The Purge (2013)

Rated R. Our ratings: V -8; L -7; S/N -.2 Running time: 1 hour 25 min.

They sit in ambush in the villages;
in hiding-places they murder the innocent.
Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert;
they lurk that they may seize the poor;
they seize the poor and drag them off in their net.
Psalm 10:8-9

James Sandin is about to confront a murderous intruder in this tale of a dystopian future USA.
2013 Universal Pictures

Writer/director James DeMonaco’s latest work is a dystopian film set in 2022 when it appears that the NRA no longer just buys its Congressmen but has taken over the whole government. Crime is way down to 1% of the population ever since the national government established a once a year 12-hour period called “The Purge.” During this period all crimes, even murder, are ignored, with police and fire departments refusing to respond to calls for help, and even hospital emergency rooms shutting their doors.

This is the setting for what happens to the Sandin family during the Purge of 2022, the story beginning with wife Mary (Lena Headey) returning from the market to prepare for supper. They live well in a gated community because husband James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) has been very successful at selling home security systems. Virtually everyone in the neighborhood has been one of his customers—which might not be a good thing. The Sandins have two teenagers, Charlie and the somewhat older Zoe (Max Burkholder and Adelaide Kane). I won’t go into all the details, except to say that when Charlie goes against his father’s orders and allows a black man identified only as the Bloody Stranger ((Edwin Hodge)) to seek sanctuary in their house, all hell breaks loose, and the family find that Dad’s home security units are far from being impregnable. A pack of human wolves demand that the man they have wounded be turned over to them—or else. Dad intends to comply, but…The writer of Psalm 10 could be describing the situation in a 12 hour Purge, set in a time when no one shares the Psalmist’s belief in a God who opposes such violence.

This is a film that pushes Aristotle’s famous teaching about catharsis as far as possible. The premise would seem to me to be more acceptable had the time been further into the future. Like most science fiction works (though this barely can be called that, only because it is in the future), the presence of the church in our culture is totally ignored. There is no way that any, even the ultra-conservative ones that tend to accept violence against gays or abortionists, would sit still for such a federal law.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. What do you think about the plausibility of a Purge being enacted into law within less than ten years? Has our accepted violence so much? In what places do you see such an acceptance, sometimes even with enthusiasm—in sports; in entertainment; in opposition to other groups; in religion?

2. What do you think of Aristotle’s theory of catharsis? Have you experienced a benefit from getting anger or violence out of your system? (I can remember several times as a child smashing a model airplane because parts would not stay glued or fit together according to the instructions—but I seem to recall feeling more regret—over the loss of money spent on a ruined project—than a feeling of being purged.)

3. Who in the Sandin family seems to have a remnant of conscience that calls into question the Purge? What effect does this eventually have?

4. What do you think of the absence of any church or reference to God in the film? How is this typical of many science fiction works? Although the church is open to question when it emphasizes doctrine and rules so much, what do its unbelieving detractors fail to see in the church that has through the ages proved those pronouncing its doom wrong?

5. How is this prophetic side of the church, called by Paul Tillich the “Protestant Principle, essential to its survival. What are some of the movements that have renewed, beginning with that of Francis of Assisi on to the present day?