In The Purge, the new founding fathers of America have made an annual decision to lift laws and allow the commencement of crime, including murders, for 12 hours with the hopes of giving the American people an outlet for their hatred, decreasing the rate of crime for the rest of the year, and bringing forth economic prosperity to the country. Apart from the thrill and suspense of watching and waiting to see if the Sandin family survived the night, I believe this film benefited most from exploring dystopian elements.
First, the premise of this film is based on George Orwell’s classic dystopia 1984. Doublethink, in 1984, is the act of holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously and believing in both absolutely. Just as “War is Peace,” let us get rid of crime by sanctioning and encouraging crime for 12 hours. As one can see, it is counterintuitive, as in many dystopian films/novels. Secondly, in the movie, the concept of people being inherently aggressive and violent is reiterated through television news propaganda. This aspect mirrors the dystopian sentiments of Sigmund Freud and Thomas Hobbes in “Civilization and its Discontents” and “Leviathan,” respectively. Freud states that we as humans naturally have primal sexual and aggressive desires but that we had to repress our true selves by forming civilization, causing us internal pain and suffering. Hobbes expresses that humans naturally reside in a war mentality (every man against every man) without laws or officials to enforce them. The fact remains that the purge was designed to release every individual’s pent-up anger and “cleanse the souls” of American citizens.
However, the answer to which souls are cleansed and which souls are murdered lies with oppression. In her “Five Faces of Oppression,” Iris Young mentions that for every oppressed group, a privileged group exists that benefits from their oppression. Purging is a rich man’s sport aimed to hunt down the marginalized groups, i.e., those deemed noncontributing members of society. These groups include the poor, disabled, racial minorities, women, etc. People who cannot afford top-level security systems and weaponry, such as the homeless black man who seeks refuge in the Sandins’ home, are left defenseless against those who can. The marginalized and powerless are ultimately, and unfortunately, stripped of their autonomy and left as pawns in the sadistic game of the wealthy.
In conclusion, while the movie is spearheaded by great actors Ethan Hawke (Dead Poets Society) and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones), it should be recognized and appreciated for its intelligent and refreshing take on the dystopian genre.