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Film Review: “The Purge” (2013) and Conversation with Ethan Hawke


Directed by: James DeMonaco

Written by: James DeMonaco

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield, Tony Oller, Arija Bareikis and etc.

How far would you go if you had an opportunity to release your anger without any consequences? In America 2022, unemployment is almost at 1% and crime is at an all-time low. Violence barely exists. With one little exception, the ‘Purge Day’, when people are allowed to release their anger and kill whomever they want without threat of punishment.  The New Founding Fathers of the United States let people Purge to cleanse their souls. The U.S. Government has sanctioned an Annual Purge, a 12-hour period, in which any, and all, criminal activity – including murder- is legal.

A stranger knocks on the door of the Sandin family. They let him in to save his life. When the stranger’s  pursuers find out where he is hiding, it is up to James (Ethan Hawke), a wealthy man, his wife, Mary(Lena Headey), and their kids, to make it through the night without turning into the monsters they are hiding from

You don`t see a movie like this every day. It’s hard to imagine what a Purge night would be like. But in this film, directed by James DeMonaco, we see a changed and unpredictable world, where the reality is much scarier than anyone can conceive.

James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) is a rich man, who lives in a wealthy Los Angeles suburb with his family. Sandin has successfully sold a security system to his neighborhood; and his family is getting ready for the purge night. The James Company has guaranteed James and Mary that the latest security system will protect them from the dangers that may come during the 12-hour nightmare.

Certainly, nothing bad would have happened, if only kindhearted and compassionate Charlie Sandin (Marx Burkholder) had ignored the plea for help from the stranger, who has been sentenced to death by young and single-minded people who believe that America needs to be sterilized of all the poor and useless people

It is virtually impossible to survive the night, since during the Purge, all police, fire and emergency medical services are unavailable until the next morning, at 7am.

James DeMonaco, who directed and also wrote the script for “The Purge” has raised a very sensitive subject of a frightening reality that could plunge any sane person into shock, without recovery. DeMonaco clearly shows in his film, that even kind and friendly neighbors can become terrifying monsters, if they had the chance; if they chose to.

‘The Purge” is certainly, one of those films that opens up reality; a reality, that can make us fall in love with life, where there are no such things as murderers, or violence, brutality, and prisons. Sounds absolutely wonderful, doesn`t it? But the world described in ‘The Purge” is far from a perfect and successful world. This is a world in which all the wealthy and prosperous people think that poor people are useless and need to be eliminated.

“The Purge” is quite an interesting film, where the story is not only shocking, but interesting enough to occupy an hour and half of your time. The whole cast did a good job bringing this story to life, where not everyone, but most of us, would enjoy watching this film. Not because of the story itself, but because how it ends; where everyone needs to realize just one thing, and that is that there is no one mechanism that can stop violence, but we as human beings hold a powerful and unique tool that can, and will, stop violence, even when it is allowed.

After watching this film, I had many questions, especially for the director of the film and for the cast. I really wanted to understand the core reason for creating such an important story. Special thanks to the TIFF project “In Conversation With” that allows us to meet and address certain questions to the actors, screenwriters, and directors of the films we all love. This time TIFF invited Ethan Hawke, whom I was fortunate enough to have a discussion with about one of the most terrifying films I have ever seen, “The Purge”.

Once Ethan Hawke finished his conversation with TIFF`s Head of Film Programmes, Jesse Wente, I was able to ask Ethan the first question. Even though, Ethan Hawke Hawke has so many good, and interesting films such as Training Day, Before Sunrise, Dead Poets Society and many others, I still wanted to ask him one single question, “What was his thought was on the film “The Purge”.

–       Me: “Mr. Hawke, you have been a part of the film “The Purge” and I would like to know what you think about the subject matter surrounding this film?

–       Ethan Hawke:   When I think of the film “The Purge” who comes to mind is Joe Dante, who directed my first film. He also directed Halloween, Gremlins, and Piranha. He really believed in making an art film about the social, political climate to show how wealthy and rich people are using 90% of the world’s resources, instead of making a self-important movie about Trade Martin, or something like that. Sometimes genre films like Connegsburgh can make attacking political ideas more interesting, you know, like Halloween, or Alternate Vietnam. In my mind, I found “The Purge” to be an extremely interesting movie. It we had had more money or stuff like that, it could have been a lot better. For those who don`t know, this film tells about the night where everyone is allowed to release their violence. An Afro-American guy is being chased by a bunch of rich white guys. They are attacking him, and trying to kill him. It`s an interesting movie. I love making different kinds of movies. The subversive and hard parts of this film I really like. I love realism. I wanna make Westerns. I am making thrillers right now.  Studying what makes each genre its’ own and the story telling, fascinates me. I am not, and this is not false humility, I am not that good of an actor, like Daniel Day Lewes, or Robert DeNiro, or Phillip Seymour Hoffman, or people who shape change themselves. I have always been what I kind of call ‘a first person actor’ which is, you know, a third person who transforms himself into a character. Even in “The Purge” I`ve tried to bring myself into a situation, to feel like what it would be like in this situation or that situation. Whether it’s a good idea or bad, this is the only way I know. And one of the things that helps me become the strongest is to be in different types of films. But did you wanna say something about “The Purge”? I feel like you really did, (Ethan asked me, and then continued), “Because I want you to be honest with me and tell me your opinion. I am sure you have something to say.”

–       Me: “Okay Ethan, to be honest, I found this film quite interesting. It literally left me speechless. I also had a discussion with my friends about this film. I asked them “What they would do if they had such a night, as The Purge?  You, Ethan, or I would have done nothing. We would have tried to hide from all those crazy people, and avoid violence. But we are just a few in the world. You are one of those actors who tries to make different kinds of films, as you said earlier. You like to tell a big and unforgettable story in your films. That`s why I was wondering, why such a brilliant and good actor as Ethan Hawke agreed to play in a film such as “The Purge.”

       Ethan Hawke: “I am glad that you liked this film. I do really like that you got the point of the film.

–       Me: “Thanks for saying so. I consider this film as a “Wake up Call.” It’s almost the reality that we all have to avoid. From seeing this film, we can see where we are heading and stop before it’s too late.

–       Ethan Hawke: “Working on such a film is a piece of art that shows we need to stop making violence, you know, emotional or physical violence. It fascinates me when you see so much blackness in human hearts, or something like that. Even though, there is so much goodness in human hearts, and you look at actually how many people don`t want violence.  It`s native creationism I really love, which is when the birds are fighting to bring the daylight back. There is a war going on all the time between the birds and lizard, crickets, and the dragons to bring the Sun back. I’ve learned that creation is what makes the World spin around with a great pole of negativity, cynicism, anguish, and a great pole for healing, and forward thinking; it`s really visible.

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