Did you know that, out of all the films of The Purge franchise, it was the first film that did the worst? The movie never really explored its interesting premise outside of the home-invasion thriller plot, letting the rest of the crimes occurring within that movie to be a mere video footage in the background. Regardless, The Purge’s premise was very interesting and, despite its mixed reviews, it grossed 30 times its budget. This paved the way for franchise creator James DeMonaco to create more movies revolving around the idea.
Six years after the first movie, The Purge spawned three more dystopian films, a final fifth installment in the works, and a TV series. It also spawned countless fan theories, academic discussions about its socio-political meaning, and questions such as “Is the Purge Real?” or “Would the Purge be beneficial in real life?”
To answer these questions, we have to look at the actual timeline of events of The Purge franchise, what it means, and people’s reaction to it in real life. And based on everything we know, would it be beneficial to practice purging in real life despite its moral problems?
Timeline of the Purge Films: Prologue
As of writing, there are currently four Purge films: The Purge (2013), The Purge: Anarchy (2014), The Purge: Election Year (2016), and The First Purge (2018). The First Purge is a prequel to all the other films, showing the first Purge that started it all. But even before that, there was a prologue that is implied throughout the films.
Around 2014 in the franchise’s universe, the United States faces economic collapse and social unrest due to high crime rates, rising unemployment rates, and overpopulation. A political organization called “The New Founding Fathers of America” (NFFA), consisting of wealthy and powerful figures, is formed and voted into office. They establish a totalitarian government and police state, spewing ultra-nationalist and religious ideals for the country.
The Purge Rules
Since the success of the first purge, the US Constitution was ratified to make way for The Purge, an annual 12-hour event from March 21 at 7:00 PM to March 22 at 7:00 AM where all crime, including murder, becomes legal throughout the United States.
The start of the Purge is signaled by an Emergency Broadcast System. A voice goes over the rules:
- The sirens signal the start and end of the Purge.
- All emergency services such as police, the fire department, and medical emergency services are unavailable during the purge.
- Government officials that rank 10 or higher cannot be killed during the purge. While it is hinted that senators and higher federal officials fall under that category, it is unclear what the minimum is.
- Class 4 weapons and below are legal, but Class 5 weapons such as grenades, rocket launchers, weapons of mass destruction, and viral weapons are not allowed.
The Purge Announcement
Voice actress Cindy Robinson recites the Emergency Broadcast System for the rules and a prayer for the NFFA. She recites:
“This is not a test.
This is your emergency broadcast system announcing the commencement of the Annual Purge sanctioned by the U.S. Government. Weapons of class 4 and lower have been authorized for use during the Purge. All other weapons are restricted. Government officials of ranking 10 have been granted immunity from the Purge and shall not be harmed. Commencing at the siren, any and all crime, including murder, will be legal for 12 continuous hours. Police, fire, and emergency medical services will be unavailable until tomorrow morning at 7 a.m., when The Purge concludes. Blessed be our New Founding Fathers and America, a nation reborn. May God be with you all.”
Once this spiel ends, the sirens sound, announcing the start of the purge. From there, people are free to purge themselves in any way as long as it follows the given rules. After 12 hours, a second siren announces the end of the purge.
The Effects of the Purge
According to the NFFA, the Purge is a positive thing for the country. Their scientists and psychologists claim that human nature is inherently evil, and that one day of legal crime is a method of catharsis that allows them to “release the beast” without repercussions. As a result, crime and unemployment rates are down to a 1% and the economy has become strong once more. In The Purge: Election Year, it shows that tourism in the United States has increased thanks to foreigners coming in to participate in the Purge.
However, people who are against purging see it in another light. They claim it is a form of population control, killing off the poor as they are the most vulnerable (as they don’t have the means to leave the country or fortify their homes with high-end security measures) and part of the unemployment rate. In fact, it is shown that, compared to The Purge, The Purge: Anarchy shows how difficult it is to survive as not only do they lack the equipment the upper-class have, but they’re also targeted by the NFFA who are sending mercenaries to kill more people to make the Purge look more successful than it actually is.
