In the Spotlight: James Sunderland (Silent Hill 2)

Welcome back to our on-going spotlight feature, where the staff at PSU place some of gaming’s most iconic characters under the microscope for dissection. Continuing our Silent Hill theme, we scrutinize the second game’s lead, troubled clerk James Sunderland, who arrives in town after having received a letter from his late wife of three years. Just another day’s work in the twisted world of Silent Hill, then

Be warned, there be major spoilers ahead, matey.

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If you’re a male and the star of a Silent Hill game, then chances are you’re in for a bumpy ride. James Sunderland learned this the hard way when he travelled to the perpetually foggy lakeside town in the 1990s, ostensibly to search for his supposedly dead wife. A store clerk by day, James – son of Silent Hill 4’s Frank Sunderland – is a mild-mannered chap with a bit of a short fuse at times, but underneath is a decent, caring bloke. He met his wife, Mary, at a party of a mutual friend, before the pair developed a whirlwind romance and decided to tie the knot. Indeed, in many ways, James’ humble beginnings and love life parallels his predecessor, Harry Mason. Over the years, the couple developed a love for the dreamy resort town of Silent Hill, where they stayed at the Lakeview Hotel and share many happy memories together. It would later become known as their ‘special place.’

Unfortunately, Mary contracted a fatal, unknown illness while in her mid-20s, which ultimately led to her death three years prior to the start of the game. Overwhelmed with loss, James sinks into depression, until one day out of the blue he receives a letter from Mary beyond the grave, beckoning him to the town of Silent Hill. Bewildered but full of renewed hope that he might be reunited with his beloved wife, James makes the impromptu journey to Silent Hill in an effort to discover the truth. Arriving in town, Sunderland gazes intensely at himself in the mirror of a dilapidated bathroom, before making the trek to Silent Hill via the scenic route through a forest pathway and lonely cemetery. Upon arriving in town however, he finds streets conspicuously and deathly quiet, and more alarmingly, infested with hostile creatures. Determined to see things through, James arms himself with whatever he can find and continues his journey.

Silent Hill’s malevolent inhabitants continue to plague James as he explores the streets, an apartment complex and hospital. Along the way, he encounters two ‘survivors’ – overweight Eddie and suicidal Angela, as well as knife-wielding monstrosity he dubs the ‘Red Pyramid Thing.’ He later bumps into blonde babe Maria, who is a dead-ringer for James’ late wife, Mary. The curvy lass opts to stay with James out of fear for her life, and seems intent on finding Laura, a young girl who is frequently seen nonchalantly roaming or playing in the streets of Silent Hill, apparently oblivious to the horrors that infest the town. The pair scope out Brookhaven Hospital for the little minx, though after battling against demonic nurses Maria is suddenly slain by Pyramid Head in the bowls of the building. Shaken but undeterred, Sunderland makes for the Historical Society, where he discovers a passage to the dilapidated Toluca Prison. Here, he encounters Eddie again, whose mental state appears to be getting more unstable by the minute.

After leaping down a series of mysterious holes, James winds up in the depths of the Labyrinth, where he comes across Angela again, who is seemingly battling her own demons of sexual abuse at the hands of her father. Shockingly however, James locates a resurrected Maria in a jail cell, who seems to transition between her own, more flirtatious speech patterns and those of Mary’s. With no access on his side, a perplexed James eventually locates the entrance to the jail, only to find Maria dead. From the state of her corpse, it appears she died of asphyxiation. Slogging further through the maze, Sunderland encounters Pyramid Head again, and eventually ends up in a subterranean graveyard. Here, he ventures into one of the tombs, encountering Eddie once again, who is standing amidst a group of bullet-ridden corpses. Now having descended into the realms of madness, Eddie has no qualms admitting he was responsible for the massacre, and turns on James for berating his actions. Forced into a gun battle in a meat locker, James has no choice but to kill Eddie in self-defence. Musing over Eddie’s taunts of James ‘being just like him’ and being ‘called’ to Silent Hill, our hero exits the prison and crosses Toluca Lake by boat and arrives at Lakeview hotel. By this time, Mary’s letter has totally disappeared, confirming it to be just an illusion of James’ tortured mind.

Revelations await inside the hotel, as James finally arrives in Room 302, where he and Mary stayed during their last visit. Here, a video tape reveals the shocking truth of what really happened, with James being revealed as her killer. Ravaged by illness, Mary had become an increasing burden for Sunderland, who decides to end his wife’s suffering by smothering her to death with a pillow. Laura finds James at this point, who tells her the truth, resulting in the young girl scolding Sunderland for his actions. Defeated, James then travels to the lobby, where he witnesses Maria dying once again at the hands of two Pyramid Heads. It becomes apparent that his inexorable adversary was created by James’ subconscious to punish him for his crime, and having accepted this, both monsters commit suicide after a brief battle, their reason for existing no longer required. Making his way to the summit, James comes face-to-face with Maria yet again, only this time masquerading as his late wife. Miffed that our hero ‘doesn’t need’ her anymore, a strange metamorphosis occurs which sees Maria become a horrific, caged monstrosity that promptly attacks James but is soon defeated.

What happens to Sunderland after this is left unknown. Multiple outcomes are possible, which range from James leaving Silent Hill with Laura in tow, attempting to resurrect Mary with dark magic or committing suicide in the lake. However, the implications that James came to Silent Hill to kill himself – with Mary’s body possibly in the trunk of his car – are as clear as the blood-stained halls and walls of Silent Hill itself. What is known is that Frank, James’ father, never saw his son again, as confirmed in Silent Hill 4: The Room. Whether you perceive this as Sunderland fleeing to start a new life or taking his own in Toluca Lake’s murky waters is down to you. Ultimately, the ‘true’ outcome is left ambiguous.

So PSU readers, do you think Sunderland perished in Silent Hill or ultimately accepted his actions and went off to start new life for himself? Let us know in the comments section below.