from the 1980's movie Blue Velvet, in which a character witnesses an actual rape by looking through the shutters of a closet.
In the end, any implications of “rape” are symbolic at best, as the Red Pyramid monster's obvious intent is to dominate and kill the unfortunate mannequin monsters. At the beginning of the scene, they are alive and struggling against Red Pyramid's grasp while he apparently is trying to shove the mannequins down the sink's garbage disposal. In the end, they are lifeless and motionless, and Red Pyramid Thing simply drags them out of the room. So while the “rape” idea is implied by the scene, the “murder” aspect is explicit.
The rape idea is seemingly supported by this boss encounter at the end of the apartment section of the game.
But whether or not the Red Pyramid Thing is actually “raping” the monster, or if it is just trying to eat or smother the mannequin is unclear. In either case, Pyramid Head does kill the monster. So again, “rape” is only implied, whereas murder is explicit.
After this, Red Pyramid Thing never interacts with another monster in the game. What other significant event occurs in the game's narrative after leaving the apartment?
Maria, nurses, the “Abstract Daddy”, and the role of Pyramid Head
The introduction of Maria in the park immediately follows the first “battle” with Red Pyramid Thing. From this point on, Red Pyramid Thing seems to focus all its energy on killing Maria as many times as it can.
James' wife Mary
The sexy doppleganger Maria
Why doesn't Red Pyramid Thing attempt to rape Maria? She is supposed to be Mary reincarnate. And an even more sexual version of Mary reincarnate to boot! So you'd think that if Red Pyramid Thing is supposed to represent Jame's desire to have sex with his (dead) wife, then you'd think that Pyramid Head would be all over Maria.
But that isn't the case. Unless you consider killing her by impaling her with a spear (twice) to be symbollic of rape. Otherwise, Red Pyramid Thing takes no sexually aggressive action against Maria.
Nurse from Silent Hill 2
What about the nurses? They are a very sexualized monster with their exposed cleavages and miniskirts. But Red Pyramid Thing never interacts with them. In fact, the only time it even shows up in the hospital is to push James off the roof.
Anyway, Red Pyramid Thing doesn't have to be a representation of Jame's repressed sexual urges because Maria is already doing that. That is, in fact, Maria's whole purpose in the game.
Furthermore, Red Pyramid Thing's presence as a rapist doesn't fit in well with its primary role of being a punisher for James. How does raping mannequins “punish” James? Is James supposed to be jealous? Is Pyramid Head being a cock-block? “Hey you! Go away! I was gonna rape those mannequins!”
Besides, if we characterize Red Pyramid Thing as a representation of Jame's sexual urges, and we accept that it is “raping” other monsters, then we are really implying that James is a rapist. But other than Angela's unfounded and paranoid accusations (which even she immediately dismisses), we have no indication within the game that James is capable of commiting such an act.
The Abstract Daddy symbolizes rape
In fact, there is already another monster in the game that is exclusively dedicated to being a representation of sexual assault: the “Abstract Daddy” (a.k.a. “Doorman”) monster. Angela was a victim of sexual molestation by her father, and the abstract daddy is a symbol of her father's sexual abuse. This is a literal and explicit symbolism because Angela directly refers to the abstract daddy monster as her daddy before and after the fight, and she accuses James of wanting to take advantage of her “like he always did” (pointing directly at the downed abstract daddy body).
Why do we need two monsters in the game dedicated to sexual assault? In addition to a victim character? And two other characters already devoted to exposing Jame's sexual frustrations? The fans seem to have gone out of their way to unnecessarily overlap Pyramid Head's role in the game with that of other monsters and people who already explicitly fill that role, and making everything in the game about sex. Yes, sex is a big element of Team Silent's style of horror. But not everything in the game has to be symbolic of it.
UPDATE Oct 9, 2014: Eddie and the role of Pyramid Head
Even more telling is what happens to Pyramid Head at the end of the game. In the climactic battle between James and Red Pyramid Thing at the end of the game, James must fight not one, but two Pyramid Heads! What does the appearance of the second Pyramid Head mean?
One very significant event that occurs between James' final encounter with Pyramid Head in the hotel, and his previous encounter with it in the labyrinth, is the death of Eddie. After clearing the labyrinth (in which there is only one Pyramid Head), James confronts and kills Eddie in the meat locker. Despite the very real justification of self defense, James is hurt and feels guilty by the fact that he had to kill Eddie.
Despite killing Eddie in self-defense, James still feels guilty.
With the blood of two humans now on his hands, James encounters two Pyramid Heads in the hotel - each representative of one of the murders. James is not sexually frustrated by killing Eddie! Nor is the second Pyramid Head a result of any sort of sexual frustration regarding Maria or Angela, as these characters have been present since the beginning of the game, and there's only been a single Pyramid Head during all that time. It isn't until after killing a second person that James' guilty desire for self-punishment manifests a second Red Pyramid Thing.
In this encounter, James explicitly states the purpose of the Red Pyramid Thing:
"I was weak. That's why I needed you....
Needed someone to punish me for my sins....
But that's all over now.... I know the truth....
Now it's time to end this."
Here, the character himself - and by extension, the game's writers! - is telling the player what Red Pyramid Thing means in the context of the narrative.
James explicitly states the meaning of Pyramid Head!
In the final confrontation with it, he must fight two Pyramid Heads, each representative of a different murder.
