In Hamlet, Polonius is a bit of a pompous windbag. Nobody really minds when he dies (spoilers) though the ramifications of that murder kind of tip things into the downhill spiral of death and despair that defines the climax of the tragedy. But before he reaches his stabbity end, he does utter one bit of legitimately good advice.
This above all: to thine own self be true.
Lately I’ve been tying Jungian psychology into the Work that’s occupied a good portion of my time. To put it in rather simplistic terms, there’s a difference between the Self and the Persona. The Self is who we truly are, deep down, in ways that may frighten us or seem to good to be true. The Persona is who we convey ourselves to be to the outside word and those around us, something we construct to defend ourselves or exalt ourselves.
Actively building the Persona in relation to the Self can be difficult, since the Shadow tends to get in our way. Our unconscious minds, which hold our fears, our instincts, our potential for greatness as well as our terrible aspects, have the power to distort our Persona. We can be afraid of getting hurt as we have been in the past, and construct a Persona that keeps people at a distance. We can seek to be liked by those around us, and make our Persona malleable to the point of unrecognizable when we’re alone. I have seen both extremes, and my own Persona has been pushed and molded in different ways, sometimes without my being aware of it happening. I’ve had to learn how to seize it and change it of my own volition.
Because here is the hardest, most dire truth to learn.
If you do not do the work to define your Persona as an accurate reflection of your Self, someone else will do it for you.
And it won’t be true. It will not reflect your Self. It will be, at best, tarnished; at worst, it will be strung up in the public square, crucified, and set on fire, while those around either watch in satisfaction, turn away in horror, or exalt themselves with drinks and revelry to celebrate their own righteous execution of their perverse form of justice.
And you will have nobody to blame but yourself.
I’ve been there. I’ve let the expectations, the fears and doubts, the outright toxicity of others influence my Persona. I’ve let impulses and nudges of my Shadow do the same. I’ve allowed my Self to become obscured by so many things, some of my own making, some to serve the agendas of others.
We must be agents of our own change. We must find our own way through the noise of the world and the falsehoods that barrage us.
We must be true to our own Selves.
We owe it to those around us, and to who we truly are, to honestly convey the nature of the Self, and the influence of the Shadow, and the failures of false Personas, for better or for worse.
I’m working on conveying that. Of acknowledging and wrestling with those influences. Owning up to those failures.
There are certain experiences that are consigned to particular media for one reason or another. As well as HBO has adapted Game of Thrones, the full expansiveness of the world and characters created by George RR Martin is best experienced in its original doorstopper book form. Hearing a song by Lady Gaga doesn’t hold a candle to seeing her perform the song live on stage. And some video games are best left as video games, and not made into, say, movies. Nobody told this to director Christoph Gans, however, when he took the helm of 2006’s Silent Hill.
Chris and Rose Da Silva adopted a little girl named Sharon nine years ago. Sharon’s started having some really bad dreams and always screams the words ‘Silent Hill’. Convinced that the haunted town that bears the same name holds the answer to her daughter’s torment, Rose puts Sharon in her Jeep and drives to the town. When Chris follows, he’s stopped by a police cordon and the ladies are nowhere in sight. Rose, however, loses Sharon quickly after her Jeep crashes, and wanders the town pursued by a dedicated motorcycle cop, a fiendish cult of witch-burners and, for some reason, nurses with big tits. Because big boobs sell more tickets.
For those of you just coming out from under your rocks, Silent Hill is a video game series in which the town of the title is plagued by a singular problem. You can be walking through the town, which seems normal, only to turn a corner or emerge from an elevator and find yourself in another world entirely. It’s a dark reflection of our own, populated by creatures spawned from abysses beyond our ken and, in some cases, based heavily on our own fears, doubts and unrequited appetites. As the games progressed, the stillness and isolation that brought those fears out of us as we played petered out, replaced with the typical slavering bad guys to be bloodily dispatched with blunt objects seen in most horror games released in the West. But we’re here to talk about the movie, right? Right.
Remember, even if you don’t smoke, always have a lighter handy.
The problem with many adaptations, provided they aren’t coming from a studio dedicated solely to bridging the gap between two media (which Marvel appears to have done with fraking rainbows), is the committees assembled by the money-hungry executives are so busy patching together fan favorite characters and moments that they completely miss whatever point the original story might have had. The point of the Silent Hill games defended to this day in spite of their dated graphics, terrible voice acting and asinine plots is being alone in a cloying darkness with something that hates you, not simply disgusting monsters and fiends in human skin just waiting for you to put a hole in them with a bullet or a bludgeon. Instead of a story of self-exploration, the film Silent Hill pits Rose against the town with the town’s only motivation being the sort of generic evil force that chased Bruce Campbell through a forest and forced him to cut off his own hand with a chainsaw.
The interesting wrinkle in terms of story is that the cult isn’t motivated by drug deals for tourism or awakening eldritch abominations, they’re just good old-fashioned Bible-thumpers that know their Jesus, loving savior of all mankind that He is, cannot and will not suffer a witch to live even if said witch is a nine-year-old girl. The purity of purpose these people cling to is something actually frightening about this story, since I know people this simple-minded and blinded by unquestioning religious fervor exist. It’s one of the things about the movie that works.
