Another leftist analysis of The Purge (This time, the first one.)

Even though changed, the wealthy middle-class family has not become empathetic enough to offer the man a place to stay. That ending would have been too unrealistic.

This analysis contains spoilers.

Sometimes watching films in the wrong order might not be such a bad idea. A while back I wrote a leftist analysis of the film The Purge: Anarchy, the quite highly acclaimed sequel to the less acclaimed first film, The Purge. As with the sequel, the first film lends itself well to a leftist analysis.

After having watched the second film and seen it from a leftist point of view, the first film, at least to this writer, is not at all deserving of the bad reviews it received. It tells the same story as the second film, but in a more intimate setting which presumably might be more difficult to deal with for some viewers as it might strike a bit too close to home, especially to those with a middle-class upbringing.

Just as in the second film, The Purge takes place in the not-too-distant future US. Unemployment and crime is at an all-time low and this is credited to the new founding fathers’ introduction of The Purge, a night when all crime, including murder, is legal in hopes that people will cleanse themselves of their destructive violent thoughts and for the rest of the year live life in a happy productive manner.

Understandably, companies within the security industry are making huge profits securing the homes of those wealthy enough to be able to afford it. Turning their houses in to almost impenetrable forts, they can be certain they will most likely make it through the night unharmed if the violence was to end up in their neighbourhood, which also is not as likely as it tends to surface within the poorer communities.

The Purge being more a way to deal with unemployment and poverty among the poor is one of the major criticisms of it brought up in the film, but not to the same extent as in the sequel, since in the first film we are firmly situated in upper middle-class suburban America throughout the film. The main character is a well-to-do employee at a security firm who has made plenty of money last year equipping most of the houses in the neighbourhood with state-of-the-art safety systems. As the film begins, he arrives home to his family while they prepare for the annual lock-down.

Being a firm believer in The Purge, the father is at times questioned by his son who seem to cling to the belief that there is more to living an ethical life than simply obeying the law. Young, quiet and somewhat reclusive the son has not yet become able to express himself, but clearly he has trouble seeing the good in the crimes committed.

It is this belief in something more ethical than upholding a law that works as the catalyst in this movie. During the beginning of the night a wounded, black, homeless man stumbles into the neighbourhood crying for help and claiming that he is being chased by people out to kill him. Terrified of any outsiders, no one on the street lets the man in to their highly secured homes apart from the son, who cannot stand hearing the screams and watching the frightened man. He disengages the security system and lets the man in, leading to a fight and the subsequent disappearance of the stranger inside the house. The middle-class dream of a large house with several floors and rooms turns into fear as a possibly dangerous stranger is given multiple places to hide.

Soon though, it becomes clear that the homeless wounded black man is not the real threat to the family’s upper middle-class existence as the group chasing him appear at the house to claim what they see as rightfully theirs. The persecutors are a group of upper middle-class youths out cleansing themselves and their beloved America of the filth and degeneration of society they see the poor and lower classes as.

Donning well-groomed haircuts, expensive clothes and sewn-on patches showing the names of the expensive private schools they attend, there can be no doubt that they symbolise the well-to-do rightwing law-abiding America who are only doing what their country is permitting them to do. However, the wealthy classes lack of empathy and willingness to prey upon each other to gain success is quickly demonstrated when the leader of the group, without hesitating, shoots a fellow purger in the head for not living up the class standards regarding use of language. The other members see this as no threat to their lives, but instead continue supporting their leader, most likely not seeing how they could be in any danger even though the leader’s outbursts of violence at times do appear quite random. As long as you conform to the norm of your society you should have nothing to fear, even though an event has just taken place that clearly demonstrates otherwise.

The group of youths of course manage to enter the house and a violent cat-and-mouse game ensues where the family is at times helped by the wounded homeless man. Eventually the family is rounded up by the group and as all hope seems lost some neighbours storm the house killing all the young people who are left. But as it turns out, this is not an act of neighbourly assistance, but more one fuelled by jealousy as the neighbours have been planning all night to kill the main family and are not ready to have someone else take that opportunity of cleansing themselves away from them.

The reason for their jealousy is the way the family has prospered selling security systems to everyone in the area. While the other families have had some of their wealth taken away from them it has ended up in the pockets of our main character. Greed and jealousy are clearly shown as relative feelings. Even if you are still wealthy, the idea of someone becoming wealthier than you is a threat to your perceived or actual position in a capitalist society. Luckily though, you have The Purge to give you an opportunity to cleanse yourself of those feelings while still being ”a good American” obeying the law.

And this fixation with law and order among the rightwing is clearly being criticised in The Purge as they build their idea of ethics and morale on a notion that as long as you follow the law, you are never doing anything wrong, even if the law is saying that it is acceptable to commit murder once a year. In real life this can be seen time and again as wealthy companies work within legal boundaries in order to keep as much tax money as possible away from being used for the common good and instead ending up in a few wealthy people’s pockets. These actions, both within the movie and in real life suggest that rightwing ideals and morals are to a certain extent nonexistent and are dependent on what the law says. If the law says that is okay to commit murder during one night every year, it is not wrong to do so. If the law says that avoiding paying taxes is okay if done in a certain way, it is not wrong to do so. The problem with having laws as your main guideline for how to be a good person lies of course with the fact that laws are often created and changed by the wealthy and powerful to benefit them. They create the morals and ethics they wish to have and look on in horror and disgust as people break the law, while they are able to act immorally without risking imprisonment.

As The Purge finally ends at dawn, the main family seems somewhat changed since they now have firsthand experience of the brutal reality that takes place during the night and how their wealthy neighbours’ friendly appearance was nothing but a facade poorly hiding a selfish, greedy capitalist personality, only interested in how well they are doing for themselves based on what they earn and what they own.

The homeless man has survived and in helping the family has also provided them with yet another perspective on life. In their well-protected homogenous community, the only one they could trust was the very stereotype of violence and crime in America; a young, poor, black man. As he limps away from the neighbourhood, the wife of the family asks if he will be okay. He nods and then he is off, back to a life of poverty and homelessness. Even though changed, the wealthy middle-class family has not become empathetic enough to offer the man a place to stay. That ending would have been too unrealistic.

Written by Mattias Danielsson, 2015-02-16