James Sunderland is the protagonist of Silent Hill 2. He drives to Silent Hill after receiving a mysterious letter from Mary Shepherd-Sunderland, his deceased wife, that states she's waiting for him in their "special place" in the town. However, it isn't long before he realizes that there's something sinister about the town, and he's forced to contend with demons both flesh and in his own mind.
Over the course of his time in Silent Hill, James meets several other tortured souls including Angela Orosco, a woman haunted by the sexual abuse suffered at the hands of her father. He also meets Eddie Dombrowski, a man driven to madness by lifelong verbal abuse and now hiding in Silent Hill after having both murdered a dog and shot a football player in the knee.
Of the people James meets, none are more mysterious than Maria, a woman identical in appearance to the deceased Mary. Though Maria routinely taunts James about his wife, he does his best to protect her. However, in the basement of Alchemilla Hospital, Maria is killed by Pyramid Head. Yet she baffles James again when she appears again later on, apparently alive and well with no recollection of Pyramid Head's attack.
Toward the end of the game, the mental block that James has incurred on himself is lifted, and he is able to finally recall the truth. Mary had been stricken with a terminal illness; one that eventually caused her to become violent. Unable to cope with Mary's increasingly abusive behavior, James smothered Mary with a pillow to put her our of both her misery and his.
After murdering his wife, James drove to their "special place" of Silent Hill with the intent to kill himself. However, just before he arrives in the town, he suffers a mental break and starts to relive some of his memories of Mary. The letter he supposedly received from her is in fact nothing more than his imagination put to a blank sheet of paper.
James learns that most of the monsters he had to face are all manifestations of his guilt for what happened to Mary. Maria, in fact, turns out to be nothing more than the physical manifestation of James's lust and wanting for Mary; Pyramid Head's supposed killing of Maria is in fact a form of punishment for James's own act of killing Mary.
Depending on the ending path the player takes, James is confronted in the final moments of the game with a demonic rendition of either Mary or Maria that serves as the final boss.
James's fate is determined by a variety of factors based on how the player plays the game and what actions the player takes. Such actions include how much time the player spends with Maria in Alchemilla Hospital, how quickly the player uses healing items after being injured, how often the player examines certain inventory items, and so on. The different endings are as follows:
In this ending, after James kills the Mary-monster, he speaks with her one last time on her hospital bed and she gives him a new letter. James leaves with the young girl Laura and is last seen in the cemetery with her while Mary's voice recites the letter. This ending is meant to infer that James has made everything right with Mary and this is generally considered the "good" ending.
In this ending, after James kills the Mary-monster, he returns to Rosewater Park with Maria. As they speak with each other, Maria starts to cough and James suggests she 'have that looked at'. This ending indicates that James is doomed to repeat his mistakes.
After James defeats the last boss he speaks to Mary on her bed for the final time. After she passes away, he picks her body up and walks out with her. After the screen goes black, the sound of a car door being slammed is heard, and then the engine fires up. James then says, "Now we can be together." As the screen fades back in, James's car is shown sinking into the depths of Toluca Lake, and it is clear that he has chosen to kill himself.
This is a special ending that can only be achieved by playing on a second playthrough. During the game, the player may collect four items: a White Chism, an Obsidian Goblet, the Book of Lost Memories and the Book of Crimson Ceremony. After James kills Mary, he takes a rowboat found at the Lakeview Hotel to an island in the middle of Toluca Lake. On this island is a dilapidated church. In a voice-over, James states:
"Mary...you looked so...peaceful. Forgive me for waking you but without you, I just can't go on. I can't live without you Mary. This town...Silent Hill. The old gods haven't left this place. And they still grant power to those who venerate them. Power to defy even death..."
This ending is meant to infer that James will use the items he acquired in a ritual of some sort in order to resurrect Mary.
The canonical fate of James has not been elaborated on in subsequent games, and thus remains open to interpretation.
Silent Hill 3 Cameo
James makes a cameo appearance in Silent Hill 3's joke ending. When Heather returns home, she finds her father sitting at the table with an alien as a house guest while James hides behind a curtain. When Harry states his intent to go back to Silent Hill and take on the monsters, he demonstrates his intent by jump-kicking a piece of wood that James holds for him.