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'The Purge' Dodges Cultural Component of Gun Violence

'The Purge' Dodges Cultural Component of Gun Violence

Watching The Purge on Blu-ray is an incomplete experience if you want the film’s full, albeit muddled, message.

For that, consider not the Blu-ray extras but interviews director James DeMonaco conducted during the movie’s theatrical release. DeMonaco told the press the film’s story, in which a New Founding Fathers group inspires one day a year in which wanton violence is legal, represented what would happen if the NRA took over America.

What’s missing in his Purge is a cultural context. What social conservatives have argued for decades is that the breakdown of the nuclear family is partly to blame for violence–and worse.

The Purge ignores that argument, one that deserves a full hearing in the ongoing gun debate. Blaming guns is but a reflex to left-of-center storytellers, and the lack of intact, healthy family structures gets lost in the editing room time and again.

To its credit, The Purge has more on its mind than most exploitative thrillers, a rarity in summer movie vehicles. It’s one reason why the film hung with its bigger budgeted peers at movie houses, offering an original story at a fraction of the cost.

The film follows a home insurance salesman (Ethan Hawke) trying to protect his family during the annual purge, where all forms of behavior are legal for 12 hours. It’s the concoction of the New Founding Fathers, and society appears to benefit from the annual event–assuming one lives through it.

The Purge still could have thrived as a smarter than average home invasion thriller, but the messages rattling around the story’s edges are just too loud. The direction smacks the viewer repeatedly upside the head, yet it lacks the vision better auteurs would bring to such a narrative.

The performances are broad and lack cohesion. Hawke, who can deliver authentic turns in the right material, doesn’t do enough to elevate the project.

Worst of all, the film falls into a dull pattern early on that saps the film’s genre potency. Just when an ax, bullet or other deadly weapon is about to strike, someone rushes in to save the day or change the momentum of the attack.

Surviving the Night: The Making of the Purge lets the actors nibble on the meatier themes in play regarding cultural violence, and DeMonaco hints at the anti-gun agenda he revealed during his press interviews. Perhaps his next film will bring more clarity–and context–to the conversations he wants to have with the movie going public.


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