The First Purge
In 2016, psychologist and behavioral science expert Dr. May Updale earns the support of the NFFA to conduct an experiment that would be known as the first purge night in the timeline. She hypothesized that if people had one night to release their anger without legal consequences, the country could avoid economic collapse and social uprising.
With the NFFA’s backing, she announces an experiment where Staten Island would be isolated for one night for 12 hours, where the people on the island are free to commit any crime, including murder. Those who do not want to participate may leave the island before the purge, but those that stay will be given $5,000 and contact lenses that monitor all activity.
Dr. Updale claims that this is just a psychological experiment to see if her hypothesis is correct and it does not have a political purpose. At the start of the first purge, Dr. Updale observes from the NFFA headquarters the first kills done by Skeletor. However, she and NFFA chief of staff Arlo Sabian notices that most of the crimes committed are looting, vandalism, and street parties, with not a lot of murders taking place. She believes it is just a failed experiment that disproved her idea.
Towards the middle of the night, Dr. Updale notices that there are more and more murders taking place, apart from the kills committed by the main characters. She realizes there are hired mercenaries acting as civilians and killing people. Sabian admits to sending men to increase the kill count, saying that the NFFA supported her experiment because they believed it could be a political weapon that could reduce unemployment and kill the poor unable to defend themselves, thus ridding the country of the problems it faces.
Before Dr. Updale can do anything to stop this experiment, she is taken to Staten Island and killed. At the end of the first purge, the NFFA claim that the Purge was a success and that it may take place throughout the country later on, thus setting the course of events for the next films.
Because this is the fourth Purge film, the first three films have already showed us what the Purge really is for the NFFA: it’s a means of population control by killing off those who aren’t wealthy enough to protect themselves. And the dialogue between Sabian and Dr. Updale is proof of it. They aren’t interested in people finding catharsis through crime as they are with culling the population and the effects it brings to the rest of the country.
The Purge deals in politics and government, so it’s no surprise that discussion always reflects back to real-life scenarios. When inflation rates go up or when healthcare plans change, who receives the brunt of having to deal with these issues? The poor. The rich won’t blink at gas prices costing $0.50 more because they can afford it, but people who live from paycheck to paycheck need to adjust their budget just to get enough gas for their daily travel. The poor avoid hospitals until absolutely necessary because they may lack the insurance for their condition, but the rich can probably survive the financial burden of hospitals even without insurance.
The film strengthens the idea that the government is aware that the poor are the most vulnerable, but taking them out means taking out the unemployed and poor likely to commit violent crimes in order to survive. And as the timeline progresses, we see that the poor are starting to fight back against this oppressive practice.
The first film, The Purge, is arguably the worst film in the series because it takes a very interesting premise and then limits the film to a home invasion thriller focusing on one family. While we see murder occurring in video feeds, it’s only background filler to the events in the actual movie. But if you compare the wealthy Sandin family’s Purge night to the nights of middle and lower-middle characters in the other films, you can see how the socio-economic differences can affect the way a person fights for their survival.
The film takes place in 2022, roughly six years after the first purge night. Purging has spread to the entire country, though we don’t really see this in the film except for some random shots of people murdering each other. The film’s protagonists, the Sandin family, live in an affluent gated community in Los Angeles, and they are protected by a high-tech security system manufactured by the company James Sandin works for.
During the Purge, the family is relatively calm as they think they have no reason to fear the Purge. The young son, Charlie, has doubts about the Purge, though James claims that it is good because he believes it is what keeps the US economically safe. However, Charlie saves a stranger outside calling for help. This stranger turns out to be the target of a purge group of wealthy young adults purging, and they demand the Sandins return the stranger to them or they will invade and kill everyone in the home. James admits that while the security system deters potential purge threats, it won’t save them from people determined to invade their home.
Eventually, they decide to spare the stranger and defend themselves. In the ensuing shoot-out, the purge gang are all killed, but James is fatally wounded. The Sandin’s neighbors help kill the gang, but only because they want to kill the Sandins themselves out of jealousy for their financial success. However, the stranger helps defend the Sandins, preventing any more deaths in their home.
