The Purge lands in theaters and finds Ethan Hawke as the patriarch of a family living in a quite different U.S.A. As our story picks up, the crime rates are down and it is all attributed to a little thing called The Purge. Teased in The Purge trailer, for one night a year, for 12 hours, everything is legal when it comes to violence.
Government leaders believe this lets human beings, who they believe are inherently violent, get it “out of their system.” For Hawke, the film provided an opportunity to say a lot of things… as genre movies often do. “There’s certain things you have to do to fulfill the audience's expectations,” Hawke said of genre films.
“But inside that you have complete freedom to talk about whatever you want. And in a way it’s wonderful ‘cause you get to make a movie that deals with all these socio-political issues. I mean, who wants to see a movie about gun violence in America and class? But if you set it in this terrifying, fun roller coaster ride of a movie, you could talk about whatever you want.”
After Sinister, this is Hawke’s second family in peril film in consecutive years -- although it could not be more different. This is a family whose home is being invaded by people whose sole desire is to see them dead.
“I think it plays into an age old human fear. Whenever any of us see glimpses of revolution or riots on television or absolute anarchy, it could be really terrifying,” Hawke said.
“There’s a moment in the movie where you see the husband and wife loading guns and teaching her how to take the safety off and it’s kind of every parent’s worst nightmare. Your worst fear is sometimes something you enjoy thinking about for some strange reason. I don’t know why that is. I’m petrified by such a thing. I don’t enjoy thinking about it.”
Whether The Purge is commenting on society is up to the audience. But, Hawke thinks that there could easily be a discussion spawned by the issues raised throughout.
“I know it’s trying to put its finger on touching something. It’s an extremely violent film with an anti-violent message. It’s almost an oxymoron,” Hawke said.
“The whole scene of culture with all these people with guns and sharpening their knives, our country is obsessed with violence and our right to protect our violence. They call you unpatriotic if you’re not violent. It heightens it. It’s just taking a certain thing and exaggerating it. And that’s what the best Philip K. Dick stuff does and that’s what this is trying to do.”
Sinister was the esteemed actor’s first venture into the world of horror/suspense. When the producer of that film, Jason Blum, handed Hawke the script for The Purge, Hawke was ready to head back down the rabbit hole of horror.
“I had so much fun on Sinister and when I was younger I had loved genre movies and one of my first directors was this guy Joe Dante who had directed The Howling, Piranha and Gremlins. He had taught me a real love of what was possible with a genre movie and namely that a good genre movie is a really scary, really fun thing to go see on Friday night, but also has some subterranean political message,” Hawke said.
“And The Purge is perfect. Sinister in a way does too and I’ve always wanted to flirt with genre movies because I also did Daybreakers. In a lot of ways Training Day is a genre movie too. I could do a little series of them ‘cause it’s just a cop genre."
The esteemed actor also spoke to Movie Fanatic about his fascination with how both The Purge and his other movie that’s out now in limited release, Before Midnight, are both rated R. “It’s amazing. It’s almost like something out of The Purge that Before Midnight would be rated R because of a breast. I go see PG-13 movies with my son that have a death count in the thousands. I never know how they come up with it,” Hawke said.
Our country’s relationship with sex and violence is a fascinating conundrum to Hawke. “We’re both puritanical on one level and libertarian on the next. I don’t even know what to say about it. Sex is a lot scarier to us than violence. We could write essays about it. On Sinister, Scott Derrickson (director) worked so hard not to get an R. He wanted no cursing. There’s no blood in the movie. But, it was so damn scary, they gave it an R. I don’t know how we decide what children should and shouldn’t see. My mother would let me see anything.”
When asked if he thought that the concept of The Purge would work in real life, Hawke said we simply need to look back at our collective history.
“If you study the history of mankind, it seems to be a history of violence. It’s kind of terrifying. Certainly, if you look at paintings, movies or plays, or whatever, it is a litany of murder and death,” he said. Yet, he is optimistic and scenes like the recent bombings in Boston further enhance that view.
“For every crazed kid in Boston who wants to blow something up, there’s a 100 people running to stop it -- thousands of people crying tears that it did happen. Violence doesn’t define us.”