I love me a good sci-fi/thriller/horror movie. They are the sage fools of film. By being outlandish in concept they get to reveal the underlying pathologies of the era in a way a “serious” work could not. “The Fly” was one of the best films of the 80s. It explored everything — crack/heroin/meth, AIDS, and, yes Virginia, abortion (gasp!) — without directly mentioning a one of them (except for maybe abortion; she was trying to abort a pupa though. I mean c’mon!). And The Fly dissolves a guy’s foot with his vomit and then sucks up the foot’n'vomit glop. It’s nice to have an Other.
Better still is the dystopia. Unless there are zombies. Zombies are boring. But a good sci-fi dystopia should reveal the underlying humanity of the characters against the backdrop of whatever Big Change has organized the future into something unrecognizable. This underlying unreality should provide the opening to tell us something about society today. And if it’s a great movie, it will tell us or, like “The Fly”, at least explore things we know but perhaps don’t care to think about.
So, it is with great eagerness that I await “The Purge”. Here’s the set up: In the 2020s America is prosperous, safe and happy because for one night a year all crime is legal and all emergency services are suspended. We The People regulate ourselves in a bloody free-for-all. One typical but wealthy family is holed up for Purge Night, but the young boy lets in a man who is being chased by Purgers, and his assailants come looking for him.
“The Purge” is being marketed as a political film. The start of the trailer heralds the joyous statistics of the future like a campaign commercial (unemployment at 1%, crime at an all time low) and most of the last third of the trailer is scored by a direful rendition of “America the Beautiful” sung by creepy kidlets. The fake website for the film includes the platform of the “New Founders of America” that have created the Purge. Methinks the film has a point to make.
What separates America from other first-world democracies is that we hate each other. Indeed, we have always hated each other. Our history is bloody and since Watergate if not WWII the only time our political system accomplishes much is in a crisis or through a legislative strongman like LBJ. We combine third world tribalism with more-or-less first world infrastructure and institutions (at least on paper). And, lets face it, we have purged. Ask the Native Americans, the slaves in the Old South, or the child laborers of the Robber Baron era. Most of us were Purged during the Great Economic Collapse. I consider myself one of the lucky ones and my pay has been frozen for three years while my condo is worth about 2/3rds of what I bought it for. Meanwhile, the wealthiest have gotten wealthier and the remaining big banks have gotten bigger, having purged their competition. I’m alive and healthy, but my wallet was assuredly Purged.
Is there a better picture for what lies beneath the United States than controlled violence and mayhem? Perhaps “The Purge” will be a modern “Young Goodman Brown,” but instead of finding out that our townspeople are secretly sexy, maypole frolicking witches as Hawthorne’s hero did, we find that are fellow citizens really are ready to act on their mutual hatred.
Or…. Maybe “The Purge” will be twenty minutes of interesting set up, followed by 70 minutes of home-invasion (The safe space. Violated!) thrills with, maybe, a decent denouement. It wouldn’t be the first time a shitty movie had an intriguing trailer.