And the battle doesn't end with James killing the Pyramid Heads. They kill themselves. Here, James is finally letting go of his guilt and moving on emotionally. He doesn't need the Pyramid Heads to punish him anymore, and so they impale themselves with their spears.
Each Pyramid Head then holds a colored egg: a rust-colored egg and a scarlet egg. The scarlet egg most likely symbolizes James' guilt for killing Eddie. This blood is fresh on his hands. The rust-colored egg, thus, symbolizes his guilt over Mary. This murder has been buried within James' subconscious, and the blood is old and dried. The eggs act as keys to the door to the game's final boss, where James finally confronts the actual symbol of his sexual frustration (Mary or Maria, depending on your ending). Both eggs must be used to unlock the doors (though both doors lead to the same place), so James is literally leaving the guilt behind and moving on.
Alternate interpretation: the second Pyramid Head represents Maria
There is an alternate explanation for the second Pyramid Head. Instead of representing James' guilt for killing Eddie, it may represent his guilt for failing to protect Maria. In this case, the eggs have slightly different meaning. The rust-colored egg still represents Mary, who was tarnished and made ugly by her disease. The scarlet egg, then, would represent Maria, who is young, vibrant, and alive.
Maria dies for the first time much earlier in the game,
and James is clearly hurt and guilty,
but no second Pyramid Head appears.
I don't put as much stock into this explanation, since Maria dies multiple times earlier in the game. In this interpretation, the second Pyramid Head appears as a result of Maria's death in the labyrinth. But Maria had already died once in the hospital basement, but no second Pyramid Head had appeared. Furthermore, it is unlikely that these eggs would symbolize the duality of Mary and Maria, since that is what the final boss is designed to do. James isn't leaving his desire for Mary or Maria behind, as he must still encounter the symbol of that desire in the final boss.
Whether the second Pyramid Head represents James' guilt for killing Eddie or his guilt for failing to protect Maria, the bottom line is that the Pyramid Head(s) still represent James' guilt, and not his sexual frustration.
But I have to admit, that Pyramid Head is pretty sexy...
Regardless of all that I have said, to deny the sexual symbolism of Red Pyramid Thing would be absurd. It is in many ways a Freudian construct. Its body is roughly shaped like an erect penis. It carries around an oversized knife - which it does still continue to use (albeight only briefly) after James encounters Maria. And it likes to impale women with a spear (or two).
“model” of a penis
|Pyramid Head is a work of fiction. Any similarities to actual penises, alive or dead, is purely coincidental.
Now, I want to stress a very important point here: I am not suggesting that the scene of Red Pyramid Thing assaulting the mannequins in the apartment should not be taken sexually. There most definitely is an element of sexual abuse/molestation occurring. What I am saying, however, is that Pyramid Head's intent is not to “rape”. Nor is that actually what it is doing. Pyramid Head's actions are acts of violence. Not acts of sexuality. The violence only appears sexually suggestive - and this is, in fact, by design.
Red Pyramid Thing does not get its jollies from pretending to make little-red-pyramid-things with the mannequins. Its purpose in the game is to punish James and to force James' subconscious to come to terms with the events surrounding his wife's death, rather than allowing James to fall victim to the seduction of Maria.
Red Pyramid Thing and Maria are at war with one another. They are contrasting sides of James' psyche battling for supremacy in the real world. With James watching.
So if Red Pyramid Thing isn't raping those mannequins, then what is it doing?
The most likely alternative is that it is attempting to destroy them.
As stated above, Red Pyramid Thing's purpose in the game is to torment and punish James, and make him come to terms with his past. It does this most effectively by attacking and killing Maria (who resembles his wife, Mary), and therefore constantly reminding him of the death of his wife.
After the appearance of Maria, Red Pyramid Thing devotes all of its attention to killing her repeatedly because she is a definitive, physical representation of Mary. She is the one thing in the universe that reminds James of Mary more than anything else. But prior to James meeting Maria, the Red Pyramid Thing doesn't have any one person or any one thing to pick on specifically. Or does it?
A mannequin dressed like Mary holds the flashlight
Recall that at the beginning of Jame's quest through the apartments, he finds the flashlight. Where is the flashlight? Tucked into the neck of a shirt being worn by a mannequin. A mannequin that is dressed up like Mary. I repeat: the mannequin is dressed up like Mary.
Do you get where I'm going with this?
That mannequin establishes a precedent that the mannequins are “Mary-ish”. So all violence commited against them by Pyramid Head (or by James) can be seen as symbolic violence against Mary.
So in summary:
A mannequin is dressed up like Mary. Therefore, mannequins represent Mary.
So Red Pyramid Thing assaults and kills mannequins to remind James of the death of his wife.
But then Maria comes along, and Red Pyramid Things says “Whoa! Why am I wasting my time butchering mannequins when that hot piece of Mary-look-alike ass is strolling around town?”
Red Pyramid Thing doesn't have to go back to assaulting mannequins - or any of the other monsters from then on, like nurses - because it has zeroed in on a single, ultimate target: Maria.
It's that simple. And you know what they say about the simplest explanations.
In fact, given this revelation, I can't help but wonder if maybe the number of mannequins that you kill might factor into whether the player receives the “Leave” ending or the “Maria” ending...
So why do so many Silent Hill fans insist that Pyramid Head is a mannequin-rapist? To the point that they cosplay as Pyramid Head wearing the movie helmet, black business suit, briefcase, and oversized wristwatch on which all the numbers have been replaced with the word “Rape”? I don't know. But this scene from Blazing Saddles just might sum it up nicely: