Pyramid Head comes from the Silent Hill franchise. To be exact, he was an antagonist in Silent Hill 2, who served as a living embodiment of the protagonist’s sins. Thanks to that, Pyramid Head managed to resonate with a lot of players, so much so that he can be considered one of the most iconic monsters in horror media.
What Is Pyramid Head?
To understand Pyramid Head, some things need to be said about the Silent Hill franchise’s main setting. In short, Silent Hill is a small town that can be found in the U.S. state of Maine. It looks nice enough on the surface, so much so that it sees a fair number of tourists on a regular basis. However, people within the setting would do well to listen to the dark rumors about the town because there is indeed something supernatural to the place. The site wasn’t always malevolent. Before European settlement, it was a sacred site to the local indigenous peoples, who recognized it for the place of power that it was. Unfortunately, the Silent Hill franchise follows a very common rule in horror media, which is that a place can come to encourage horrific acts in the present because it has been imprinted by horrific acts in the past. As such, something that was once a sacred site has become something much more negative in nature.
By the 20th century, the town had become connected to the Otherworld. It isn’t clear what the latter is supposed to be. However, it is best described as a liminal realm that is responsive to humans in the sense that it will twist itself based on their fears as well as their other thoughts until it is a reflection of their worst nightmares. As such, one could say that the Otherworld is a very versatile sort of personal hell. Regardless, the important point is that the monsters of the Otherworld reflect this. Nightmares being nightmares, they aren’t necessarily simple and straightforward representations of personal issues. Instead, plenty of monsters are more horrible mishmashes. However, some of them are more to the point than the others, with an excellent example being Pyramid Head.
What Does Pyramid Head Represent?
Simply put, Pyramid Head is a symbol of the protagonist James Sunderland’s guilt over killing his wife. This isn’t clear on initial inspection. However, this becomes clear when one learns more about the protagonist’s background. In short, James was married to a woman named Mary Shepherd-Sunderland. The two were very happy with one another for a time. Unfortunately, that didn’t last because Mary developed a terminal illness three years before the start of the game, which unsurprisingly, took a serious toll on their relationship. For example, Mary started lashing out because of her mood swings, with James taking the brunt of them. Similarly, James became sexually frustrated because Mary’s terminal illness made it impossible for them to have sexual contact with one another. Over time, he became more and more ground-down, so much so that he eventually killed Mary by smothering her with a pillow. His exact motivations for doing so are a matter of interpretation, but most people agree on a couple of elements. One, James had come to resent Mary. Two, James was horrified by seeing someone he loved in so much pain. As such, the most common interpretation is that James killed Mary because of both a sense of resentment and a sense of mercy. Some people go as far as to claim that he did so at his wife’s request, which has some basis to it but is nonetheless nowhere near as certain as what they would claim.
Whatever the case, the killing broke James. Completing Silent Hill 2 makes it clear that he headed to the titular town where he and his wife once vacationed with the intent of committing suicide so that he could be reunited with her in death. During the drive, James repressed the memory of him killing his wife. In its place, he came up with the delusion that he was headed to Silent Hill because his wife had sent him a letter from the town even though she had died from a terminal illness three years ago, which can be considered a symbolic representation of how the woman he once knew “died” when she started deteriorating after the diagnosis of the terminal illness.
Pyramid Head is one of a pair of entities that represent James’s feelings of guilt over the killing of his wife, with the other being Maria. Everything about his appearance as well as his actions are connected to this. For starters, Pyramid Head’s look is very reminiscent of an pre-modern executioner’s stereotypical hood, which makes sense because he is haunting someone who wants to be punished. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the monster seen in Silent Hill 2 is on the scrawnier side of things. Something that is particularly strange because latter depictions of Pyramid Head are often on the brawnier side of things instead. One might assume that this is just an artistic evolution until one realizes that the monster seen in Silent Hill 2 has the same build as James, which makes sense because of his status as a sort of stand-in for James. This connection can be seen in a number of other things as well. One example would be how Pyramid Head’s Great Knife being one half of a pair of scissors. Another example would be how Pyramid Head is covered in dried blood to represent the metaphorical blood that is on James’s hands because of the killing of his wife. For that matter, it is pretty telling that the monster is designed to make it very clear that he is a he even though most of the other monsters in Silent Hill 2 are feminine-looking, thus further reinforcing that sense of connection.
