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The Punishment Dream of James Sunderland in Silent Hill 2.

An in-depth character analysis via the psychodynamic framework of defence mechanisms in relation to James Sunderland from Silent Hill 2. Discusses Žižek's theory of 'The Real', Freud's theory of the 'Punishment Dream' and Jung's archetypes and psychosis.

Savannah Ferguson, Blogger

February 15, 2018

10 Min Read

Silent Hill 2’s (Konami, 2001) protagonist James Sunderland is suffering from maladaptive defence mechanisms and their consequences. James experiences a psychotic break following the death of his wife and enters a waking Punishment Dream (Freud,1952) embodied in the town of Silent Hill to cope. This psychotic break is caused by the suppression of his memories of her death. This mental break is also caused by the repression of his emotions, sexuality and sense of self prior to Mary’s death. James’ way of healing both the psychosis and the grief of Mary’s death is to displace his own ego into monsters to cope with parts of himself, both mentally and physically. These Monsters become physical manifestations of James Animus (Franz,1968) and Anima (Franz,1968). James is damaged mentally from the defence mechanisms of repression and suppression. Through experiencing Silent Hill as a Punishment Dream(Freud,1952) and allowing himself the time and space to explore himself and his ego, he begins to process the damage.

James’ experience of Silent Hill is a waking Punishment Dream(Freud, 1952) caused by a psychotic break. James Sunderland is a widower, grieving the loss of his wife Mary. James believes she died three years ago of a long-term terminal illness. James receives a letter from Mary telling him to come find her in Silent Hill. As the game progresses it is revealed that she died recently, smothered to death by James. James then suppressed this memory. This suppression and grief causes James to suffer a psychotic break. This psychosis manifests as a Punishment Dream.(Freud, 1952) In Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, he theorizes—

“The Punishment Dream is likely an unconscious wish, but one which we must attribute not to the repressed material but to the ego.” (Freud, 1952)

The town of Silent Hill is not actually filled with monsters. It is a waking nightmare, or dreamlike hallucination that only James can see. This is shown by each other character experiencing it this as their own personal psychosis, fueled by their own ego. Angela, a character both sexually and emotionally abused, reveals that everything surrounding her is always on fire. Laura, a young child in search of Mary has no psychosis, and sees none of the monsters.

James projects the monsters from the unconscious wishes of different parts of his own ego. Psychosis relates to the ego specifically, described in Jung’s theory:

“The dissociation is a psychosis…each complex then lives an existence on its own, with no personality left to tie them together.” (Jung, 2014, 137)

This psychosis is a defence mechanism of James’ ego, which has suffered a split and is represented through the monsters within Silent Hill. They are part of the Punishment Dream(Freud,1952) because it is directly reflective of the wish of the ego. James wishes to atone for killing Mary, but he also want to be punished. Since James’ ego is split, they are displacements of different wishes of James’ ego. This split also explains James’ strange way of speaking- bland, stilted, and not grounded in a reality, implying that he himself has no personality—no ego. This split of self is a direct result of James’ emotional state from when Mary became ill through to the days after he kills her.


Suppression in James Sunderland following Mary’s death is one of the main factors leading to his psychotic break. Repression here is defined by: “The essence of Repression lies simply in the function of rejecting and keeping something out of consciousness”(Fodor & Gaynor, 1950, 158) With further psychodynamic development, Repression and Suppression have developed into different terminology, where once they were interchangeable.

“In repression, the repressing agency (the ego), the operation itself and all its outcomes are all unconscious. Suppression, on the other hand is seen as a conscious mechanism.” (Laplanche & Pontalis, 1988, 439)

James constructed a world to punish himself while refusing to accept the truth of what he’d done.   Pyramid Head murders and resurrects Maria—a projection of Mary—over and over until James allows himself to remember killing Mary.


The repression came much earlier than the suppression- repression of feelings of resentment towards his wife, repression of sexual self, repression of self as a whole. James is living only to care for a sick other. James’ repression of anything relating to his own ego has caused a psychosis split of ego. He is completely repressed, facing every bizarre puzzle, disgusting test and dangerous situation with no regards for his safety and a drive only to find his wife. James’ repression leads to the repressed parts of himself being displaced from him in ways that are horrific to him. Slavoj Žižeks theory of the ‘the Real’ (Žižek,2002) shows the traumatic consequences of the repression on James ego as they become too painful for him to examine.  

“precisely because it is real, that is, on account of its traumatic/excessive character, we are unable to integrate it into (What we experience as) our reality and are therefore compelled to experience it as a nightmarish apparition.”(Žižek, 2002, 19)

James has become disconnected, with parts of his own ego taking on a nightmarish form because he cannot yet handle reality. These feelings that have been so repressed in him they’ve become not only the traumatic Real (Žižek,2002), but become displaced from him.


