One of the things that makes the 2013 horror The Purge so disturbing is the prospect of a time in the not-so-distant future where any and all crime could become legal, even for just a few hours. But how likely is such a dystopian nightmare to come to pass?
Lester Andrist, a sociologist from the education collective Sociological Cinema, hashed out the answer. Don’t start planning the perfect crime just yet, because the idea of a purge like the one in the movie and it’s 2014 sequel doesn’t really line up with our basic human behavior.
According to Andrist, crimes happen as a result of pent up anger that — sooner or later — winds up leaking out:
What usually happens in societies — until this future time in which the Purge is supposed to be taking place — is that we seep out our anger in acts of violence. So you’ll have a murder on Sixth Street, and then later that day you might have a robbery on Sixth Street. The film didn’t explicitly talk about it, but there’s actually a theory for how society works.
Andrist posits that we wouldn’t be able to hold on to our anger until we could let it out in the designated purge period:
Anyways, the film doesn’t really support good sociological theory: that we’re pent up with frustration and rage, and that if we were all allowed to commit a crime one night out of the year, that we would somehow hold onto that, let it carry to that night and unleash all of the violence that we wanted. It’s an interesting and provocative idea and I like it as a device to tell a story. But in point and fact it’s just not how it works.
In the movie, the only options are either to participate in the purge, be purged, or barricade yourself somewhere and hope for the best. But Andrist suggests that there’s another option that people in real life would be more likely to go for: organized resistance. As he puts it:
If the Purge were real, I think you would see large groups of average people arranging to spend the night of the Purge together in parks, or cul-de-sacs, or wherever else it made sense to meet. They would meet with the aim of defying the spirit of the Purge and keeping everyone accountable for their actions, masks would be prohibited at such gatherings, and there would be strength in numbers.
For more of Andrist’s sociological interpretations and comments on the movie, check out the full interview .