While the film shows the stranger struggling to stay alive, a lot of the film focuses on how the rich see the purge. Had the Sandins prevented Charlie from letting the stranger in, they would have survived what would have been an uneventful night (except for James, who might have been killed when his daughter’s boyfriend snuck in to try to kill him) as the Purgers would have ignored their home and the neighbors wouldn’t have the opportunity to try to kill them.
Compared to the other films that stray away from the upper-classes, The Purge shows how easy it is for the rich to continue on with their lives even if they choose not to participate in the Purge because they have the luxury of doing so. They have the security means to deter potential Purgers away from their home, so they’re not worried about the violence outside.
The Purge: Anarchy
The Purge: Anarchy turns towards the lower classes and takes place a year after the first movie. Audiences get to see the difficulty of being working class and lacking the means to fully fortify your home from potential Purgers.
At one point in the film, an elderly man decides to sell himself to a wealthy family who intend to kill him for their own private purge. He feels like his expensive medication is a burden on his daughter, Eva, working as a waitress and supporting him, herself, and her young daughter. The two are nearly assaulted by their landlord and later by NFFA mercenaries, as their front door is so weak that it is easy for them to be attacked.
We also see a couple who are targeted by a gang and have their fuel line cut. Since they were on their way to their fortified home, they are stuck in the middle of the city. Although they seem middle-class, the fact that they have to travel at a distance at a last minute shows how they aren’t capable of living in a time of purging unlike wealthy people who can easily either stay away from the Purge or get high-end weapons to ensure a higher chance of survival on the streets.
Unlike the first movie, though, we finally see the poor fight back against the NFFA and their Purge. They’ve come to realize why the Purge exists in the first place and are fighting a war to end it. At one point, the protagonists are taken to an auction for wealthy Purgers who pay to join a human hunting session.
The Purge: Election Year
Currently, the final film in the series, Election Year is about Senator Roan campaigning for the US Presidency in an attempt to end the Purge nights. In an attempt to kill Roan before elections, the NFFA revoke immunity for government officials, making it possible for her to be killed on Purge. Roan can choose to get to safety in a secure location, but because she wants the popular vote, she decides to wait out the purge in her home. They are betrayed, but she and her bodyguard manage to escape.
Out of all the Purge movies, this is the most gruesome film showing a lot of grisly deaths and methods of torture. With the help of a shop owner, his two employees, and the stranger from the first movie (who is part of the organization trying to assassinate the NFFA), Roan manages to survive the night and eventually win in a landslide. However, because a news report mentions that NFFA supporters are reacting violently to her win, this may be a hint on what the upcoming fifth movie is about.
The Purge in Real Life: Is It a Good Idea?
Despite the underlying elitist, anti-poor ideas, the NFFA in The Purge series convincingly claim the benefits of Purge Night, stating that catharsis through legal crime for one day of the year can lead to low crime and unemployment rates as well as a good economy for the rest of the year. They claim that, yes, purging does lead to the deaths of many people, but it is for the good of the country. But is this really true?
One of the great things about The Purge films is the way the franchise’s creator, James DeMonaco, opens the door for discussions about morality, politics, and socio-economics in a slasher film. You can bet that, in some college around the world, professors are asking their students whether or not making the Purge into a reality is actually a good idea. There are even hoaxes back in 2016 that the Purge had actually begun in Chicago.
But would legal crime be actually beneficial in the US? The argument is that the Purge is necessary for low crime and unemployment rates and a stable economy. But here’s why it isn’t.
When you think about crime rates, you might be thinking about the number of murders, gang violence, and burglaries done in a certain area. But that’s only violent crime. You might be forgetting that there is another form of crime: white-collar or violent crime. This is the nonviolent and often financially motivated crime committed mostly by the wealthy: money laundering, fraud, embezzlement, and more.
These are crimes that don’t necessarily hurt anyone physically, but the criminal commits unjust enrichment at the expense of others. Money laundering, for example, isn’t really hurting anyone as it’s only the criminal’s way for making it look like they earned money legally.