Displacement of his own ego into monsters is part of James’ positive coping mechanisms. Displacement here refers to Dream-Displacement—the act of transference of emphasis in dreams(Freud, 1952) as well as to the Defence mechanism of Displacement “The redirection of an impulse” (McLeod, 2009) The monsters are dream displaced and obscured form of James ego. When James comes face-to-face with the reality of his ego he does not recognize it. Whenever James encounters a corpse in Silent Hill, he never remarks or even notices that every single one is him, the face obscured. Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001) opens with James in a bathroom. He is staring at himself in the mirror, waving a hand in front of his own face, as if he cannot see it. James is so displaced from himself, that he cannot recognize himself. James physically and violently redirect his repressed feelings onto these monsters. Most of the monsters are physical stand-ins for James to direct his anger at his wife- for dying, for lashing out at him, for not being able to engage sexually.  The most common monster is the ‘Lying Figure’. It is a feminine figure trapped in a straightjacket-like skin sack, spitting acid, that writhes and scuttles like a dying cockroach. The most important ‘monsters’ however, are Pyramid Head and Maria.

If Pyramid Head is the Displaced Animus(Franz,1968) of James, then Maria must be the Displaced Anima(Franz,1968). Anima(Franz,1968) and Animus(Franz,1968) are used in reference here to  M.L Von Franz’s study of archetypes in dreams, not strictly the Jungian terminology. The most prominent of James own Anima(Franz,1968) displacement is Maria, the fake copy of his wife. It can be argued that she is James idealized Anima(Franz,1968), sexual while independent, helpful and “a mediator between the ego and Self” (Franz, 1968, 195). She assumes the role of the wife and helps James to progress through Silent Hill.


Pyramid Head is James’ Displaced Animus(Franz,1968). He is the only monster that moves and changes with James. The Process of Individuation(Franz, 1968) theorises that James, being male, should not have an Animus(Franz, 1968). However, Pyramid Head fulfills the role of the Animus(Franz, 1968) and is a part of James. Pyramid Heads story arc follows of the four-part theory of the Animus(Franz,1968). “He first appears as a personification of mere physical power”(Franz,1968, 206) The first encounters with Pyramid Head are James’ displaced masculine negative traits—sexual abuse of the female monsters, and fighting with James. He is also blind in these first meetings, using a hand to feel for James, much like James did in the mirror for himself. “In the next stage, he possesses initiative and the capacity for planned action. (Franz, 1968, 206) The next time James meets Pyramid Head ambushes him, in an obviously pre-meditated move. Knocking him over forcefully into an area that was previously locked, he affords James’ progress. “In the third phase, the Animus becomes the ‘word’ often appearing as a professor or clergy man.”(Franz, 1968, 206). James sees Pyramid Head next in the painting ‘Misty Day, Remains of the Judgement’, where he is depicted as a kind of punishing God. This theme of ritual continues, when he takes and ritualistically murders Maria again in front of James, before moving to fight him. Once James wins, Pyramid Head impales himself, leading to the fourth and final stage ‘the incarnation of meaning’(Franz, 1986,206). Here Pyramid Head represents the spiritual reconnection and healing of the Animus(Franz,1968) back into James with a symbolic death. His desire for punishment has left James, the suppressed is unsuppressed by this point. James is able to reconnect with his displaced masculinity now he’s been able to accept it. From here he goes on to fight his Anima(Franz,1968). Maria or Mary is the final feminine boss and when beaten, James’ Anima(Franz,1968) is returned to him and the Punishment Dream(Freud,1952) ends.

James Sunderland, following the death of his wife Mary enters a waking Punishment Dream (Freud,1952). He experiences a total psychotic split of his ego, the parts of which then become monsters within the Punishment Dream This split is caused by James repressing his own emotional state and needs prior to Mary’s death, and then suppressing her murder. James displaces his own ego into that of a monster, unable to see himself anymore. With each monster representing parts of his own ego, Pyramid Head is his Animus(Franz,1968), with Maria representing part of the Anima(Franz,1968). While the defence mechanisms of suppression and repression were inherently damaging to James’ mental state, through Displacement he was able to reintegrate the part of his ego. Depending on James’ success through the nightmare decides whether he lives or dies.


Works Cited:

Franz L. M,& Jung, C, G,1968, Man And His Symbols, Dell Publishing, USA.

Fodor, N, Gaynor, F, 1950, Freud: Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Greenwood Press, New York.

Freud, S, 1952, The Major Works of Sigmund Freud, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., Chicago.

Garrelts, N & Santos, C. M, White, S. E.,2005, Essays on the Nexus of Game and Gamer, Chapter 4, Playing with ourselves, A psychoanalytic Investigation of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, McFarland & Company Inc, eBooks.

Jung, C. G, 2014, Analytical Psychology, Routledge, United Kingdom.

Laplanche, J & Pontalis, J, 1988, The Language of Psychoanalysis, Karnac Books, London.

McLeod, S. A., 2009. Defense Mechanisms, Simply Psychology, viewed 03/09/17

Silent Hill 2, 2001, [Game], Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo.

Žižek, S, 1992, Looking Awry, MIT Press Ltd, United States.

Žižek, S, 2002, Welcome to the Desert of the Real!: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates, Verso, London.

Further readings:

Jung, C, G, 1989, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Random House Inc, New York.

Santos, M, C & White, S, 2007, Saving Ourselves: Psychoanalytic Investigation of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, Game Career Guide,com, viewed 31/08/2017

N/A, N/A, Silent Hill 2- Monsters, Silent Hill Wordpress, viewed 2/09/17

Žižek, S, 2009, From Che Vuoi? To fantasy Lacan with Eyes Wide Shut, Lacan, viewed 2/09/17

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