Of course, Pyramid Head’s various actions are representative of this as well. For example, he chases James because he is a constant reminder of James’s guilt. Similarly, he can’t be stopped because James’s delusion about what happened to his wife cannot change the truth of things no matter how hard he tries. On top of this, there are a number of actions that make Pyramid Head’s symbolic meaning even clearer. First, there is a scene in which the monster seemed to sexually abuse a pair of Mannequins. One could interpret this as a sign of James’s sexual frustration. However, the more important point is the idea of rape as a crime for which there can be no forgiveness, which is important because that is how James feels about his killing of his wife. Second, there are Pyramid Head’s multiple murders of Maria. Essentially, these serve as brutal reminders that James killed Mary because Pyramid Head is a stand-in for James just as how Maria is a stand-in for Mary, meaning that they are meant to punch through his delusion. Third, there is the fact that James confronts not one but two Pyramid Heads after killing Eddie Dombromski. The incident happened in self-defense. However, James nonetheless felt a sense of guilt over his second killing, thus producing a second monster. One Pyramid Head was covered in dried blood because that was the one who symbolized his older guilt over killing his wife. The other Pyramid Head was covered in fresh blood because that was the one who symoblized his newer guilt over killing Eddie. Not coincidentally, when James at last realized what had happened, both of the Pyramid Heads committed suicide because their task was done.
Speaking of which, it is important to bring up Maria when talking about Pyramid Head. It isn’t quite clear what she is supposed to be. The simplest and most straightforward answer would be that Maria is an entity created by the Otherworld, meaning that she is much the same as the monsters found in Silent Hill 2. However, she is rather unusual in a number of respects, with examples ranging from how she seems to possess a measure of sapience to how she seems to know things that were known to Mary but not to James. Whatever the case, if Pyramid Head is the inescapable reminder of James’s guilt, Maria would be the comforting distraction that serves to preserve him from the full weight of what he has done.
This can be seen by what happens in the endings. In total, Silent Hill 2 had six possible endings. Three of those could be achieved in a first play-through, while the other three couldn’t happen save on subsequent play-throughs. The first three would be the so-called “Leave,” “In Water,” and “Maria” scenarios. In both “Leave” and “In Water,” James confronts Maria at the very end, who makes one last attempt to convince him to accept her. He rejects her, she turns into a monster, and then he kills her. After which, James gets one last meeting with Mary who gets the chance to pass her last letter to him. “Leave” would be the happier ending because James leaves Silent Hill with Laura, with the strong implication that he has chosen to give the girl a home by adopting her. Meanwhile, “In Water” sees James remembering that he came to Silent Hill with the intent of killing himself so that he can be reunited with his wife in death, which is a resolution that he proceeds to carry out. “Maria” is very different from these two endings. In that one, James doesn’t confront a monster identifying as Maria but rather a monster identifying as Mary at the very end, with the result that he kills his wife a second time. After which, James leave Silent Hill with a somehow living Maria, which essentially means that he has bought into the comforting delusion rather than the painful truth. It is telling that Maria starts coughing in the ending because that suggests that everything will happen all over again because she has been inflicted with the same terminal illness as Mary. Something that makes sense because James has learned nothing from the experience, meaning that he is doomed to repeat it.
What Do Other Monsters in Silent Hill 2 Represent?
The other monsters in Silent Hill 2 had symbolic meanings as well. Generally speaking, they were representative of James’s issues. However, they also made it clear that the Otherworld is capable of accommodating the issues of more than one person at the same time. To name an example, Lying Figures are feminine-looking figures that seem restrained but are capable of attacking by spitting acid. The restraint might be symbolic of both James and Mary being trapped by their situation, while the acid might be symbolic of James being bombarded by Mary’s harsh words during some of her mood swings. Similarly, each Mannequin consists of two pairs of feminine-looking legs that are connected at where the waist would be on a person. Due to this, they seem symbolic of James’s sexual frustration, particularly since Mannequins are the monsters that get abused by Pyramid Head. As for the Flesh Lips that are just lumps of flesh suspended in what looks a lot like a bedframe, they are almost certainly connected to James’s recollections of Mary in her sickbed, which are not very good ones to say the least. The Abstract Daddy is unusual because it is an exception to the rule that the monsters reflect James’s issues. This is because it reflects Angela Orosco’s issues instead. Considering that the Abstract Daddy looks like a couple of figures on a bed with one figure being clearly bigger than the other, people should have no problem guessing what it indicates, particularly once they learn about what Angela suffered as a child.