The Purge series asked an essential question, which gave life to four movies, and now, a fifth come July 2nd. The question these films ask is this: If people could act without fear of consequence, what would they be capable of? To preface the premise of the movies, The Purge is a dystopian take on American culture, where one night a year, any and all crime is allowed to take place. One would imagine that part of the series’ success comes from how enamored we are with the question it poses to its viewers. Interestingly enough, one can also make the case that the movies also serve as a mirror, which tries to show its viewers some of the darker, more malevolent aspects of American society.
The Purge in Sequence
In order to fully capture the depth of The Purge films, a quick movie by movie synopsis might be in order. The first movie, simply titled The Purge (2013), kicks the series off with quite the headline so to speak. In the year 2022, unemployment is at an all time low (below 1%) and crime is pretty much non-existent. Why, you ask? Well, because eight years before, a political party called the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) instituted a “holiday” of sorts. Essentially, as a means of “concentrating crime and mayhem into one single night” the NFFA set up The Purge, a day where “all crime is legal and all emergency services are suspended for 12 hours, beginning annually at 7 p.m. on March 21” (Vulture, 2018). It is also worth noting that, in the movie, some radio talk show radio callers are seen deliberating what the true purpose of the Purge is. They argue that it exists as a “mechanism for population control”, a way to get rid of disadvantaged people in the interests of the “wealthy and the powerful so [that] the government no longer has to shell out as much for assistance programs like welfare or health insurance” (Vulture, 2018). The film then follows the Sandin family as they are subjected to the horrors of the Purge.
The second movie, The Purge: Anarchy (2014), follows a different cast of characters, the only exception being Edwin Hodge who reprises his role as The Stranger. The film is also different in terms of setting too. Where the first Purge movie took place in suburbia, this one takes place on the streets of Los Angeles. Set two years after the events of the first Purge movie, it now focuses on Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Cali (Zoë Soul), Shane (Zach Gilford) and his estranged spouse Liz (Kiele Sanchez). Through each character’s perspective, the film further delves into everything wrong with The Purge, building on what the first movie established (Vulture, 2018). The NFFA returns as well, but we’ll cover why that’s important later on.
By the time the third movie, The Purge: Election Year (2016), rolls around, Frank Grillo reprises his role as Leo Barnes who is now a security agent for a senator running in opposition to the NFFA. This senator, Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), runs with a big change in mind. Roan is dead set on doing away with the Purge, having been a victim of it herself. In a bid to run unopposed and stay in power, the NFFA tries to orchestrate her death (and fails, resulting in their very timely demise). Finally, the next movie in release order is the First Purge (2018), which shows viewers the origin of the fictional holiday. As a prequel to all the movies before it, the First Purge shows “how grotesque the idea of the Purge is” at its core.
A Commentary on Our Society
One thing all of the past iterations of the Purge movies have in common is that they speak to some of the issues the United States often has trouble with. For one, there’s the issue with getting unemployment down to a consistently low level. Not to mention the contentious debate surrounding just how much disenfranchised people should be supported in government policy. That’s where the wicked idea of the Purge comes in. According to an article by the Los Angeles Times, the directors had a very specific concept in mind when constructing the in-movie atmosphere which leads to the normalization of the Purge. They set the movie in a “near-future dystopia in which a dominant ultraconservative party…has legalized for one night each year” (Los Angeles Times, 2018). In our current political climate, there is still much debate that goes on regarding how much support people ought to be…well, supported. Just look at the conversation surrounding stimulus checks from a couple of months back. In the first movie, the Purge is hinted as being specifically designed to eradicate disenfranchised people or the people who need support. People that are homeless, poor, sick, they’re the ones who are being targeted since they can’t do much in the way of aptly defending themselves, which make them easy targets for various Purgers trying to rack up a kill streak. The Vulture article previously mentioned also notes that the debate for welfare pretty much becomes moot, since having this weeding system is beneficial to both the top 1% and lawmakers as they no longer need to “shell out as much [money] for assistance programs like welfare or health insurance” (Vulture 2018). That notion right there is arguably the heart of the matter. Deciding what is worth spending on and what isn’t. The movie attempts to address quite an interesting question, it asks: “At what point does blatantly neglecting the less fortunate members of our society become that much more appealing?” It leaves one to conclude that, in a way, it’s already occurring. Discussions like these are not solved overnight, as they are complex problems by nature. Sadly, people don’t just stop struggling because we haven’t found the be-all end-all answer yet. The only difference between waking life and The Purge is that said neglect is not as straightforward as a holiday like the Purge. That’s just the first movie.
The Purge: Anarchy then shifts itself away from the perspective of some of the wealthier individuals in society and delves into what the Purge looks like for people that are disenfranchised. To quote the director, James DeMonaco, he says that he wanted to show how the Purge as a system is “unhealthy” and goes on to further note that it is meant to be a “metaphor for the predatory economics that we’ve seen over the years where we’re feeding the rich and taking from the poor” (Los Angeles Times, 2018). It’s meant to show that even the system we have now isn’t perfect, that while this is a dystopian universe, it is not at all that far removed from our own reality. When The Purge: Election Year released, that’s when the conversation really began to ramp up. There was some allusion to this theme in the movie before, but in this one, it was heavily leaned into. The Purge: Election Year dove headfirst into the politics of the former President, where DeMonaco perceived a pretty distinct “parallel between the New Founding Fathers” and the previous Administration, doing well to outline their penchant for “the[ir] use of fear tactics” for the sake of motivating people (Los Angeles Times, 2018). It’s also important to mention that, according to the directors, they weren’t explicitly trying to emulate reality for Election Year. That in a bizarre nightmarish way, “the mirrors to ‘The Purge’ [were coming] true” (Los Angeles Times, 2018). Outlandish as it sounds, the situation only speaks to the direction America was indeed headed towards.
Whether one agrees with the creators’ outlook or not, the Purge movies do well to stimulate a much needed conversation people do need to be having with one another. Ignoring or pushing our collective issues off to the side doesn’t solve them, arguably, it only exacerbates them. Which is why they’re conversations that need to be had. The Purge’s commentary on American society does well to get these conversations going, and only serves to underscore the importance of the film franchise. That being said, the newest installment, The Forever Purge, will likely also do well to stimulate similar conversations if the film franchise’s track record holds. The Forever Purge is set to release on July 2nd, 2021.