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  • Saving Ourselves: Psychoanalytic Investigation of Resident Evil and Silent Hill

    [01.30.07]
    - Marc C. Santos and Sarah White
  •  Returning to the New Releases

    Let us begin by asserting, pre-theorizing, that as a game Resident Evil 4 is excellent. Theoretically, the game is more of the same-perhaps even more conservative than past installments and clearly a post-9/11 game. Umbrella, the transnational corporation responsible for the horror of the first four games, is mostly gone. In its place, the antagonists of Res 4 are a small Eastern-European religious cult, "Los Illuminados," attempting, through the use of an ancient alien parasitic organism called "Las Plagas," to mentally enslave first America, and then, of course, the rest of the world. Their leader, the enigmatic Saddler, epitomizes the perverted Father that seeks to submit the entire world to a certain desire. Order by any means necessary. This submission works to displace desire from the idiosyncratic individual to his will for a collective unity. Saddler's paternal order is perverted in that, akin to the maternal, it aims to cease desire (annihilating subjectivity along with it, since, for Lacan, we are what we enjoy). Thus the members of Saddler's collective are just as zombie-like as the undead automatons produced by Umbrella's dreaded T-virus.

    Saddler's physical form is indefinite, and for a while, we toyed with the idea of whether he could be considered as a "threatening maternal figure."[v] Julia Kristeva makes connections between "abjection" and the maternal body--"mother" can be found in things that lack boundaries, blur lines, and defy categorization. Furthermore, the maternal threatens us with the very terror that Saddler does-the temptation of ending desire by giving up the distinctions of subjectivity, by returning to the womb, by relinquishing language:

    The abject confronts us [...] and this time within our personal archeology, with our earliest attempts to release hold of the maternal entity even before our ex-isting outside of her, thanks to the autonomy of language. It is a violent, clumsy breaking away, with the constant risk of falling back under the sway of a power as securing as it is stifling. (13)

    From this perspective, Saddler's long tentacles could be considered maternal, representing the "umbilical" (discussed further below) rather than the traditional phallic. However, Saddler's forms usually emphasize dominance rather than connection (his tentacles kill various characters in cut scenes). Additionally, his domination is a manifestation of his own desire for power, his desire to control. Thus, he is the Freudian repressor, working to establish and ensure his totalizing economy. His "followers" are not reconnected to a lost center or reunited with an originating creator; Saddler clearly occupies a hierarchical position above them.


    One Form of Saddler

    One dimension of Resident Evil 4 intrigued us: players' changed hermeneutic role. Previously, we argued that Resident Evil positions players in the role of sovereign judge. Resident Evil 4, however, undermines this position: players are no longer the entity ensuring narrative cohesion. We previously remarked that Umbrella was mostly gone because throughout the game we periodically see cut-scenes of Resident Evil's franchise antagonist Albert Wesker. Wesker watches everything from behind an array of screens (scenes recall both Dr. Claw and Father from Matrix: Unloaded). It becomes clear that Wesker is doing more than watching-beyond Saddler-Wesker has orchestrated a large part of the story. Despite this orchestration, Wesker's role does not receive full disclosure at the story's end. Thus, our role as sovereign judge is at least partially transferred to Wesker.[vi]

    If Resident Evil 4 is overtly paternal (phallo-logocentric) in its defense of symbolic order, then Silent Hill 4 is unequivocally "maternal" in its themes. In this game, our protagonist, Henry Townshend, awakes in his apartment one day to find a mass of padlocks across his front door, locking him in his room-from the inside. Initially in a first-person shot, players wander around the room and discover certain significant clues (including whom we are, how long we've been trapped in the apartment, whether we are awake or dreaming, why our neighbors cannot hear us banging on the door, how close our apartment is to the nearby town of Silent Hill). He finds a story on his coffee table concerning a mother and her child: "There once was a baby and a mother who were connected by a magical cord. But one day the cord was cut, and the mother went to sleep. The baby was left all alone." This is our first introduction to the mystical "umbilical cord" that reappears throughout our journey through the twisted world of the game. The story continues: "When he thought of the mother, he remembered the feelings of being connected to her through the magical cord" and ends with the phrase "With the cord clutched in his hand, the baby went happily to sleep."


    Henry Townshend

    The game's title, "The Room," takes on special significance: much to our disbelief, we learn through a series of text files that an abandoned orphan, Walter Sullivan, fetishistically believes that Henry Townshend's apartment room is his very own mother. And he desperately wants to return to a happy sleep (so much so that in his later years he begins a series brutal ritualistic murders to reunite with her "body"). Walter's fetishistic investment operates according to the logic of Lacan's petit object a:

    I propose that the interest the subject takes in his own split is bound up with that which determines it-namely, a privileged object, which has emerged from some primal separation, from some self-mutilation induced by the very approach of the real, whose name, in our algebra, is the object a. (83).

    The object a is something from which the subject, in order to constitute itself, has separated itself off as organ" (103)

    Walter desires to be reconstituted with other, that prohibited, pre-Oedipal union of "self" to "other," before the primal separation birth; a reunion which effectively annihilates subjectivity by threatening to return that which, by differentiating it, determines it. Eventually, you discover Walter's umbilical cord wrapped in a bloodied rag; the umbilical cord is needed to kill him in the final boss battle. Using the umbilical cord as a type of "weapon" supports Marcia Ian's notions that the phallus stands as a threat to Paternal separation, since it is the "only universal biological organ of connection" (34). It is the re-attachment of the umbilical cord that annihilates the distance between child and mother, itself and other. So although the maternal is used as a weapon, it is not a traditional weapon of phallic dominance (separation)-instead of asserting boundaries, it threatens to collapse them.

    We were also quite interested in how Silent Hill 4 plays with perspective. Whenever we are in our apartment (the supposed "real" world-also this reality falls prey to the same nightmarish anomalies as the game progresses), we operate in a first person shot. However, whenever we travel into the monstrous world of the hole, we play from a third-person perspective. We connect this to the confusion surrounding Henry's subjectivity. In the first person, surrounded by the temptation of mother, his subjectivity is less clear: and players never see him as an avatar. This is emphasized by some of the game's hermeneutic suspense: for much of the game we are unsure if Henry "really" exists-it is quite possible that he is only a manifestation of the young Walter's psychotic mind, that he is a ghost-a victim of the psychopathic Walter's killing spree, or that he is Walter as an adult slowly coming to terms with his murderous childhood (some of these remain possibilities even after we finish the game!). It makes sense, then, that we see from a first person view whenever we are confined to "the room" (this maternal space). We don't see Henry, rather, we see through his eyes. In the Otherworld, when upholding symbolic order and eradicating the ambiguous creatures that threaten the boundaries protecting both his and our selfhood, he is more easily recognizable as a subject. Hence, we see him from a third-person perspective. It is also worth noting that the movement from the first-person/subjective maternal/"womb" apartment to the third-person Other / Real / monstrous / psychotic / paternal third-person realm takes place through a long, winding, twisting passage that clearly represents an umbilical cord.

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