Scapegoating is employed by a group or individual to set apart an other due to some conflict, usually moral in nature. It is more likely to appear in groups that have experienced prolonged or difficult negative experiences themselves. It also can be a kind of projection of unwanted ideals and philosophies onto an other as a process of release or purgation. Unfortunately this false sense of contentment given to the community of scapegoaters is temporary and cyclical in nature. Christ is seen as a scapegoat in Biblical literature and Christ figures in narratives are often those sacrificed or persecuted for a differing viewpoint than the majority. The main difference is in the Christ story, he resurrects thus symbolically proving innocence and breaking the cycle.
Silent Hill is a great illustration of the concept and consequences of scapegoating. A community of religious whackadoos decides that a child born out of wedlock is an abomination and they decide to “purify” her with fire. They dupe her mother into going along with this until there’s an accident and they’re all burned alive in one big giant cosmic Karmic hotel bonfire. The girl who was burned, supposedly survived and in such pain and hatred, splits her personality in two (a good side and a dark side or since it was caused by fire you can think of it as Original recipe and extra crispy)…hey, it happens. When the movie begins, an adopted girl named Sharon is sleepwalking and having nightmares and keeps shouting out, “Silent Hill.” Her adopted mother, Rose, decides the best way to deal with this is to take her to Silent Hill (I bet the little girl wishes she had been shouting “Disney World” instead!).
Long story made short…they arrive, it’s creepy, there’s a female cop who tries to help, there’s more religious whackadoos running around and oh yeah, this guy with a big metal pyramid for a head who’s hot and sexy but kind of has some anger management problems and wields a pretty freakin’ large Ginsu knife. He also has some fashion issues and walks in a sea of cockroaches, which may be a lifestyle choice…who am I to judge, right? Head honcho and chief whackadoo, named Christabella (Beautiful Christ…nice touch) played by Alice Krige in her juiciest role since Star Trek: First Contact as the Borg Queen, has convinced everyone after thirty years of this religious whackadooness that they have to keep burning people (well, witches) to hold back the darkness and stop the apocalypse.
And the big reveal…not really a spoiler here…they’re all already dead and this is indeed the scapegoat cycle in a self-perpetuating purgatory. It’s Sharon’s sacrifice as the scapegoat/Christ figure that breaks the cycle and allows her and Mom to escape and go home. But for anyone who’s ever read Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, they know two things: 1) That Hell is other people. And 2) Well, as the title says, there’s No Exit! Thus the creepy scene at the end of the movie. Toss in a little Pat Benatar “Hell is for Children” and that about sums up Silent Hill. Any questions class?
If you really want to read a truly great short story about community scapegoating and sacrifice, here’s Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” It still freaks me out every time I read it.