Those who have seen the trailer for The Purge, or the film itself, know this is not your normal brand of horror film. The Purge is certainly ful of jump scares and villains out for blood, but it takes that standard idea of horror one step further by infusing the narrative with bigger questions about society and human nature. This is not your typical story of people being pursued and not knowing why. The characters in The Purge know exactly what is out there, but the fear here is they thought they were armed against it, and what is even more unsettling is the realization that the true terror may exist outside of this single night.
Life in The Purge is an almost Pleasantville-like world where crime is down, employment is up, and the general population seems content and happy – and there is a very distinct reason for this. For one night, every year, the entire population is allowed to “purge” themselves and give in to any evil or violent tendencies they may have been suppressing in favor of such a well mannered society.
But The Purge gives audiences more than just a series of scares, it presents a variety of different questions, both directly and indirectly, throughout the film, but it does not offer many answers. It is not unusual for a horror film to leave audiences with an open ending, but the questions The Purge leaves open are ripe for discussion long after the credits roll.
The following contains spoilers for the film so, please, proceed with caution.
1. What prompted the idea of the purge?
Current times are tough and many people are struggling which makes the idyllic world of The Purge seem very appealing. But this “perfect” world comes with a price. The Purge claims if you allow people to do whatever they want for one night a year, they will live in perfect harmony and peace the other 364 days.
But what happened to inspire such an idea? Was there a specific event that made the idea of a purge the most logical solution? Were there no other options? And how did anyone know that this would “work”?
A group referred to as the “Founding Fathers” are credited with the idea of the purge and everything that comes with it. Purgers thank the Founding Fathers for allowing them to purge and victims of the purge are considered sacrifices to their cause, which leads to my next question…
2. Who are the Founding Fathers?
How did they come to be? Were they elected officials? A group who happened to rise from the chaos? And where are they now? Do they interact with the government? Do we still have a government?
Not everyone agrees with the purge, as evidenced by James Sandin’s (Ethan Hawke) son, Charlie (Max Burkholder), constantly questioning his parents about why everyone just accepts it. While Charlie’s inquiries are brushed aside, it again brings up this question of who the Founding Fathers are and how they got the amount of power and control to make such a decision that no one is supposed to, or seems willing to, question.
3. When did the purge begin?
James seems completely nonchalant when he sees his neighbors sharpening axes or throwing rifles over their shoulders, simply commenting, “Oh – they are going hunting.” But these neighbors are not going hunting for animals – they are going hunting for other humans.
It is clear James has an ulterior motive when it comes to the purge as his livelihood depends on selling security systems to protect people from it, but his dismissal of watching people prepare to brutally hurt one another makes it seem as though this is a world he grew up in.
4. How did they survive past purges?
The Sandin family is clearly doing well for themselves, but no one seems quite comfortable with it. Daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) is more focused on her parents not accepting her older boyfriend, Charlie is desperate for attention, and mom Mary (Lena Headey) is awkward and uncomfortable whenever their money is mentioned. These are clearly not people who were born into or used to wealth.
It is clear money equals physical security, but James refers to the family’s former, smaller, less secure home which then begs the question – what did the Sandin’s do to protect themselves before they were able to live in their current wealthy neighborhood with a fancy security system to hide behind?
5. Why would you buy a security system you knew did not 100% protect you?
James seemed incredibly pleased with the amount of security systems he sold, especially to all his neighbors, as it seemed to net him a sizable profit that made their house a bit larger than all the others on their block (thanks to an expensive addition.) But when their house is threatened, James admits the costly security systems he sells are more cosmetic than safe, justifying that the reason he had one installed in their home was because he never thought they would need serious protection in a posh neighborhood like theirs.
The obvious question here is – why would you install a system you knew could be penetrated? James’ naive answer claiming he never thought there would be any real threat to them in a gated community like theirs brings up the bigger question of why. Even surrounded by wealthy people, would you trust anyone in a situation where everyone can do whatever they want? Jealousy and greed were certainly brewing in their neighborhood well before the purge started, but James had apparently forgotten his humble roots and was content to be the king in his castle and ignore everything going on outside their not-so-impenetrable steel doors.
6. Who would be around to police the use of restricted weapons?
The emergency broadcast at the beginning of the purge stated only certain weapons would be allowed, but the idea at the root of the purge is everyone is allowed to do whatever they want with no rules or restrictions making it odd to see both of those things in the announcement that this “free for all” had begun. All authority figures are removed during this time so who would be available to tell you that you are using a restricted caliber bazooka on someone? Wouldn’t that person just “purge” you from standing against their right for “release”?
It seemed like an odd sense of attempted control in an idea based in chaos which hinted that maybe those “in charge” had begun to realize there had to be some restrictions to this night of terror. But it still leaves the question of who would enforce those rules once the starting bell (or, in this case, gun shot) went off?
7. What did the blue flowers signify?
The bouquets of blue flowers put out in front of one’s home was said to signify that family supported the purge, but why blue flowers? What did they symbolize?
When one ties a yellow ribbon around their tree it symbolizes the hope to bring troops home and the practice of putting out a certain color flower seemed to mirror this idea. But what is the significance of the color blue? And why flowers?
8. What does it mean when the purge becomes less about release and more about weeding out the poor from the rich?
Hidden behind the assumed safety of their steel doors, it is clear the Sandins are well-off, but when their wealthy neighbors comment on the addition to the Sandin’s home and what a “good year” the family clearly had, you begin to get the impression that the hunger for power and money, even in this society, has not completely gone away. This concept is presented in much more black and white terms when Charlie watches a man (Edwin Hodge) desperately running through their neighborhood in search of safety and is later identified as homeless and therefore “intended” to be killed during the purge.
The group of well dressed purgers who show up on the Sandin’s front porch in pursuit of the man make it very clear that they have no interest in harming “their own,” but demand they be allowed to violently murder someone not lucky enough to have a home to hide behind. The group did not seem to have a history or a past with the man, their aggravation was based in the mere fact that when they attempted to “purge” him and he resisted and fought back, an act they seemed to take great offense to.
This is when The Purge begins to touch on ideas bigger than its seemingly basic premise. What would it mean when society begins to become divided between those rich enough to protect themselves and those who are not? Just because someone has fallen on hard times, does that mean they are supposed to accept being murdered? What happens when they are no more poor or homeless to pick off from the herd?
9. The Sandins let their neighbors, and potential murders, go – but what will happen during the next purge?
The final scene of The Purge brings to light the majority of these questions when Mary is forced to come to terms with the fact that her neighbors, the people who knew her family and those you would think you could trust, had attempted to kill her and her children in front of one another while the hunted man, who she was ruthlessly torturing only a few hours earlier, protected them. This scene not only brought up the question of who can you trust, but how a society eventually comprised of only those who are wealthy and lucky enough to be able to afford to protect themselves may create a world worse than the one the purge was initially created to save.
The Sandins turned into the worst versions of themselves during the purge, trying to sacrifice a man they did not know while their neighbors turned on them the moment their barriers went down simply because the Sandins were “richer” than they were. The beaten man did what was right even while he was being hunted and tortured, but because he was considered “less than” people like the Sandins it meant he was marked to die, and was supposed to accept it.
Mary seemed to learn something in this moment, not sinking to her neighbors level and letting them live while also letting the unknown man go, but not before thanking him for what he did. Within the context of the film it is important to see this change and the journey this character went through, but from a more practical standpoint – what is going to happen during the next purge now that you know everyone around you wants you dead?
Any questions about The Purge you would like to “purge” from your system?