Twelve Things about The Purge: Anarchy
12. The Purge movies are released in some countries under the title American Nightmare--and I can't decide which one I like better. In an ideal world, their title would be The Hunger Games . . . because screenwriter James DeMonaco would have refined his vision accordingly and novelist Suzanne Collins would have written a book about more than just what happens to a pretty girl when other people plot her destiny around her.
11. As I explained in my Thirteen Things about The Purge, the America of this dystopian future isn't about killing children in order to keep their communities in line, but about committing crimes in order to cleanse yourself (and as a consequence, society) of evil. What both premises have in common is a religious concept--the ancient practice of laying all the sins of a community on the head of a goat and driving the poor animal into the desert. Where they diverge is their stance on it: while The Hunger Games has an atheist's disgust for what it sees as ceremonial hypocrisy, The Purge is full of foxholes full of believers. Including disgusted believers.
10. But the most unsettling parallels are in real life. We don't have to look much further than our own culture, which has adapted the scapegoat ceremony to the digital age. Take the huge purge party inspired by a single tweet from a little over a year ago . . .
For the whole story, please read:
How One Stupid Tweet Ruined Justine Sacco's Life
This totally reminds me of the time when a friend and I were discussing possible international vacation destinations. She was really interested in South Africa, and I said, "Can we stay out of Africa, please? I'm scared." In mock outrage, she stuck her finger in my face and gasped, "Racist! Racist!"
Laughing, I protested: "All I said was that I was scared. How did you know I wasn't talking about a rhino upsetting our truck on a safari?"
Later in the conversation, the US came up and I suggested Texas. And my friend said, "I don't want to go to the South! What if a redneck sheriff harasses us?"
ROFLMAO, right??? It was my turn to pin her to the wall then. We both had a good laugh over stereotypes, including those about our own country. And that was the end of it. But it might not have been. You see, she and I had been talking in a cafe, where any of the complete strangers sipping drinks could have been with the FBI or KGB or SJW. Can you imagine what would have happened if someone had taped that part of our conversation, out of context, and put it before the Thought Police? My friend and I might have ended up like the couple in this movie whose car breaks down in the middle of the city, right before the Purge begins for the night: people who aren't bad, but who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
9. Most people who watch Horror movies aren't psychos . . . indeed, most people, full stop, aren't psychos . . . so one way that we deal with the spectacle of other people being humiliated and abused is to rationalise that they did something to deserve it. Horror movies help us out here (or if you prefer, don't help us at all) by writing in something that we can hold against the victims. But that's just magical thinking--and nearly five years after calling Randy Meeks the "priest figure" of the Scream franchise, I must more precisely characterise him as a well-intentioned priest who doesn't realise he's preaching gnostic and Pelagian sermons because he hasn't been disciplined by his bishop yet.
The just sufferings of "bad" people don't qualify as Horror as much as Porn; and the Ancient Greeks, who believed in cleansing the emotions through compassion and fear, banned that dirty exploitation from their theatre. On the other hand, sufferings rooted in a fatal flaw--that is, sufferings that you bring about but don't deserve--are also not Horror, but Tragedy . . . although modern storytelling tends to blur the distinctions between them. What is truly horrifying is unjust suffering--and The Purge: Anarchy makes quite the moral statement by letting most of the main cast be decent folk who don't deserve the hell they go through.
8. Well, it took me long enough to focus on the film that this post is supposed to be a review of! =P So let's meet the unlucky bunch, shall we?
The man and woman on the right are the couple who thought they'd have enough time to get home before the Purge started, only to be stranded in the middle of the city. We could say that it's their fault for being out so late, except that it isn't. And to hold them accountable for it would be as bad as saying that the woman in the centre deserved to have her apartment broken into by the sleazy neighbour whose advances she has been politely fending off for months. The girl beside her is her teenage daughter. And the guy on the left who reminds you of Frank Castle (Admit it!) is the only one who deliberately went out that night to join the Purge. Give me enough caffeine and I will write a doctoral dissertation on his character.
