The Purge: Anarchy
Director: James DeMonaco
Writer: James DeMonaco
Recommended: Surprisingly enough, yes.
Bechdel Test: Pass, right off the bat
Trigger Warnings (for the film, not necessarily the review): Rape threats, intense weird classist violence
“Anarchist” was a pejorative for a long-ass time before people started calling themselves anarchists. So while I’m pretty convinced the definition of anarchy is “a society without systemic oppression” and not “when everyone runs around killing one another,” I kind of get why some people still hold onto the latter understanding of it.
That was what I told myself to steel myself to watch a film about lawless violence that had “anarchy” in the title.
Maybe I didn’t need to. The Purge: Anarchy is, well, more or less an anarchist film.
The central conceit of The Purge and its sequel, Anarchy, is that in 2020s America, the New Founding Fathers took over and declared that one night a year, all crime is legal. So the first film was a horror movie about lawlessness. Or so I thought before I watched it. It actually was a pretty interesting class parable. It’s kind of liberal and not really all that good of a movie (see the AGR review by Margaret Killjoy). It also had plenty of oversights, many of which were addressed in its rather excellent sequel.
The Purge: Anarchy hits on three themes quite dear to my heart: the evils of class society; the evils of government; and how revenge usually makes everything worse but that revolutionary violence is okay.
It picks up where the first movie starts off with its class analysis. Rich people are buying poor people to kill—and some poor people are selling, themselves or whoever they can round up. The spectacle of murder and the ritualized hunt is simply fantastic, a brutal depiction of the cold heartless joy of the upper classes.
And the state isn’t off the hook either. The state set up a night of lawlessness, a night where people could run around and kill one another, and spend all year spreading propaganda that it’s good to kill one another. But even with that massive propaganda machine in motion, not enough people are doing it. And when someone in the film does go ahead and kill her sister during the purge, she makes it clear she didn’t do it because there wasn’t a government, she did it because the government told her she could. That it was her government-given right. Strangely, one of the themes of this film is that without government, we won’t just run around killing one another. Which I find to be a very defensible position.
And it strikes a fascinating, and I would argue anarchistic, balance between pacifism and the glorification of violence. There’s a white male protagonist action hero guy (okay, I didn’t say the movie was perfect), and he’s out to purge—he’s out to kill. But he doesn’t want to go on a killing spree, he’s out for revenge against one specific person. And there’s an awful lot of the film that’s pointing out that, hey, maybe revenge isn’t so good. Maybe in fact revenge killings are exactly what the government is hoping people do… probably to reinforce the conception that the government is necessary. Yet the Black Panther-styled revolutionist who screams about making the bastards pay in blood for what they’ve done to the poor… yeah, he’s presented as the good guy. I’m sure the filmmakers will get plenty of crap for taking a hypocritical stance on violence, but from my point of view the movie’s take on it is rather clear—revenge for the sake of revenge is crap, but some problems need to be solved by whatever means.
There are so many little touches in this film that I love. In the very beginning, one of the protagonists decides to ask her boss for a raise right before the purge… which is to say, decides to ask for a raise with a bit of an implicit threat.
Then there’s the revolutionist, who spouts off intense class war rhetoric and then shoots rich people and it’s glorious and heroic.
A banker got butchered on Wall Street and left bloody and chained to a bank with a sign about how he’d stolen everyone’s pensions. A middle class white character jokes that he probably deserved it. It was probably only half a joke.
The young rich white assholes who just bought tickets to murder people fist bump each other before heading off into the killing fields.
I appreciate that there’s no love interest. I appreciate that there are two strong women of color characters. I do wish the two women would save the action hero more often instead of just the other way around, and I kind of begrudge the Mr. Action Guy hero, though actually the cliche nature of his character becomes pretty instrumental in one of the major themes of the movie near the end, so maybe that’s forgivable.
Also, I appreciate that it’s a white character who does the “you guys go on ahead I’ll just stay here and shoot bad guys and probably die and buy you some time” for some people of color instead of the other way around.
The movie is definitely not above critique. But I’m incredibly impressed at how the film created an enjoyable, plot-driven action film (not really a horror film) out of a rather intense class war parable. And maybe I’ll even forgive them for using the name anarchy in the title.