The Purge: Election Year

 

            The premise is simply horrific, and yet it resonates with something atavistic within us.  And if anybody doubts it's in us, all you have to do is hear the news about the latest random shooting.

            In the original “Purge,” in some not-too-distant future, the government, desiring to eliminate undesirables and thus free up resources for everyone else, decides to declare an official “Purge Night,” where from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., all police, fire, and paramedical activity will be suspended.  It's open season.  Go out there and commit whatever crime you like, including murder.  You won't be prosecuted. It's a good time to satisfy not only all your grudges, but also indulge your chaos & mayhem Id.  The problem is, you might be on someone else's revenge list.  Or you might just be the random victim of armed robbery, just because there are no consequences. 

            Now, it's 22 years later, and the government (The New Founding Fathers) has been claiming the whole time that the annual purge is cathartic, and good for the society as a whole.  The dirty little secret is that the people who usually get targeted are the poor, the defenseles, and those without resources.  Yes, and demographically, a disproportionate number of minorities.  But in this new Ku Klux Klan kind of regime, it's all good.  Because (shiver) we're culling out the lowlifes and the leeches.

            In the sequel, it's an election year, and the Senator who is the strongest challenger, “Charlie” Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), adamantly opposes The Purge, because she witnessed her whole family being wiped out, and wants to put a stop to this horrific holiday.  Her “inner circle” is small, and most of them betray her on Purge Night, except her chief of security, Frank Grillo (Leo Barnes).  The two of them barely escape an assasination attempt orchestrated by government-paid mercenaries.  Trying to make their way through the urban killing fields of the random violence in the streets, they find unlikely allies in the owner of a small grocery store, Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson), and a couple of his protegees, who were originally just trying to protect the grocery store, but are now trying to stop the government from carrying out its dastardly plan of eliminating their primary political rival on Purge Night.

            Yes, the violence is raw, and so is the language.  No sex or nudity, though, we're making war, not love.  The so-called New Founding Fathers are openly racist and exclusivist, and worse, meet clandestinely in a church sanctuary to perform some barbaric sacrificial ritual with religious overtones that hearkens back to the days of Aztec atavism.  And yes, they're all white.  So somehow in the middle of all this cheesy dialogue and stunted character development, we have a very sharp social commentary, that seems searingly relevant to today's headlines.  Yes, we have people taking to the streets and perpetrating violent crime on random vicitms.  And yes, we have a government without the will to legislate meaningful gun control, and so is in a sense complicit in the circumstances which lead to the slaughters.  And yes, there are racial overtones, as in white cops treating minority suspects with more suspicion, and white cops being targeted by angry minorities as a kind of vigilante revenge.

            This movie won't solve any of those social issues.  But it raises them in such a secondary way, as a dystopian future parable, that we almost don't realize that by attending a somewhat obscure b-list movie we're in the middle of a raging moral debate.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  How do you feel about gun control?

2)                  Do you think that law enforcement treats minorities differently?

3)                  What can be done about vigilantes taking matters into their own hands?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association