In The Purge, the NFFA limits the definition of crime to violent crime. They claim that if people were given one night to commit all the crimes they want, they wouldn’t have to be criminals for the rest of the year. Technically, you can choose to kill a person at that time of the year (like the NFFA did with Senator Roan) to avoid punishment, and you can also choose to break into a store and steal goods or vandalize your old employer’s building to avoid jail time.
But the problem with the way the Purge is built is that it doesn’t take white-collar crime into account. A person can’t money launder for 12 hours. Let’s say you steal the identity of someone who died during the Purge. Even if you steal all their identification and papers during the Purge, using it outside of the annual Purge Night is considered identity theft, and you can go to jail. If, by definition, the crimes committed must take place inside that 12-hour window, white collar crime is impossible to avoid because it is continuous.
Therefore, while those with the intention to kill may wait for Purge Night, white-collared criminals can commit crime every day of the year. And this isn’t just a small niche group of criminals: since 2014, around 93,000 people a year are arrested in the US for forgery cases alone.
The Purge may prevent the number of people doing violent crime, but hackers and other white-collar criminals aren’t really affected by the Purge as they will have to keep working outside the annual Purge Night to avoid getting caught. What’s troubling is that white-collar crime is often done by people who have the means and skills to do this, which means wealthy, skilled people can get away with doing crime for the rest of the year.
So, the Purge doesn’t really deter crime. It simply lowers the number of violent crime and leaves white-collared crime undetectable.
This is probably the only thing that is true to a sense with these Purge movies. Because NFFA mercenaries are killing off the homeless, the poor, and the working class with no money for high-end security systems, they’re most likely to be killed off. And because most of the unemployment rates come from their socio-economic bracket, unemployment rates will go down as these are usually the type of people to be struggling to look for work.
However, as you get rid of the unemployed, the NFFA are only increasing the inequality present. Society’s wealthy can afford to secure their homes from both Purgers and robbers. However, you’d rarely see an upper-class casualty on the street because they have the privilege of purging in their own safe environment. On the other hand, the less-privileged sectors can not only be prone to dying even when they’re trying to avoid the Purge for the night, they are also convinced to sell themselves for money.
This has serious repercussions once the Purge ends. By killing more of the middle and lower-middle classes, the gap between different classes widens broadly, thus isolating the lowest even further.
At the end of the first movie, The Purge, news reports claimed that the stock market was booming due to weapon sales and the economy was doing well. However, the fact that the Purge causes financial effects proves that things will get more difficult – especially for the poor.
In The Purge: Election Year, shop owner Joe Dixon finds out a day before the Purge that his purge insurance has increased and he can’t afford to get insurance for the upcoming Purge, forcing him to stay in the store and guard it during Purge night. He fails to protect his store from looters, and later dies because he happened to meet Senator Roan and chose to go along with her.
In real life, this scenario would apply to everyone with much property to lose on Purge night. Because purging becomes an American right, people with life insurance can get coverage for Purge-related deaths and other special coverages such as health insurance. The current insurance system is already costly and complex for the everyday American, and adding the factors of the Purge – such as where the person lives or where their assets are – mean that they will either have to pay higher amounts of insurance premiums, or they may risk losing their property.
And if insurance companies press down on small business owners like Joe and demand higher premiums the day before the Purge, what’s to stop them from doing it to small businesses around the country? Businesses would close down, leaving the only players in the market as the big companies that can afford the changes of their premium.
What Would You Do During the Purge?
Let’s say that, worst case scenario, the Purge does come to life and all crime is legal. What would you do? Let us know down in the comments!
For me, personally, I have two options. My first option is to play it safe and either fortify my home so that I’m as safe as possible (since I most likely can’t afford Sandin-levels of security). My second is to save money for the rest of the year and then take a week off in Canada, Mexico, or the Bahamas and come back once the carnage is done. Knowing my physical capabilities, I wouldn’t last an hour on the street, given the gruesome new levels of killing and torture in the latest movie.
But depending on your socio-economic status, what you plan to do might differ from others. If you’re one of the lower classes, you could be struggling to survive or at least keep your home intact during the night. Your household may even be one of the random picks for home invasions by paid mercenaries. But if you’re one of the privileged ones, you might notice how easy it is for you to make plans either way.