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(Download The Purge) Political Content Warning: The Purge is a very politically charged film. It’s really impossible to discuss the movie well,(The Purge Download) on its own terms, without going extensively into the politics of the film; this means the following review will also be politically charged.
My political opinions are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my colleagues, or the official stance of ZekeFilm, which is apolitical.
(Download The Purge) The Purge is being marketed as a horror film in the home-invasion subgenre, in a similar vein to The Strangers. To be sure, there are horrific elements to the film, and the second half makes extensive use of the home invasion trope. The Purge is a lean, mean nail-biter of a thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat for most of its running time. (Download The Purge Movie) But it isn’t really a horror movie. What it is, is the type of high-concept science fiction of the kind found in classic short stories like Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. What if, for one night a year, all crime was legal? What if this lawless night had been instituted as a way to “purge” ourselves of our darkest impulses, so that we can be good little boys and girls the rest of the year? What would such a society look like? How would people act out? What would you do?
(Download The Purge) This concept has then been wedded to a poignant political allegory. The Purge imagines the future as a libertarian dystopia where everyone is armed. Citizens carry handguns, automatic rifles, and machine guns (rocket launchers and grenades seem to still be off-limits). (Download The Purge Movie) America is “a nation reborn,” under the leadership of the “New Founding Fathers,” who took control of the country sometime in the last six years. During that time, they instituted “The Purge,” as a way to funnel all of humanity’s darkest impulses into a single night. We are told that, on the surface, it works. Unemployment is at 1%. Crime is virtually non-existent. The economy is booming.
(Download The Purge) But at what cost? The defining element of the type of dystopia presented in The Purge is the appearance of a utopia, but with a horrifying fatal flaw. The Purge seems to be working; it seems to have made the world a better place. But better for who? What if The Purge is a type of institutionalized and literalized class warfare, where the rich are able to literally hunt the poor for sport? Our protagonists, the Sandin family, live in an upscale,(Watch The Purge Online) wealthy community where everyone can afford state-of-the-art security systems. For the Sandins and their neighbors, The Purge represents a mild inconvenience on one side of the spectrum, and a chance to live it up with no consequences on the other. But for those who cannot afford such luxury, The Purge represents a nightmare of unbridled terror; an anarchic hellscape where every breath may be your last.
(Download The Purge) We see this perspective represented in the plight of a nameless homeless man who seeks refuge within the Sandin household. He is being pursued by a group of rich, privileged, sociopathic Ivy League college kids. Their leader (the only one to remove his creepy mask), played by Rhys Wakefield, comes off like a low-rent, cartoonish version of Patrick Bateman. (The Purge Download) He simpers and grins like a douchier version of The Joker, and he speaks in clichéd, hyperbolic sound bites. At first this bothered me, and I thought it was a low point of the film. Wakefield’s character is so much more of an obvious caricature than anything else in the movie. But then, during a scene in which he is skulking around the house, his Ivy-League sport jacket clearly visible, it suddenly hit me: who sounds the stupidest and most annoying when rattling off political jargon? Spoiled, bored, immature college kids, of course! I can only imagine that his character was deliberately written this way to reflect that stereotype, and within that context, it works.
The Purge is set in the year 2022, which at first feels like a very odd choice. It seems highly unlikely that such a radical change in our society could happen within the next nine years. (The Purge Download) Why not simply set the film in the “not-too-distant future”? But I wonder if the imminence of the setting was chosen for a specific reason.
(Download The Purge) One of the advantages of speculative fiction is that it allows the artist to explore current events and timely issues in an allegorical fashion. A science-fiction or horror film is able to get away with being blatant about social and political matters in a way that a story grounded in reality cannot. The Purge is incredibly on-the-nose, but it works because of the genre and the central concept.
I think that writer-director James DeMonaco is making a specific point by setting The Purge so close in the near future. (The Purge Download) We overhear on the radio that the New Founding Fathers were elected into office, after the worst economic depression in American history. If you do the math, this means that within the world of the film, the current economic recovery is going to take a turn for the worse, and the next American Revolution will happen with our next election.
