Social Criticism In A Major Motion Picture?
By: Kurt von Behrmann
|The Purge: Anarchy|
If “Dawn of the Battle of Planet of the Apes” was a thinly veiled commentary on contemporary wars, “The Purge: Anarchy” is one on class conflict. Carefully crafted between the carnage are acidic criticisms of the blatant hypocrisy of a society that openly extols the virtues of Christianity and democratic government while simultaneously engaging in barbarism. The dichotomy between the “haves” and the “barely have anythings” is at the core of the movie and serves as a leitmotif that underscores the real rationale for “the purge.”
The premise here is that for one day out of the year from 7:00 PM to 7:00 AM all crime is legal. Murder, rape and theft are all permitted. All public services are suspended until the “purge” ends. This includes hospital services. The concept behind all of this “anything goes” violence is that it offers an outlet for frustrations that have been building up during the year. Since its implementation this annual event has resulted in reduced crime rates, lower unemployment and an overall more stable society. That is the official reason. The reality is more sinister.
A yearly cathartic for everyone as a guaranteed right as a U.S. citizen, one does have the option to participate or not. Accepted as an inevitable stabilizer of society and a tool to eliminate undesirable actions, the purge is open to all, but not necessarily of equal benefit. Proclaimed as an event that has positive results for all, it is an equalizer that places everyone on a level playing field. Here is where rhetoric parts company with reality.
The real purpose of the purge is to eliminate the poor. It is nothing short of open class warfare. Marketing this mass scale chaos to those with the most to lose, the government in this dystopia have succeeded in convincing the general public that this is not only for its own good, but a God given right.
Those able to afford it barricade themselves behind protective alarms systems. The “uber” affluent live far enough away from the danger zone that they remain safe. Those living at the poverty level in the inner city receive the brunt of the violence. Their protection amounts to little more than locked doors and boarded up windows. Downtown has become a battle ground.
Not everyone is accepting the purge. A group of dissenters realize what the actual objectives of it is, and they are willing to do something about it. They are ready to fight back.
For those who benefit the most out of a nation where violence eliminates the poor and devastates the middle class, the super wealthy enjoy the security and rewards that their status gives freely. They have so much that they transform purge night into a perverse form of entertainment.
In what can only be described as viciously sadistic, the patrician class pays for victims to be brought to their mansions and murdered in the most violent manner possible. Beneath the veneer of civilization and opulence resides a disturbed world where the weak are decimated and the very rich amused.
The contrast between posh environments and unrestrained violence creates a disturbing tension. As the economically advantaged luxuriate in the comforts affluence confers and all of its shameless sense of superiority and entitlement, the very things that create humanity in its highest form have been trashed in order to satisfy some very ugly frightening yearnings. Nothing feeds an out of control ego as well as debasing those perceived as inferior.
Money is at the core of everything, along with power. In this new America that “The Purge: Anarchy” has created, the ultra-affluent have turned the poor into procurers of the poor that are willing to sell out their own class for money. In one scene we see our protagonists captured and thrown into a van thinking that their lives are going to end then and there. We discover quickly that the down and out have been paid to find anyone on the streets and serve them up as entertainment for a crowd of the privileged. In a “Hunger Games” like game, the unarmed helpless are prey for armed opponents.
The interesting connections that this film makes is that both the middle class and the disadvantage share more common ground than is often considered in the public arena. A white police sergeant, an African-American waitress struggling to make ends meet, her daughter and a young middle class white couple are all of equal in value in this world. None of them have any extra advantages. What they in fact share is that they are little more than pawns to be played with and little more. Their lives mean nothing. What this film makes clear is that race is not so much of a divider as is class. It is an idea not often explored in films, particularly in Hollywood where big spectacles are the rule. To see it presented in a mainstream film is very edgy.
Another element that this film handles rather well, and with chilling effect, is the love of not only violence, but of guns. The imagery here is disturbing. In one scene we see a woman wielding a very large gun on the edge of a building shooting anyone and everything below. As she delights in her actions, she mentions how this is God’s will. The connection between religious beliefs being closely connected to uncontrolled pointless violence is an alarming irony that makes a huge statement. The criticism of a society that places such value on arms is on display. It is not a pretty scene.
A particularly disturbing scene involves a society matron introducing freshly acquired victims to be killed for sport. As she accepts bids to see who has the honor of gunning down the helpless, she described a particular weapon. In detail she rhapsodies the virtues of a specific gun. The disturbing image of a mature woman dressed well talking about guns with such warmth is an congruency that underscores the ridiculous nature of gun worship.
Summer blockbusters are primarily entertainment. Frequently, all too frequently, they are little more than insubstantial entertainment. At their best they are harmless diversions. When they hit rock bottom, as many do, you are subjected to lowest common denominator dripping in dreck nonsense that robs you of money and time.
“The Purge: Anarchy” provides, thrills, drama and some engaging performances. There are no weak links. The big surprise here is that something is being said between the lines, and it is reflective of where we are as a nation politically and socially. The issues that our society confronts are not given a space in the mainstream media. Pop, fluff and not so subtle propaganda are have totally replaced serious discussions. This is just what makes it so intriguing that a big spectacle film has more to say about inequity, class distinctions and open hypocrisy than what no passes for news.
An ominous line comes up when a character asks the question of when this will all end. The answer is ominous and somewhat prophetic. “This will end when it is their blood.” I may not have the line totally accurate, but it does paint a picture of the future that is disturbingly accurate regarding what has historically been, and what potentially could be.