Yes, I know what you’re saying.
“Seriously, Lisa!? We should give awards consideration to The Purge: Anarchy!? Are you serious!?”
Yes, actually I am quite serious. Notice that I didn’t say that we should necessarily give The Purge: Anarchy any awards or that we should even nominate it. I just said consideration. For whatever flaws that The Purge: Anarchy may have, it’s actually one of the better and, in its way, one of the more thought-provoking mainstream American films released this year. Working within the guise of being a simple genre film, The Purge: Anarchy is one of the few films to give serious consideration to the politics and culture that could both lead to and result from dystopia.
What I’m saying is that — despite what the critics may have said last summer — The Purge: Anarchy is actually one of the most subversive and intellectually curious films released this year. You just have to be willing to look past all of the action conventions and instead focus on the film’s subtext.
The Purge: Anarchy takes place one year after the end of the first Purge film. America is still led by the New Founding Fathers and every year, for one night, all crime is legal. As the national media constantly assures everyone, the Purge is responsible for every good thing about America. And even though there are a few rebels who claim that the Purge is not necessarily a good thing, most people chose to believe that — as long as it’s government-sanctioned — it’s for the best.
Whereas the first Purge film took place solely inside one family’s house and focused on the domestic melodrama within, The Purge: Anarchy focuses on what goes on outside of the gated sanctuaries of the rich. As quickly becomes apparent, the Purge is less about purging negative feelings and more about keeping the non-rich, non-white population under control. While the poor kill each other in the streets, the rich pay for the privilege to kill poverty-stricken “volunteers” in the safety of their own homes. (Some of the volunteers agree to die out of the hope that their family will be sent some money. Most are just rounded up on the streets, killed, and forgotten.)
Perhaps even more so than the first film, The Purge: Anarchy works because it feels so plausible. We live in a society where we are continually told that moral rights and wrongs can be determined by man-made laws. When a man is filmed being literally choked to death by a pack of police officers, we’re told that it was the man’s fault because he was failing to respect authority and many choose to believe it because “the law is the law.” (Never mind, of course, whether the law is being fairly applied or makes any sense to begin with.) If a man in uniform is murdered, it’s rightfully called a crime. If a man in uniform commits a murder, we’re told it’s simply a part of the job.
And so, that’s why I suggest that The Purge: Anarchy deserves greater consideration than it’s been given. Yes, it is a genre film and yes, it is an installment in an action franchise. However, it’s also far closer to the truth than many people are willing to acknowledge.