For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at one of the more unexpected box office successes of 2013, The Purge.
The Purge takes place in the year 2022. In some ways, America is much the same as it is today but in other ways, it is significantly different. Unemployment is down to 1% and crime rates have plunged. Before you can say, “So, this is what we have to look forward to once Obama is no longer President,” we are told that America is now being led by the “New Founding Fathers.”
We also learn that every year, for one 12-hour period, all crime is legal. The Purge is designed to act as a catharsis, a time for the American people to release all of their pent-up frustrations and act on all the desires that the government has since forbidden. As the film opens, we listen to people discussing how they’re going to celebrate 2022’s Purge. Some say that they’re going to stay inside and keep their doors locked. Another brags about how he’s planning to take the opportunity to murder his boss.
The Purge has also created an entirely new economy that is completely centered around preparing for the Purge. As a result, men like James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) have become millionaires by selling home security systems. The Purge opens with James pulling up in front his gigantic mansion, going inside, and getting his family prepared for that night’s Purge.
When the Purge begins, James, his wife (Lena Headey), and his family believe themselves to be safe inside their mansion. However, things don’t go quite as planned. For one thing, daughter Zooey’s (Adelaide Kane) older boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller) is hiding out in the house. Henry knows that James doesn’t approve of him but is convinced that he can either change James’s mind or, failing that, simply kill him while it’s perfectly legal to do so.
An even bigger complication arises when a bloody stranger (Edwin Hodge) approaches the house and begs to be let in. When James’s son opens the door to the man, the house is suddenly surrounded by a group of masked purgers who demand that the stranger be sent back out. When the purgers start to attack, the Sandins’s jealous neighbors suddenly see a chance to take out their own resentments on James and his family…
The Purge got terrible reviews but, judging from its box office success, it obviously struck a nerve with audiences. And why not? Like many so-called exploitation films, The Purge may not be subtle but it does manage to perfectly capture the fears and prejudices that everyone in the audience has. I saw The Purge when it was first released and then I recently rewatched it on DVD and I have to say that I was a little surprised to discover just how well The Purge holds up to repeat viewings. The Purge is effective because, as over-the-top as it may seem, it’s still a disturbingly plausible portrait of the type of society that our “leaders” seem to be so eager to create.
As a side note, shortly after the film completed its initial run, George Zimmerman was acquitted in the Trayvon Martin case and I can still remember seeing hundreds of people on twitter saying that it was time to have a real-life Purge in Florida, which indicates how much of a part of the popular culture this film became. It’s not surprising that a sequel is going to be released in 2014.
Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia
- Executive Action
- Winter Kills
- Interview With The Assassin
- The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
- Beyond The Doors
- Three Days of the Condor
- They Saved Hitler’s Brain
- The Intruder
- Police, Adjective
- Burn After Reading
- Quiz Show
- Flying Blind
- God Told Me To
- Wag the Dog
- Scream and Scream Again
- Capricorn One
- Seven Days In May
- Broken City
- Pickup on South Street
- The Informer
- The Lives of Others
- The Departed
- A Face In The Crowd
- The Hunger Games: Catching Fire