This election season has been the most grueling and absurd of my lifetime. Since I voted early, the only thing left to do today is hole up at home, set my home security system, have a Purge marathon, and start drinking. I may be in lockdown mode longer than tonight in the event that these prescient films have accurately predicted mass riots following a Trump loss.
The Purge and its first sequel have served as a biting commentary on U.S. political rhetoric, especially that of the more Ayn Rand-ish faction of the GOP. The third entry in the series openly attempts to tie into the current election cycle. The premise is both ridiculous and plausible.
For those not familiar with the series, it’s set in a not-to-distant future in which the U.S has a new government which legalizes all crime on one day of the year. Ostensibly this allows citizens to “purge” their darker impulses allows them to be happier, better-adjusted, and more productive the rest of the year. Superficially, the policy works, as the U.S. economy is at an all-time high and non-Purge-Day crime is at a record low. Of course, there is a hidden agenda driven by greed.
The original Purge is a home-invasion movie in which an upper-middle-class family is targeted for sheltering a homeless man who had been selected by another group for elimination. Embedded within the cat-and-mouse suspense, there’s a commentary about the inherent class-based unfairness of the Purge. Wealthy people can afford elaborate home security systems, but those who live in poverty face a distinct disadvantage when it comes to self-defense.
While the first film focused on the plight of an upwardly-mobile white family, its immediate sequel, The Purge: Anarchy tells the story of the working poor and other vulnerable people. This is the best entry in the series and also the darkest. In this film, we learn that the New Founding Fathers are proactively trying to eliminate the poor, especially those who live in government subsidized housing. It’s simply better for the national budget to not waste tax money on people who are a “burden” or who perpetually need a “handout.” It smacks of some GOP politicians’ proposals to cut or completely eliminate welfare programs, unemployment benefits, and social security. In the film, the government gets even more hands-on by sending SWAT teams into housing projects to gun down the residents.
When trailers dropped for The Purge: Election Year, I was pumped. The earlier entries in the series seemed prescient in terms of the rhetoric of both parties during the primaries, but this film is an obvious attempt to satirize and critique the current election. As the title suggests, this films provides insight into the New Founding Fathers and government politicians. The villain is a Randian psychopath who has managed to ingratiate himself with the religious right. This seems appropriate enough because many conservative evangelical Christians do have Objectivist leanings, even though the political and moral components of Rand’s Objectivism have NOTHING to do with the teachings of Jesus Christ! I feel bad for evangelical conservatives right now. The truly pious have good reason to dislike both candidates, and the Trump supporters have to pull off some dizzying mental gymnastics to justify their decision given Trump’s distinctly non-Christlike statements, actions, and policies.
And just look at the trailer below and tell me if the heroine, with her rhetoric about the Purge targeting the poor, isn’t modeled after Bernie Sanders?
Unfortunately, by the time The Purge: Election Year was released in theaters, Sanders had effectively lost Democratic nomination, which made the content of the film feel somewhat disjunctive to current events. This was also, disappointingly, the weakest entry of the series. Sometimes the script felt heavy-handed and repetitive, and sometimes the acting during the presidential debate scenes was bad. A close friend declared it “porn-acting bad.”
The sad thing is that in retrospect, that scene was so much better, more rational, and more presidential than any of the actual presidential debates. And, the film’s plot involving the assassination attempt of the Senator by the New Founding Fathers is a bit too close for comfort, given Trump’s suggestion that “Second Amendment people” should “do something” about Hillary Clinton. (See also my earlier post about the Dead Zone audiobook’s delayed release.) Naturally, the Sanders-esque Senator wins the presidential election and outlaws Purge Night, leading to mass riots by Purge supporters. Despite some flaws, it’s still an interesting film that develops the mythology of Purge Night, with more emphasis on how greedy corporations and insurance companies fit into the equation, and the twisted form of Christianity practiced by the New Founding Fathers.
The Purge trilogy is now available for purchase as a 3-Movie Collection.