Reading DeMonaco’s “The Purge” as a Reflection of Living Laboratories

To get into the Halloween spirit, I have taken it upon myself to go through with my made-up tradition of watching as many scary films as I can before the actual Halloween day, despite it being midterm season. As usual, I fell into the temptation of procrastination last night, this time by watching The Purge. Directed by James DeMonaco, the film was released in 2013 and tells a story of a society in which there is one day every year when the rules of government are voided and people are free to do whatever they want without legal repercussions. The reasoning behind the creation of this holiday, despite its sounding absurdity, was to lower the rates of crime that happen throughout each year. This, in turn, is supported by the drastically low rates of crime that have resulted since the holiday’s inception. Many choose to use this day to kill others, steal, and engage in other violent activities. Others choose to sit quietly and safely in their homes, waiting for the day to pass so that they could get back to their peaceful and “normal” lives.

Throughout the film, we follow the Sandin family as they go through the annual Purge. They are a white family of noticeable wealth, as drawn from the high-tech security system that barricades their house from “outside threats.” At one point in the film, a black man is seen wounded outside the Sandins’ household, crying and screaming for help. Charlie, the youngest of the Sandin family, watches the security cameras outside their home and sees the man, eventually responding to his cries by unlocking the barriers to his house and calling to the man to come inside. Consequently, a group of people who are masked, but all of whom seem to be white based on the skin color of their arms, as well as the fact that their masks are also of white people, show up to the Sandin household to kill not only the black man, but also the Sandin family for helping him.

As I watched this movie, I couldn’t help but read it as an interpretation of actual living laboratories that we have encountered both in and out of class. As we have learned, living laboratories thrive off the idea of an “inferior” race needing to be expelled in order to preserve the purity of a “superior” race. In our reality, this self-proclaimed “superior” race is white people, whereas the supposed “inferior” race is people of color. In the second unit of our class, we learned how race and disease have been historically conflated in order to expel or sanitize bodies that were deemed “other” in the standards of white supremacy. In The Purge, it seems pretty non-coincidental that the man that the people are after and that “infects” the Sandins and their household is black. Instead, it seems to be a very deliberate reinterpretation of living laboratories that have existed and that continue to exist. It seems to reflect eugenic philosophies, that there is a race worthy of preserving over others due to contrived beliefs around superiority and inferiority of traits based on race.

Perhaps I’m being too analytical here, and my literary backings and love for films are coming up too strongly, but I was wondering if there is any validity behind the reading of The Purge as a living laboratory, as well as the reflection of living laboratories in films and other forms of art. If so, what makes these media important, and how should we go about engaging with and sharing them?

2 thoughts on “Reading DeMonaco’s “The Purge” as a Reflection of Living Laboratories”

  1. Great post, and I loved your analysis of the film’s premise! I definitely don’t think you’re being too analytical; I think that the filmmakers very deliberately made the decision to reflect a heightened version of 21st century racial prejudice. I wouldn’t even call it a “heightened” or extreme reflection of the way race works in society today; these past years have brought incidents of extreme injustice to the mainstream, as seen in the cases of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and many other victims of racially-fueled violence. Because of this, I’d agree in naming The Purge a living laboratory, and I think that in the case of media/art forms that include these elements, it’s important to utilize them in ways that spark discussion, seeing as realities presented in films like The Purge stem from present and past historical realities of violence.

  2. A great movie indeed! I love dystopias and I definitely think that we could interpret The Purge as an example of a living laboratory as well. I guess it really links to the topic of our recent unit (cleansing the world from people we do not like), with all the violence and hatred it portrays. *I would probably discuss a part of the content of the movie, so if anyone plans to watch it over the break, please beware of spoilers.*
    Although I watched The Purge a couple of years ago, I remember one of the opening sentences was something along the lines of “The Purge is meant to kill the poor people’’, which given the future setting of the movie, I believe, would mean people of color – you can see from the trailer that the killing settings are in the neighborhoods of people of color, and the plot twist is that you get to observe it in the new house of an affluent white family.
    Even though the trailer does not give insights for the existence of the Purge night, from what I recall it was because prisons were brimming over with inmates, so the government wanted to reduce crime rates, which truth to be told, privileged people connect to people of color – so an underlying concept could be that the purge is to basically wipe out the people who contaminate the Reborn America and go against the plans of the New Founding Fathers (the political leaders that established the Purge). I also recall that you could kill anyone except government officials of rank 10 or something like that, so basically, you cannot really escape being “purged’’ should you be unprivileged because you cannot afford the Sandins’ expensive security system. This just screams US-Mexico border to me with the theme of ‘’if you do not get sterilized and vaccinated, you might end up in the river’’ and I believe it connects to Nemo’s comment on the Flint Michigan crisis and the idea of being trapped with no escape.
    What I find interesting is the idea of all against one that could be picked up from the trailer (the murder gang versus the wounded man, I don’t remember his name), which reminds me of the government-against-Mexican people concept in ‘’Fevered Measures’’ and of the planning of an atrocity against people of color beforehand, just as the proposal for disinfection plants way before the actual building of these sites (in ‘’Buildings, Boundaries and Blood” and in ‘’Fevered Measures’’). I guess that I would conclude this is an imaginary, but quite possible gruesome scenario of a living laboratory if contemporary racism is unleashed 10 years from now, but which would be illegal and not named fancily just so that it continues.
    As for your last question, I believe that what makes this media important is the awareness it raises and the sick feeling in invokes in viewers, which is a good preventative measure. We ought to share everything thought-provoking as long as it encourages positive pro-activeness.

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