A leftist view on The Purge: Anarchy

The people at the top prefer to have the people at the bottom battle amongst themselves to keep them distracted from what is going on higher up. Instead of one night of legal violence, we have native workers clash with immigrant workers fighting for scraps while the large corporations rake in the big money.

The following contains spoilers.

In future America, one night every year, crime is legal. All authorities look the other way for twelve hours as US citizens cleanse themselves of their violent needs in an event known as “The Purge.” The first film - entitled simply The Purge - uses this as the backdrop for a home invasion thriller. The second film, The Purge: Anarchy, takes us to the streets as the event itself takes centre stage and what we as viewers get is perhaps a purge of our own, a cleansing of our needs to ventilate our own frustrations of a class society.

The movie follows five characters during Purge night; four trying to stay alive and one out for revenge. There are plenty of people who have taken to the streets voluntarily and they are all out for blood, some with an agenda and others to randomly kill whomever should happen to cross their paths. However, all these people tend to come from the lower classes in society. The wealthier classes have their own ways of purging without risking their own lives and the government participates in order to maintain the idea that the United States has become a much better place since the “new founding fathers” came into power and also introduced the “holiday” as it is referred to.

The movie establishes early on that even though only the lower classes will openly participate in The Purge, the ones who do only make up a small percentage of all those people, leading to frustration from the government since not enough people are dying, which will have negative impact on their statistics showing that poverty has been decreasing since the night was introduced. The ones at the top have clearly misunderstood the ones at the bottom whose social classes among other things are characterized by a sense of community, solidarity and empathy for your fellow man. The ones at the top tend to think that everyone will do bad things if they are given the opportunity, a statement which says more about them themselves than people in general. Parallels can be drawn to an ordinary society where for example politicians will call for stricter regulations to put an end to welfare fraud when the statistics tend to show that most people in fact want a job and to do what is right and very few will take advantage of the system causing new regulations to punish almost exclusively people who have done nothing to deserve it. Therefore numbers to support these policies and statistics has to either be made up or as in The Purge: Anarchy; be created by government participation in the killing.

While the government is busy keeping up numbers by going after the lower classes, the wealthy are the ones portrayed as the true savages, lacking in empathy and gathering behind closed doors to safely be able to carry out their perverted urges. There is not a single rich person in the film showing any regret or empathy, which most likely is the way it was supposed to be. Despite their appearance outwards, these are the people who will cheat or kill if given the chance to do so without getting caught, but they are the ones whose support of the government matters the most and killing them off will not improve poverty numbers. Along with the elected politicians, who most likely belong to the same social classes, the rich classes’ characteristics are the ones being unfairly projected onto the poorer citizens; making the movie a classic portrayal of rightwing and rich versus leftist and poor.

To add to the idea of class warfare a sub story of an emerging revolution among the poorer, directed towards the government, has also been inserted in to the film and although it does not get much screen time, it could work as a setup for perhaps a Hunger Games-like third film. The screen time it does get though is highly satisfying as the wealthy finally are punished for the horrible deeds they have been able to get away with for so long. Also, the fact that they are completely caught off guard, thinking that they were safe to commit whatever atrocity they wanted only adds to the satisfaction.

As with so many films set in the future, what we get in The Purge: Anarchy is a story of our own society, although satirized of course. The people at the top prefer to have the people at the bottom battle amongst themselves to keep them distracted from what is going on higher up. Instead of one night of legal violence, we have native workers clash with immigrant workers fighting for scraps while the large corporations rake in the big money. We have moronic reality TV - our equivalent of gladiator shows - and other forms of shallow entertainment keeping us entertained instead of actually getting information about laws being passed and treaties being signed above our heads. However, salvation might come in the form of revolution, but it will only happen if the lower classes rise up against the higher ones.

Make no mistake, The Purge: Anarchy is a violent film, but does that mean that it supports extreme violence as a way to achieve change? Of course not. This is fiction and should be treated as such. The film is no more a call to arms for the poor than American Psycho is an instruction manual for a wealthy lifestyle. It is satire and art and as such it has the right to convey its message the way it sees fit and if that results in some people seeing the film as yet another proof for the violence historically inherent in leftist ideology it would both be wrong and forgetting that there is also violence historically inherent in liberal rightwing ideology. But that can quickly be forgotten when there are not many battles left to fight and the ones still out there are being fought with the help of the wealthy and the powerful.

One problem with the movie though, is how sincere is its criticism of our current society? Is it really calling out for change? The reason for these questions is that the film is produced by Platinum Dunes, a horror film production company founded by among others Michael Bay, better known as the director of such blockbusters as Armageddon, Transformers and other films known for their thin, formulaic plots covered up with bombastic visual effects, the exact type of shallow entertainment (with perhaps the exception of The Island) mentioned above. However, it could be argued that his films often use every-day working people as heroes, but that is probably more a result of the formulaic plot lines.

Furthermore, Platinum Dunes is mostly famous for producing watered-down remakes of successful horror films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street and what is watered down are the storylines, which are replaced by more graphic violence turning them into glossy slaughterfests. So why the interest to produce a film with such a political message and in fact, not very much in terms of graphic violence since most of the killing is done by using fire arms? Perhaps simply because the first Purge film was a small success (though not with critics or the horror scene). Or perhaps the film in itself is a Purge for the frustrated leftist viewer.

There is no denying that The Purge: Anarchy contains elements that speak to an audience tired of the injustices in society and the wealthy getting away with what at times feel like murder and in that sense watching this film becomes our own Purge. For 103 minutes we get to cleanse ourselves and see our frustrations being taken seriously and dealt with, in a violent fictional way but nonetheless we get to see those who are rarely punished, but deserve it, being served the justice this piece of fiction has to offer. The question is, what do we do next? Do we take the film’s message of change having to come from the bottom up seriously or are we cleansed and satisfied, going back to bed waiting for another film to provide us with yet another small opportunity for a Purge?

Written by Mattias Danielsson, 2014-08-04