Hey, kids! It’s Pyramid Head! *applause*
What doesn’t work is the transition between worlds. Silent Hill usually consists of our world and its dark reflection, but Silent Hill the movie ups the ante with a third world in between. There’s our world, a sort of parallel dimension covered in perpetual fog and ash and the signature dark hellish place populated with creatures from the franchise who pretty much showed up because representations of sexual repression and masculine aggression have bills to pay too. As mentioned before, switching between worlds in the games often happened without preamble, effectively blurring the lines of reality and causing the player to question what exactly was happening. The line between worlds in the movie is a very bold, clearly defined one, and there’s a nice loud air raid siren just in case you aren’t sure. To say nothing of all that nice creeping CGI on those environments! Boy, I bet those games from the PS2 era are just besides themselves with jealousy.
Despite having all its subtlety removed, its signature creatures reduced to generic horror baddies, the world structure unnecessarily complicated and the twist ending having no explanation whatsoever and all the impact of a wet noodle, Silent Hill is not without redeeming qualities. While the world of fog and ash is somewhat baffling, it and it alone brings on the feeling of stillness and isolation that made the games so memorable. It’s juxtaposed with our world once or twice to great effect, and if the movie had just been about that divide and Rose and Chris trying to reach each other across it, the film might have really worked. There’s some excellent sound design, some effective use of music and a scene in a bathroom that carries more tension in a few short moments than most of the exposition-laden second half holds. And then there’s the way the character of Cybil looks in those leather pants. … Sue me, I’m a straight male human.
Imagine, if you will, a cookie where the chocolate chips are actual chocolate, but the dough is actually made of insulation foam, and you don’t realize it until it was already in your mouth. That’s the film adaptation of Silent Hill put concisely. The few moments where some artistic choices overshadow the Frankensteinian construction of the movie and the fraying threads of plot used to stitch it together are simply not worth watching it fall to bloody pieces. I have to say this one is not worth your time. There are better horror films, better psychological ones and better video game adaptations.
Oh, I almost forgot. Sean Bean is in this, and he doesn’t die. It would have been nice to see his character do something useful, but I guess that he, like us, became trapped without recourse or pity in a lonely world not of our making. At least Pyramid Head didn’t show up out of nowhere to decapitate the poor guy.
Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.
In the broadest possible terms, Jungian psychology divides the self into three parts, much like Freud does, but Jung’s divisions have less to do with urges than they do with perception. There is the self we are, the self we believe ourselves to be, and the self perceived by others. With sufficient observation and self-awareness, it’s possible to discern how others perceive us and even alter that perception. Naturally, it’s something we can apply to our characters as much as ourselves.
“William Wallace is seven feet tall!”
“Yes, I’ve heard! Kills men by the hundreds, and if he were here he’d consume the English with fireballs from his eyes and bolts o’ lightning from his arse!”
Heroes, protagonists and so-called ‘good guys’ rarely pay much attention to how they’re perceived. We accept and, on some level, expect a level of humility from most heroes that precludes them from worrying about what others think overmuch. Occasionally, you’ll have somebody like Tony Stark, who uses the media’s perception of his persona not only to call attention to the evils he fights against but also to obfuscate the true depth of his character.
For the most part, though, our heroes tend to be more like John McClain or Aragorn, avoiding undue attention as much as possible so they can focus on the task at hand. The perceptions others have of them grow of their own accord, and things that they do in the pursuit of their goal become legendary tales to those who hear of their feats. It’s how the humble policeman and the reluctant ranger become heroes and kings.
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
Villains, on the other hand, make use of their perceptions often. Most of the time, it’s in the course of playing up their menace. The more scared you are of someone, the less likely you are to stand up to them. Some of them go beyond mere intimdation to craft a perception of themselves in the minds of others so powerful that they don’t need to look, say or do anything out of the ordinary.
Sure, messing with Megatron or Skeletor is a bad idea. You don’t assume, however, that picking on the little guy in the running crew could land you in big trouble. Many true villains cultivate perceptions of quiet, introverted advisors even as they steer the course of the world around them through quiet manipulation.
“So… I’m chasing this guy. Wait… wait, no, he’s chasing me.”
Finally there are those with conditions that might color the perception of others regardless of any moral stance they have. When they become aware of these perceptions, and the expectations that can come along with them, they can be just as manipulative of those perceptions as the canniest, most insidious villain. It causes other characters to question what they know and how they’ve come to know it.
“The dwarf’s a major threat? The psychopathic murder’s polite and cultured? The apologetic man with the short-term memory loss has ice water for blood?”
And let us not forget the perceptions of the audience. A character might seem to be utterly irredeemable in their eyes, until you allow them into that character’s point of view or expand upon their background. Let the audience spend time with them, fill in some of the blanks they might have populated with their preconceptions, and watch their perceptions change. When it happens, the audience will often take a moment to realize and appreciate the shift, then proceed to seek more story. And we, as storytellers, should not hesitate to oblige.