7. The irony is that he is the only one in the group whom we can say "asked for it"--though not in that awful sense. When he sees the mother and daughter about to be "purged" in cold blood, he knows he shouldn't get involved if he is to accomplish his mission for the night . . . but against his better judgment, he saves them anyway. His doing so gives our stranded couple a chance to throw themselves upon his mercy as well, and though he really doesn't want two more helpless hangers-on slowing him down, he is talked into it. All of it is a grace that he doesn't deserve.
6. The prize for Most Annoying Character goes to the teenage girl, who has been watching Internet videos by an anti-Purge resistance group and wants to share their message with the Punisher-Purger figure. Never mind that he's going out of his way to save her and her mother, although he owes them nothing. The least she could do is to let him have his purge, right?
Well, this is where The Purge: Anarchy turns into a Morality Play. As I explained in Twelve Things about Night of the Demons, the three main characters of such a play are Mankind and the devil and the priest who are fighting over him--and the devil is always more entertaining than the priest. And if only because the priest is a buzzkill, the audience invariably root for the devil. Writer-director DeMonaco may be moral, but he isn't medieval; so he blends Mankind and the devil into a single anti-hero . . . and gives the priest's soul-saving role to a yapping girl. (A St. Christina figure? Hey, I don't mind!) She is a consistent voice of morality and compassion throughout the story, but all we and the Mankind/devil figure want is for her to shut up. Excellent work, Mr. DeMonaco.
5. The anti-Purge resistance group push back not just with words, but also with weapons. Their reasoning is that the people who have the most power to change the status quo also have the least incentive: they can wait the Purge out in homes that are virtual fortresses . . . and if they want to join in, they can stack the odds in their favour so that they themselves are never in any danger. (Look up "canned hunting.") Yes, it's sickening. But when the strategy is to gun as many of the powerful down as well, the line between purger and anti-purger starts blurring. The most tragic part of the film is when a character who has been an innocent victim declares an intention to join the resistance group by saying, "I want to purge" . . . and the resistance leader has no problem with that.
4. And the creepiest part of the film is the masks. Like its predecessor, this movie gets a lot of mileage from its masked revelers.
The scariest moment is probably when they show up on the bridge (You'll know what I mean when you see it). Like the main cast, you'll spend the rest of the movie hoping that the masked gang never show up again. And like the main cast, you will be reeling when one of the masks comes off.
Or maybe not. Two or the three moments I've mentioned are very powerful as story points, but they don't translate to the screen as smoothly as they should. And they're not the only ones. I can see exactly what DeMonaco was going for as a writer . . . but that's what makes it so frustrating to run into his limitations as a director. He's competent enough, but it often feels that his own story is too big for him to handle.
3. More than appearance separates purger and anti-purger. Remember when I complained that The Purge wanted me to hate white people? Well, other reviewers seem to think that racial subtext is just as
"He stole our pensions, now he's gone."
Purge night is evil in and of itself, of course, but it manages to be even worse when one sector of society gets to engage in objective evil, with impunity, and at another sector's expense. (I tried looking up "socioeconomic genocide," but it's not a thing yet.) We must also factor in the degrading effect that such entertainment has on the character. The rich may save their bodies, but whether or not you believe in hell, you can bet that they corrupt their souls.
2. It's when we move from psychology to politics that The Purge franchise (Yes, there's going to be a third film! Aren't you excited?) gets really controversial. For the Purge isn't just a religious institution, but also an economic one. And you'll see what I mean in the small-scale version of it that seems to exist in every world--for the best reasons to have an abortion all have something to do with getting more for yourself when the basket of finite resources is passed around.
In that case, however, why
1. Let's end on a personal note. If your country had an Annual Purge, what would you do? Oh, I don't mean what crimes you'd commit. I trust that every reader of my blog is a moral person! ;-) I'm wondering what you'd do if you lived in a world where you were in danger from purgers. In both Purge movies, we see that most people stay home, barricade their doors and windows, and have at least one gun handy--but that's just for Purge night. And it wouldn't end there: the spectre of that twelve-hour period would hang over the rest of the year and overshadow all the choices that you make in your life. So how would your life be different if you lived in a country where, for twelve hours a year, all crime is legal?
Image Sources: a) The Purge: Anarchy poster, b) Justine Sacco's controversial tweet, c) The Purge: Anarchy main cast, d) Purging gang, e) Purged stockbroker