“The Purge” – a rare Hollywood gem that glares into our dark soul

Note: this post contains “light” spoilers

Movie studio marketing divisions are merely gussied up whoring advertisers (pardon the redundancy) and as such, they specialize in appealing to the public’s lowest common denominator, which is not surprising considering it’s the lowest common denominator that keeps them in business, ie, the box office sales churning.

Movie trailers sieve out the most intellectually barren snippets of any movie and create a short montage that conveys a condensed and moronic appeal that the general movie audience can relate to best. Have you seen the people who go see movies at a mainstream, major movie chain? It’s not surprising that intriguing thoughtfulness that might reside in a movie are not invoked by studios as sales tools, ie, trailers. The general movie-going public doesn’t want to think too much in the darkened theater. Consumers of pop idiocy flock to movies to spend too much money for crap food while they watch a movie from the densest perspective possible. This is where studios make all their money! Movie audiences leave their discerning minds at the door (provided they had them to begin with) and transform into gaping retards once the main feature’s credits begin.

For instance, take a look at this trailer for “The Purge.”

Judging by this, you would never have an inkling that The Purge provides a wonderfully perceptive and caustic appraisal of human social society within the folds of its suspense/thriller presentation.

After watching the movie yesterday, I walked out of the theater with words like “allegorical” and “microcosm” swimming in my head, while most other people were thinking in terms of action and violence and guns and gore and justice. This movie was much, much more.

One of the more important ingredients in movies I enjoy is that they are able to work on many difference layers of audience participation and sophistication. On the one hand, movies must appeal to the commercial masses, but if the movie is sly, it can simultaneously appeal to those who enjoy deconstructing the feature for all the enticing symbolism and literary devices of interpretation it affords within the convoluted folds of its script. I do this all the time. I approach most movies from the intellectual angle. It’s a tiring trait of mine. I overthink, I overanalyze, I’m a supercilious SOB. I can’t help it. This is why I was at home in those English Lit classes in which you are trained to not merely read for enjoyment, but to parse and tease out authorial interpretations.

When I watch a movie, I assume the director and writer have something interesting to say beyond the superficial elements visible on the one-dimensional big screen. Obviously, in some cases, this is a ridiculous cinematic dock from which to launch; I can switch this bent of mine off, in some cases. There are movies that owing to the director, actors, prequels, are of such obvious meaningless content, but I normally avoid such movies. I am rarely affected by stupid movies because I steer clear of them. Nevertheless, I enjoy the occasional Owen Wilson or Bruce Willis flick, so I know what it’s like to turn down the intelligence-meter and merely enjoy the movie with the empty gaze of the typical brain-dead movie-goer.

The Purge is one of those movies that operates on several vertical layers of acuity. At its basest level, that at which the trailer appeals, most simple-minded patrons can still enjoy. It is a sci-fi (loosely) dystopian thriller about a family that is “locked” in their home during a government mandated annual 12-hour (2022 in this case) period called The Annual Purge in which all laws are lifted and all police and rescue personnel are unavailable. The family, with Ethan Hawke at the helm, is a prosperous suburban unit protected during the annual anarchy by a fortress of iron doors and a video security system that is armed once each year. A series of events occurs in which a pleading homeless man is able to enter the home after the soft-hearted son raises the iron doors, and some Purge “hunters” who were pursuing him after he killed one of their own, discover he is hiding in the house. The hunters ultimately, after warning Hawke to kick their prey out of his house lest they find a way to enter, are able to penetrate the security system with old-fashioned chains and trucks, and typical gunfire/stabbing/physical beating mayhem ensues as Hawke and family fend off the invaders.

This is an action thriller that appeals to those who first and foremost demand a visceral cinematic experience, but it is also a refreshingly unapologetic (for Hollywood) examination of human social structure as it untangles itself across the breadth of society. The tense unfolding of the hunter/prey dynamic in the house as disparate characters, each possessing a unique agenda, comes together in a clamorous collision of values and personal drives is the microcosm of society that I alluded to previously. My son, who tends to fondly analyze movies as well (not nearly as bad as I, however), noted an analogy between The Purge and the novel, Lord of the Flies. The movie is not “only” about murder and violence. It is a glimpse into the human construct of civilization as a self-regulating tool of oppression and unnatural restraint of our genuine and horrifying primal nature.

Ultimately, The Purge asks us: are laws in place to protect ourselves from others, or to protect us from ourselves?