You’re Urged To See “The Purge”

Posted: July 19, 2013 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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Before you say it, trust me, I already know — I’m pretty late to the party with this one. Anybody who was likely to see writer/director James DeMonaco’s The Purge in theaters (and apparently that’s a big bunch of “anybodys,” since the film did quite well and a sequel has already been announced for January 2015) has already done so, which means that most folks who end up reading this will be doing so either in advance of, or upon, its home video release, but what can I say? I just saw it today (at the last place in town it’s still playing), and I like to write about a movie when it’s still relatively fresh in what passes for my mind.

And truth be told, The Purge offers viewers a lot to think about. I know, I know — that sounds well-nigh impossible for a flick that’s come from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production house, but nevertheless, there you have it.

In a way, too, my late timing in getting around to this one is actually kind of fortuitous — I know, I know, I would say that —simply because I think this is a movie that takes on greater import in the wake of the ludicrous acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s cold-blooded murderer (and self-appointed vigilante guardian), George Zimmerman. And before you accuse me of bringing that whole subject up again too soon after my last rant about it during my Pacific Rim review the other day, please allow me to explain —

The basic gist here, as you’re probably already well aware, is that in the year 2022 some unnamed right-wing faction has taken over the US government and has adopted the most draconian measure for dealing with homelessness and unemployment one can imagine — they’ve instituted a program called, you guessed it, The Purge, which legalizes murder for one night a year. Okay, sure, they’re small-“d” democratic about it and anyone’s free to kill anyone else regardless of race, creed, color, or economic class, but you know how something like this is bound to play out — those with enough money to arm themselves to the teeth are going to go after the low-hanging fruit that can’t afford to do so.

At this point you could be forgiven for thinking that this flick sounds like it could join the likes of ConvoyAmazing Grace, and Eye Of The Tiger (to name just a few) in the wildly disparate movies-derived-from-songs sub-category, with the tune in question here being the old Dead Kennedys classic “Kill The Poor,” and ya know, I do hope that Jello Biafra and co. are getting some kind of royalties cut here, but in truth The Purge goes about its political messaging a bit less directly than DK did, and its populist, horror/SF-crowd-pleasing instincts certainly leave it open to an entirely apolitical reading if one so chooses.

But that’s not how we do things here, is it? The gated “community” that wealthy alarm-system salesman protagonist James Sandin (played by Ethan Hawke, who’s enjoying something of a surprise career resurgence in recent years as, of all things, a genre star), his wife Mary (Lena Headey), and their two kids reside in is essentially exactly the same as most of the atrocious “secure” compounds that protect the privileged from the society-wide results of their greed and avarice that we find littering the soul-dead landscape of suburban America today, the reticence to help a downtrodden person  (in this case a black homeless guy who’s also, at least if we’re to go by the dog tags he’s wearing, apparently a veteran) on Sandin’s part is all too believable, the silent acquiescence of an entire nation to acts of barabarism is too obvious a parallel to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to ignore, and watching all the rich motherfuckers turn on each other when the shit hits the fan later in the movie isn’t so different than what they tend to do when they all-too-occasionally get called on the carpet for their reckless financial shenanigans and start selling each other out to protect their own asses from litigation or worse.

I’ve certainly seen and heard reviewers describe the root premise of The Purge as being “unrealistic,” and express the opinion that, no matter how bad things got, we as a people would never condone such a thing, much less embrace it with open arms as the people in the film have done, but when you honestly look at the way society’s headed, how “far-fetched” is it really? America is inexorably bifurcating into a nation of a few “haves” and a great many “have-nots,” with inner-city neighborhoods where Purge-like activities play out on an almost  nightly basis existing at a “safe” distance from people who have retreated behind walls, fences, and armed checkpoints that we laughably describe as “visitor’s entrances” in order to shield their families from the realities of the system they’re profiting from.  And now look — even if you do manage to venture behind those barricades, unarmed and minding your own business, you’ll be summarily executed by a racist thug who won’t even be sent to jail for killing you in a fight he started (see, you knew I would get back to that). The only thing I find “outlandish” about this flick is that the government has been so egalitarian in who it’s decided is legal to kill for one night — even if , as mentioned, in actual practice it’s going to end up more often than not being exactly the people they want dead.

The Purge was an interesting and topical film, with more layers of subtext than than your average dozen horror flicks combined, when it hit theaters six or eight weeks back, but in light of recent tragic events it’s become, dare I say, essential viewing. My hope is that it wakes people up to the dangers, and the inhumanity, of the rapidly (and radically) economically-segregated society we’re becoming — but given that one of the previews before the movie was for an obviously-sanitized, fawning new biopic of multi-millionaire asshole Steve Jobs, I’m afraid it might be too late already.

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