What Is Silent Hill 2's Best Ending?
Spoiler warning. Silent Hill 2 is well worth experiencing for yourself, and reading this article before playing it could really damage your experience. I strongly recommend playing it first.
Silent Hill 2 is considered one of the finest horror games ever made, and some would argue, one of the best videogames in general. A lot of this can be attributed to its engrossing story and characters. Like so many games with a strong narrative, Silent Hill 2 has multiple endings, and there are many strong opinions about which ending is the best. I'm going to share my own opinion on this matter.
All Consuming Guilt
Silent Hill 2 tells the story of James Sunderland. He receives a letter from his wife Mary asking him to meet her in the town of Silent Hill, but she supposedly died of an illness three years ago. Even so, James comes to Silent Hill to find out for himself.
As we find out near the very end, Mary did not die of an illness three years ago, but rather, James killed her just three days ago and has been in complete denial of this reality through the entire game. Everything that happened in Silent Hill was a manifestation of his own guilt.
So why did James do it? Silent Hill called to him, so it's clear he feels guilty about it. Was it mercy? Mary was suffering after all, and outright stated she wanted to die. Was it revenge or an escape? In the late stages of her illness, Mary became angry and verbally abusive and taking care of her consumed James' life. Or was it desire? The feminine figures that haunt Silent Hill imply that James was sexually frustrated, so did he simply remove Mary so he could himself a new relationship?
Means and Ends
The powerful thing about Silent Hill 2 is that each of its endings puts James' motivations in a different light. The 'Maria' ending, for example, has James escaping Silent Hill with the Mary lookalike 'Maria' he met there. Maria is almost identical to Mary, but more seductive. She seems to be a creation of Silent Hill designed to tempt and torture James. This ending probably puts James in the most negative light, as it seems to prove that he simply wanted to move on from Mary. During the ending, Maria starts coughing, implying that she's also ill and James will be punished for his mistakes by experiencing the exact same thing he experienced with Mary once again. Powerful and tragic, as James has already been forced to see her die multiple times throughout the story.
The next ending is the one I've seen a very vocal part of the fanbase call the best. It is simply called 'In Water.' In this ending, James and Mary have a final talk, and James admits that 'part of him hated her for taking away his life.' Mary concedes that this may be true, but that he's suffered enough. She dies again, for the last time, and James comes to the conclusion that he cannot live without her. Taking her body with him, he drives his car into the lake, thus committing suicide.
This ending is powerful, tragic and certainly feels natural. Silent Hill 2 is James' journey to face his guilt, and then act upon it accordingly. After all, the others who were called to Silent Hill, Eddie and Angela, passed away as well.
But in my opinion, the best ending is the "good" ending, 'Leave.' I admit I'm biased in favor of happy endings, although Silent Hill 2 has no truly "happy" conclusions, but I have a few valid narrative reasons why this ending is the best conclusion to this story.
In Leave, James and Mary have their talk just like 'In Water', but when Mary throws James a bone and justifies his actions by saying 'She wanted to die,' James doesn't take it and fully faces down his own guilt. He doesn't say that "part of him hated her" this time, he comes out and - in an anguished voice - says:
The difference is subtle but important. And Mary's response to this always makes me teary-eyed.
"James... if that were true, then why do you look so sad?"
This ending paints James in the most positive light. In all of the endings, that impulse, that desire to get his life back was present, but him admitting it clearly - in spite of how much it hurts him and how wrong he knows it is - redeems him. That's why he can overcome his guilt and move on in 'Leave,' with Mary's blessing.
On top of the perfect way it finishes James' arc, Leave is also the only ending that wraps up Laura's story. Laura is a little girl James meets around Silent Hill several times, and she was friends with Mary before she died. In Leave, you appropriately see James leave Silent Hill with Laura, taking her with him and thus carrying on Mary's wish that they be friends. Her fate is left ambiguous in the other endings, which I think makes them feel a bit incomplete.
At the Core of Silent Hill (Conclusion)
The monsters of Silent Hill are never just simple monsters with a thirst for blood, and neither is the town itself. Silent Hill 2 is the story of James facing his guilt - that's why Silent Hill called to him - and the reason why the 'Leave' ending speaks to me the most is because it is the only ending where he truly faces it. In 'Maria', he runs from his guilt and the 'In Water' ending concludes with James ending his own life because he is unable to life with his guilt. In 'Leave', James fully sheds light on the darkest parts of his psyche and starts on a path towards redemption, with his penance being a responsibility to take care of Laura as Mary once did. And it ends beautifully with those final words in Mary's letter:
Hey, thank you for taking the time to read another one of my articles. This one was a bit shorter, but definitely on a subject I'm passionate about. I've been thinking about why I love the 'Leave' ending for much of the past year and I finally got to put it into words here. Please let me know which ending you liked the best and why!