“Die, white boy,” said a loud voice behind me when one of the white characters, a good guy, was finally taken out. I won’t tell you which one, lest I be accused of a spoiler, but suffice it to say there are many different kinds of people in Purge: Anarchy, the sequel to the overnight success of the first film, The Purge. It was probably the most ethnically diverse cast I’ve seen in a while, a cast that mirrored the demographics of the audience I was sitting with. The minority in the house, no doubt about it, were the white people. This was in downtown Burbank, a smaller offshoot city near Los Angeles, otherwise known as that rolling mass of flat suburban wasteland: “the valley.” If you’re a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson you are already well acquainted with “the valley.” He romanticized it a bit. It is the part of the city where I now prefer to live, as I can’t tolerate the hipsters in Silverlake, the annoying yoga/organic/entitlement culture of the Westside (the worst drivers, the worst traffic), nor the tattooed posers in Hollywood. So the valley it is. NO one really wants to live here so it is nice and emptied out. You can Lebowski to your heart’s content here — shop for groceries in your bathrobe or tool around town in a beater car. No one notices status. No one cares if you have a back tattoo or not and no one is honking at you for cutting them off, flipping you the bird from the quiet airy confines of their hybrid Lexus. I would live in Malibu if I could afford it. Then again, they don’t want no Lebowskis in Malibu.
After another sweaty afternoon trying to beat the impossible (but dry) heat, my niece presented herself at my doorstep. A wisp of a 17-year-old who is always in the know about everything, who says things like “I’ll just Uber there and then Uber back. No big. It’s cheap AF.” My daughter, on the other hand, a much taller 16-year-old was busy sewing her cosplay outfit for Comic-Con next weekend and never says things like that because it would never occur to her that there was such a thing as Uber. They are as different as a hot cup of black coffee and a frosty glass of strawberry lemonade but they are as close as sisters. “Want to see The Purge,” the niece said, wherein Uber was invoked. But I’m not quite ready to surrender teenage girls to Uber so I agreed to take them. It didn’t occur to me until later, too much later, that this was Friday night we were talking about. Friday night at the most hotly sought-after ticket to a movie that teenagers wanted to see. I was a mom taking two teens to a movie on Friday night. I didn’t belong. It would be like seeing a farm animal in a supermarket. But I didn’t really want to sit in a baking apartment either. Besides, Uber? Really? I would drive them. I would do one last parental act on a couple of young women who have really outgrown this whole dynamic, which rips my heart in two. I have been taking my daughter to the movies since she was six months old. That’s what you do when you’re a parent. You take your kids to the movies.
As a blogger and sometime “critic,” though I hate the term because I am not one, I spend most of my movie going experiences amid other bloggers, industry types, critics and wanna be critics. They sit mostly silently. They rarely applaud anything. And they’re poker-faced, for the most part. Essentially in their collective effort to be “critical” of movies they have mostly robbed the fun out of the experience. This suits one well for a quiet movie like Boyhood, for instance. Who wants to sit there watching a movie like that with a guy who says things like “Die white boy” sitting behind you? But for a movie like The Purge: Anarchy or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes you want a big crowd of people for whom these movies were intended. And I can tell you, The Purge: Anarchy is not really a movie aimed at critics. Neither is Tammy, nor Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (though the critics loved that one).
The biggest difference, probably, between my poker-faced familia and this Friday night movie crowd was the color of everyone’s skin. My crowd is probably 95% white. This crowd was easily 80% Hispanic. But it was a mix, to be sure, of many different ethnicities. I’d recently read the MPAA’s most recent movie going status report which show, as a Hispanics are the ethnic group most likely to buy movie tickets. I find this somewhat surprising, given that Hollywood doesn’t give Hispanics much of a mirror image of themselves. That is, if Hispanics think of themselves as a demographic. They probably don’t. They probably think of themselves as just plain old movie goers who like all of the big stars like Mark Wahlberg and Johnny Depp, whether they are Hispanic or not. One can’t be sure of anything where vast generalities are concerned. One can only speak about one’s own personal experience. As a woman I see very little in the way of good female characters. It depresses me.
What I do know is that I’ve been railing against the 14-year-old boy demographic for years — if they aren’t the biggest ticket buying group I have to rethink that. Moreover, I can’t be that Gran Torino crowing about Hispanics and their tastes at the movies. So I have to just shut about it all, I suppose. Either way, there we were, by far the minority in this audience. Teenagers were everywhere but there were also adults of many different ages, couples, date night and elderly. There were no babies, but there was an omnipresent armed security guard at the door.
There were many lit-up cell phones and chatter before the movie started, but once it did the audience quieted down and became completely wrapped up in this violent but entertaining fantasy about the 1% and our government out on a night of purging, the one day a year people can commit any crime, “including murder” and get away with it. The purge is supposed to make you feel cleansed of your hatred so that the country can go on peacefully for the rest of the year. It is icky and subversive, very confrontational and seemed to scratch the itch this audience had — every time someone bad was bumped off the audience erupted in applause. They loved the lead dude: He’s got guns, he knows how to use them.
The Purge: Anarchy is a fun night at the movies for sure. If you’re going to shell out $15 clams for a movie it better deliver, that was what I got from this crowd. They would have a low tolerance threshold for a movie that didn’t deliver. The Purge: Anarchy has a good message, too. It is anti-purge, of course, as it should be, even if sometimes you start wondering what you would do in that instance. Would you kill? It also has a decidedly anti-gun message. It lampoons America’s fetish for guns and violence and absolutely saves its most vicious attacks for 1%. At one point it started to feel like the beginning of something — a kind of revolution of sorts. Could the people actually rise up? Would they? The people in our country who are most like to rise up are those who stockpile weapons in their bunkers for fear of the government taking their guns away.
The radical gap between the audience I saw this film with – aka the ticket buyers — and the cloistered, closed-off world of the critics I watched movies with at Cannes and will continue to watch movies with throughout the year is startling. I would urge more of those who write about movies to actually go to movies, with audiences, not just with handpicked snowflakes. I suspect, if more critics saw what audiences were like they would judge movies meant for those audiences (and not for critics) differently.
For so many of us, a movie like Transformers is the end of everything. It signals the utter breakdown of cinema as we know it. Would this crowd have sat still for any of the Best Picture nominees last year? I like to think they would have gotten very involved in 12 Years a Slave, if they’d gotten a chance to see it. But mostly what I got from them was this: these are middle-class, hard-working people who just want to go out and have a good time on Friday night, make a real night of it, with popcorn and soda — do you remember those days? I have to reach back pretty far but I do remember those days. That is how I grew up — in the theater, watching movies, making a night of it every Friday.
It isn’t that adults don’t go to the movies anymore. It’s that fewer and fewer white adults go to the movies, not nearly as many as other ethnic groups. And no, I can’t judge all of movie culture from one night at the movies but it was an eye-opener, to be sure, regarding some of the generalities I sling around on a daily basis. I will have to rethink a few things about where I think movies are headed.
Either way, Snowpiercer and The Purge: Anarchy, and even Dawn of the Planet of the Apes are all about one thing: the oppressed rising up. If I were part of the ruling class I might start to feel a little uncomfortable right about now.
As for the teens, both declared The Purge: Anarchy a good movie. They liked it as much, if not more, than the first one. They were embarrassed that they brought me along, I could tell. They did me one last favor, one last summer night, escaping the unbearable heat of the valley and disappearing into a forgotten world.