Home » Years » 2013 » The Purge •••

The Purge •••

The_Purge_posterStarring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder
Director: James DeMonaco
Screenplay: James DeMonaco
Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 85 minutes

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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, we just satisfied our urge to see The Purge.

It’s a movie that binges along the fringes. Let’s recap.

The story is set in the year 2022, and we are introduced to an upper-middle class family preparing for the annual 12-hour “purge” — an annual ritual in which anyone can commit any crime with impunity from 7pm to 7am. The “new founders” of America have discovered that crime and unemployment have been almost non-existent ever since the purge was instituted, as the ritual apparently allows people a vehicle for getting their anger and violent urges out of their system. The family includes the dad, James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), the mom, Mary (Lena Headey), a teenage daughter, Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and young son, Charlie (Max Burkholder).

The family’s house isn’t on lockdown for long when young Charlie hears a man calling for help. He opens the house and lets the man in to safety. Dad James is unhappy and unhappier still when a crowd of yuppie-purgers come to the door wearing masks and demanding their prey be released to them. They cut the power and send for equipment to break down the house’s security doors. Now the stage is set with the family members hunting the man in their own home with the clock ticking before the purgers break in and take matters into their own hands.

Greg, I have several bones to pick with The Purge. First, the moviemakers get the science of emotional catharsis all wrong. The premise here is that committing acts of violence has a cathartic effect. Research in psychology indicates exactly the opposite. Violence only begets more violence. Anger leads to more anger, aggression breeds more aggression.

This is the second time in the last few weeks that the movies have gotten a psychological phenomenon all wrong. Two weeks ago we reviewed After Earth, which portrayed human emotion incorrectly. I gave that movie a pass for missing the boat, but if bad science is becoming a pattern in the movies then maybe I need to get tougher in my evaluations. The Purge is telling us something very wrong about what inhibits human aggression. To me, that’s a pretty glaring error and maybe even a dangerous one to be presenting to movie audiences.

Scott, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. It harkens back to the early days of The Twilight Zone where social commentary is made by putting current events into a future setting. And I think you may have missed the point of the film. The catharsis is merely an excuse for violence. In fact, the actual purge is the wonton execution of the “have-nots” at the hands of the “haves.” There were other indications that this was more than a chance at debauchery (like Mardis Gras, for example). We heard radio reports of people planning to kill their lousy bosses. The Purge gives citizens good reason not to offend people around them.

James, the dad in the story, sells home security systems. He’s sold one to nearly all of his neighbors. In this affluent neighborhood the “haves” are safe inside their locked fortresses. While out in the “real world” people have to hope for the best. Meanwhile, the yuppie-purgers (led by a very scary Rhys Wakefield) feel it is their God-given American right to hunt down and kill those who are a burden on society. I was reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange where the affluent young men of society went on a rampage just for kicks.

I don’t think I missed the point at all. The Purge is far more than the government promoting a war against the have-nots. Clips of violence in all sorts of settings during the Purge suggest that violence is occurring in convenience stores, parking garages, and workplace settings. It’s not simply class warfare. It’s people of all types killing people of all types. The movie even shows the upper class killing each other. I will admit that the concept of the Purge does set up a scary story.

The second major issue I had is with the stupidity of the dad giving the home security code to his 11-year-old son, who of course mis-uses it and sets in motion the disaster that befalls the family. That’s not a minor problem. It’s about a hundred times worse than giving your son the key to the gun cabinet or the password to your bank account.

I also had a problem with the daughter not realizing immediately that someone in her bedroom, whose appearance is a total surprise, is there to do harm to someone. Are we supposed to believe that she can’t make the connection between this surprise guest and the fact that it’s Purge Night? Only if her IQ is in single digits.

Scott, I chalk that up to the fact that the writers of The Purge needed to show immediately that Purge Night is real and dangerous. And that James is willing to kill and do more than hide behind his security system. But I can’t argue the concept of the young boy, Charles, knowing the security code. Unlike you, I was happy to let this slide as it was necessary for the vagrant to enter the home and create the problem that the cage works both ways: it can keep evil out and it can lock evil in.

This was a very smart movie – far more than just a typical hack and slash thriller. It posed a lot of questions about the world we live in today. Should only the rich be safe in their homes? Are the laws of our society weighted in favor of those who have? And how far would you go to keep your family safe?

I agree with you that the movie makes us think about the reasons why people refrain from killing others — do they show restraint because killing is wrong? Or because they’d go to prison? I also very much liked the very powerful and very creepy villain in this story. He had exactly the right lines and right delivery to haunt us with a deep sense of fear and foreboding. We knew he was pretty much capable of performing the most heinous evil act. And with a smile on his face, too.

Beyond those two things, I didn’t care much for the film. It didn’t help that the ending was extremely predictable. I wish I could see more of the positives that you saw, Greg. But I didn’t.

That’s alright, Scott. I enjoyed the opportunity to look into the souls of these characters without a lot of blood and gore. I also appreciated the Hero’s Journey in this film. James suffers a crisis of conscience and must make a choice between the safety of his family and doing the right thing. I felt the tension and suspense in the film. For a thought-provoking look at our culture flash-forwarded to the near-future, I give The Purge 4 Reels out of 5. And for a mildly successful heroic message, I give it 3 out of 5 Heroes.

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For me, The Purge was based on a faulty premise and featured a scary situation that was set in motion by two unbelievable acts of stupidity on the part of the hero, James, and the teen daughter, Zoey. It also featured a very predictable ending that left me unsatisfied. Very generously, I award this film 2 Reels out of 5.

Greg, the hero story was better than the movie. I agree that James is on a great journey in this film and that he discovers things about himself, and about life, that transforms him and his family in ways that he could never anticipate. I also give it 3 out of 5 Heroes.

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