‘The Purge’ – Really shit until you consider the politics, but then it’s still pretty shit
I went to see The Purge yesterday with very low expectations, which were definitely met. The plot was one-dimensional, acting and action forgettable, and the ‘twist’ at the end wasn’t in the least surprising. If you have a cinema membership like I do where you can see unlimited films then you should see it just to see it, but otherwise I wouldn’t waste the money.
However still The Purge touches on some interesting class and race politics within our own society. The Purge is about a future in America in which unemployment is at 1% and the crime rate is near inexistent, except for 1 night out of the year where all crime is legalised. This annual Purge is passed to the population as a necessity in order to maintain prosperity and safety because of the existence of violent human nature. The plot of The Purge then follows one upper-middle class family’s experience of the Purge, in which one child’s compulsion to let a man screaming for help inside their locked-down home leads to a night of terror when the group of rich kids terrorising the man come knocking on the door, threatening to kill them all if they don’t give up the man.
The first thing I take issue with is the presumption of a violent human nature. Human nature, as studies have often found, is pretty limited to a few basics of survival based on group well-being. Human nature is adaptability, and one of the major reasons humans are so successful is because of his adaptability and also because of our great community building and altruism. Of course we are violent, all animals I can think of are, but this isn’t any more inherent in us than our nature to be cooperative.
However, if you stop mindlessly watching the film for a second and actually listen to the radio and television broadcasts in the film you can see that there may be more to the story, and that this idea of violent human nature may be a cover up for something else. All the footage that they showed of past Purges in which I could recognise race and class, the attackers were very often white and middle or working class. There were debates about how upper middle class Americans were able to spend exorbitant amounts of money on incredible security systems and were therefore protected, whilst working classes, lower classes, the homeless, and the elderly were much more at risk of being attacked. Actual broadcasts voiced opinions that the Purge was a tool to rid the country of ‘undesirables’ – no wonder the unemployment rate is 1%, the rich people are killing all the unemployed people.
The rich kids knocking on the family’s door that night specifically called the man they harboured a homeless pig, swine, undesirable. The ringleader called his group the ‘haves’, and talked about how they needed to rid the country of the have-nots, the people who don’t contribute to society. And since race is intricately linked with class, we can see how race would also be a huge issue within this dystopian America. Ethan Hawke, who played the father in the film, actually had the same interpretation and likened it to the murder of Trayvon Martin.
The way the politics comes into play is pretty poor, and it’s just a very weak film. We still cheer on the upper class family whilst the homeless black man they shelter is an afterthought. However, it’s an interesting extrapolation of the sort of disdain much of America, and the UK for that matter, have for the unemployed, the disabled, and the elderly. I’d be interested to see some better renditions of this sort of political extrapolation, maybe from the subject position of a disadvantaged class.