(Download The Purge) DeMonaco seems to be telling us that we are now at a crossroads. In 2013, we are faced with the highest levels of economic inequality since The Gilded age. Without significant changes in our economic structure,(Download The Purge Movie) this is only going to get worse. The rich will continue to get richer and the poor will continue to get poorer. The 1% will continue to build their empires on the backs of the poor, marching us slowly but steadily into a state of neo-feudalism.
(The disparity between the 1% and the 99% is very subtly referenced in the film, with “99%” and “1%” dropped in lines of dialogue. The numbers aren’t used in that context, but I believe that they are there to subtly prod the viewer into seeing the allegory.)
(Download The Purge) At the same time, we are also faced with a growing rate of gun violence, both of the everyday violent crime variety, and in an increasing number of mass shootings each year. Even common-sense background check legislation was recently defeated in the Senate, due to fear of the powerful gun lobby, which sees even the hint of regulation as a clear and present danger to the second amendment. The NRA is unwilling to compromise. (Download The Purge Movie) Their solution is to arm everyone. When everyone has a gun, they say, we will achieve peace through mutually assured destruction. (This is represented in the movie by the right to “purge,” which the characters staunchly claim, defend, and take advantage of. When one character says to another, “I support your right to purge,” he may as well be saying, “I support your right to bear arms.”)
(Download The Purge) Some believe that we are at a tipping point, and that something has got to give. That cooler heads will prevail, our culture will see the error of our ways, and we will step back from the brink. But what if the opposite happens? What if, instead of righting our course, we go barreling headlong over the cliff? History is littered with the corpses of fallen empires: societies that were done in by their own hubris, devolving into barbarism before imploding in upon themselves. Who are we to think that we are any different?
(Download The Purge) Right now there are rich and powerful men in the halls of industry and government who want to make sure that they stay rich and powerful. They will not simply go away, and they will not, outside of Divine Intervention, suddenly change their minds. They are dug in deep, and committed to a singular vision. (Download The Purge Movie) Likewise, there are politically powerful organizations with an unwavering commitment to the deregulation of firearms. They envision a society where everyone is proudly armed with whatever weapon they so choose. What happens if these powerful minorities get their way, imposing their will upon the rest of us? What will their vision of the future look like?
In The Purge, DeMonaco follows these two paths to one possible, if seemingly outrageous, conclusion. In some ways, the idea is ludicrous, but realism isn’t the point here. The Purge is a type of satire, using a potentially outlandish situation as a way to point out the flaws in our current society. It savagely critiques the concepts of social Darwinism, which are inherent in free-market libertarianism, which is itself a clear and present danger to us now in the real world.
(Download The Purge) In a scene just before The Purge begins, we overhear commentators discussing The Purge. One brings up the idea that the real purpose of The Purge is to systematically eliminate the poor and other undesirables from society. Is this why unemployment and poverty is so low? Because most of the poor and unemployed have simply been killed off in The Purge year after year?
The movie is replete with these tiny little details that contribute to a sense of world-building, which in turn makes the movie feel that much more real to the audience, which makes us that much more invested in the characters onscreen. From the reports we hear on the radio playing in the background,(Watch The Purge Online) to the dog tags around the neck of the homeless man, each new detail contributes to the rich tapestry of the film.
(Download The Purge) I hope that this movie finds an audience that can appreciate it for what it is trying to say. I do worry that it may be too smart for modern moviegoers. During the screening I attended, the audience cheered and clapped whenever one of the “good” guys violently dispatched one of the invaders. As I sat in my seat, disturbed by the reactions the film was getting,(Watch The Purge Online) I could not help but wonder if most of the audience was missing the point. DeMonaco is not showing us acts of heroism to be celebrated. He is showing us the horror of a society that has embraced its darker impulses. The horror of this movie comes not from the home invaders themselves, but from the state that society has found itself in. Every time a character is violently killed, no matter who they are, it is another nail in society’s coffin.
When privileged psychopaths prepare to execute their victims in the film, they intone a blessing upon America,(The Purge Download) like a prayer before a meal. Blessed be America, where the strong devour the weak. After all, what could be more American than that?