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Focus on the Frightful: Parenthood and Silent Hill

As you can probably tell by my recent reviews (Fear for the Flesh and You’re Not Here) I’ve been thinking about Silent Hill a lot lately. Well, I usually am but they’re more free-floating thoughts. Lately, I’ve been thinking about Silent Hill the game and Silent Hill the movie. In particular, where they messed up with Dahlia and Harry’s (Rose’s) characters.

I did touch on this briefly in my first Focus on the Frightful when Lilyn and I reviewed the Silent Hill movie separately. But I don’t think at the time I could really articulate what bothered me so much about it beyond the movie trying to make Dahlia into a sympathetic character. I think I can now.

This will spoil the game (as if I haven’t done that enough already) but I would also like to put a content warning here as I will be talking about child abuse, adoption and possibly rape. If any of these subjects are not something you’re in the right headspace to read about right now, please don’t. Your mental health is important. One of the screenshots from Silent Hill: Origins might be disturbing, as well.

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“When we first wrote him we found that he was acting… he was talking… like a woman. This guy, and he worked very well in the game, when you try to transpose him as a real character, it’s a woman.”

Christopher Gans – Interview on Silent Hill: Experience UMD

I still stand by the movie (the first one only) in that it is a more faithful adaptation than most video game adaptations. And I can even see why they would want to streamline the story a bit. However, the director’s choice to change the male protagonist to a female protagonist hurts the game’s plot and it hurts the movie’s own theme of motherhood and how far a mother will go to protect their child.

Harry is not your typical male protagonist, particularly for the time the game came out (1999). He’s not a soldier, not an action hero. He’s just a guy. A dad taking his daughter on vacation. Once there, extraordinary events spur him to find his daughter.

Dahlia, in the game, is a member of a cult, trying to bring about the birth of ‘God’, for whatever end. Explicitly in the game’s text, she assures a group of people that they will be able to have the power they seek, they’ll just have to wait awhile longer. But, it’s also not clear in that scene if that is something she’s promised them to have her own ends accomplished with their help or if it’s something that she believes. I tend to the former. That she wants the power and she’s willing to sacrifice her daughter for it.

The director wanted a completely female cast and (tellingly) the studio wanted the extra scenes because they didn’t think an all female cast would make people want to watch it.

The movie has strong themes of motherhood. But by making Dahlia, Alessa’s mother, a secondary character and not the impetus for what happens to Alessa it weakens the parallels I believe they were trying to make between Rose, an adoptive mother, moving heaven and hell to save her daughter and Dahlia, a blood mother to Alessa failing her daughter in a horrific way.

The game itself makes that parallel much more strongly. Harry and his wife found Cheryl (the other half of Alessa’s soul, not the evil half, just a half) on the side of the road, adopting her as their child. After Harry’s wife passes away he and Cheryl go to Silent Hill for a vacation (as Alessa was calling to her soul after seven years of torture and pain). From the moment of the accident Cheryl is merged with Alessa once again and Harry is used as a pawn by both Dahlia and Alessa to carry out their own ends. Dahlias to find Alessa and finally carry out the birth of God. Alessa is trying to stop it, hence why she’s throwing barriers in Harry’s way.

So Harry, who is not Cheryl’s blood relative, is moving heaven and hell to find his daughter. Not because she is ‘his’ but because he loves her and fears for her safety.

Which is a stark contrast to Dahlia, who is Alessa’s blood mother. She wants Alessa’s psychic powers for her own. Magically impregnating her at the age of seven years old. The ritual involved pain and fire. The game is set up to illustrate this beautifully without ever having to explicitly say “See, Dahlia is a bad mother, Harry is a good father.

The movie still could have had that underlying message (even though I’m very disappointed in their decision to not show another side of what fatherhood looks like instead of perpetuating the strictly ‘masculine’ role that a man would typically have in media) but they chose to put the antagonist at a remove from the mother. It’s Alessa’s aunt that carries out the torture and burning of Alessa. Dahlia is a pretty minor character, at best. And one that’s shown in a fairly sympathetic light, at that. Her worst crime is delivering her daughter to her sister and not really comprehending what would ensue.

I somewhat wonder if they did that so it didn’t look like the mother condemning her daughter for being raped. Which is exactly what it is.

The games (Silent Hill 1 and 3) themselves focus heavily on themes of consent, abuse of power, parenthood, and family dynamics. The movie watered these down into a theme that’s barely there and does not have the same impact.

Is the main plot of Silent Hill (game) convoluted and a little out there? Yes. The plot gets a bit bogged down in cult shenanigans, a drug ring and magic being real. But, at its core, its themes are strong, clear and concise when you strip away the extraneous elements. Which the movie had the chance to do. And they fucked it up.

Next week I’ll be going into Silent Hill 3 with the themes it has as opposed to the movie, which, being charitable, fucked it up so beyond belief it’s kind of amazing. And, unlike the first adaptation I have nothing nice to say about Revelations. So come back next week if you’d like to have a serious discussion alongside ripping Revelations to even more shreds than I did the first time.

Published inFocus on the Frightful

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