Sunday, December 15, 2013

2013 in Shit: The Purge

Had I not seen You're Next this year, I assume that The Purge would have been the subject of my bizarre, endless-sentences affections; unfortunately it hits nearly all the same beats as You're Next without quite as much excitement. I suspect that a lot of the joy I got out of The Purge was conditional on the incredible crowd in the theater in which I saw it, at least to a certain extent, and its preachiness dulled it to some extent, even as I delighted in the incoherence of its message.

The kid who leads the home invasion crew, hired, ostensibly, because he could smile like Ichi the Killer naturally, was a highlight, as was Ethan Hawke's fight choreography in the moments before his death. I assume the kid's robot wasn't really meant to recall the robot from Craven's Deadly Friend (I assume literally no one but myself has much of any interest recalling any aspect of that movie, to be entirely honest, least of all Craven himself), but intertextuality isn't really a feature of authorship no matter what Pynchon scholars or whoever want to build their careers around; so that was, to me, really funny. And, as I mentioned, there were the politics.

Like any other home invasion film, The Purge finds itself trapped in the dialectic of justified violence (in the form most readily accessible as the Stand Your Ground laws, or the castle doctrine) and the abolition (or at least constitutive hostility) of private property. The tension results from the naturalization of the latter's necessary production of the conditions that require the former; what The Purge threatens to do differently is to integrate this dynamic with a vertical analysis of class, against the genre's nearly-exclusive horizontal assumptions (read: intra-class resentment (see: You're Next, Funny Games, Panic Room)). It does this through the sfnal frame, rather than through the casting of the villain, by creating a world in which a human potlatch leads to the murder of the poor by the rich, resulting in one percent unemployment (presumably the world of this film has developed a kind of capitalism in which the progressive immiseration of workers and the attendant requirement of a reserve army of labor is no longer necessary) and the development of a lucrative property-defense industry, on which Our Hero Hawke has made his riches.

It is messy, ineffectual worldbuilding, of course, but the frame is pretty hard to miss. Ultimately, I think, it does little more than exaggerate the intraclass conflict that the movie ultimately recapitulates, and allows for the shift, alongside Hawke's death, of villains onto the other intraclass group, which seems like plenty really. But there are, of course, those dissonances, like the fact that the opening news reports describe the titular night's effectiveness in terms of natural human behavior (which, presumably, is meant less as a statement of truth and more as a statement that a corporate news entity would make given this world's existence) while the whole movie revolves around large groups of people acting very clearly in organized collectives to achieve particular ideological or aspirational goals, or how the boyfriend of the daughter's plan seems to be that his killing Ethan Hawke legally will somehow transmute into a narrative absolution with said daughter, indicating, at least, that the film doesn't quite know whether it is oriented against legal abstractions or narrative ones, which causes problems given the constitutive presence of legal abstraction in the dialectic that motivates the genre.

Which is, I guess, to echo the sentiment that the worldbuilding is kind of bad? Without being nitpicky about it? But also who cares, and bad is such a dull category. And they like, achieved what they set out to achieve, or whatever (also a dull statement), unless of course you assume they were an end in themselves, in which case cool I guess, sorry the movie wasn't more radical, etc.

And of course, what it set out to achieve is a statement so laden with assumptions that it ends up nearly useless. I don't really imagine that at any point there was a board meeting in which Encapsulating and Enhancing the Inherent Dialectical Tension of the Home Invasion Genre was one of the points of order. I mean maybe it was? So I hope you just enjoyed this paragraph of me critiquing my own word choice rather than just editing it out.

Anyway; its a home invasion movie framed by an attempt to vertically integrate class struggle into a genre which deeply resists that. It is also a movie in which the dad dies, which is pretty sweet. And which brings an attempted critique of the defense industry, both in its personal and national forms, to bear in a way that is significantly less awful than Elysium's was, so, like, there's that.

To say that the the film has a problem with identifying the difference between its legal and narrative (by which of course I mean moral) fetishes is just to coyly say, of course, that this is one of many possible centers of its immanence, an incoherent metaphor but a fun one. Its about interpretation, just go with it.

Because vertically integrating class, which is maybe just my cute way of saying acknowledging class struggle without representing it, in the context of the constitutive hostility of private property by way of the justification of violence within it is necessarily an obscurantism by way of ethics of the abstraction of legality, also known as the threat of force. Calling this bullshit a tangled web would be an understatement. Its a good old fashioned clusterfuck. Its the ethical recuperation of structural violence, justified aesthetically in the pleasant vagaries of narrative progression; its the abstraction that abstracts the real abstraction in the form of representational concretion. Lets get it.

Because more than the awkward inclusion of the lumpen (which in this movie is to say a single black body) as, somehow -- and I say this only to pretend, momentarily, that the only correct response isn't structural white supremacy, which it fucking is, clearly -- a categorical moralism, as a quasi-class devoid of its historicity (thanks SF) operating with all the narrative economy of an empty signifier, its the implication of binarism, that violence is justified not by that awkward inclusion but by the suggested inversion, that the story can justify violence while appearing to decipher it. Or perhaps more accurately, how it can totalize morality in its apparent absence, as a rendering of the outside of the class struggle it ostensibly organizes itself by, by way of the projection of the future son-in-law's conflation of the moral with the legal.

What worked about You're Next was how fucking canny it was about its house, but for The Purge canniness isn't really a virtue. Where Next opens with a citation of Scream, Purge opens with that SFnal staple; the infodump, in montage form. This focus on the abstract leaves its material basis, the house, pretty unexplored, which is almost certainly why I dug it less, and is I guess the note I'm choosing to end this review on.

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