Jul. 20th, 2016

proximoception: (Default)
The Purge 3 was ... interesting. 2 was pointedly leftist in a way pretty much unprecedented for an action/horror movie, Snowpiercer excepted, rather than the usual vague Hollywood way (to which the mostly bad and dull first one conformed). 3 neither pushed further than that nor backed down, but what it did do was recommit itself as topical, targeted propaganda. The audience for the second must have been disproportionately African Anerican, and someone must have told the filmmaker (the series is a one-man show, explaining why the dialogue in each is godawful in the exact same fashion).

Because the whole movie is designed to make black, and secondarily Hispanic, voters turn out and vote for Hillary Clinton even though she's not a person of color. Obviously she'll get a very high percentage of the black vote, identical or not far from Obama's, so turning out is the real message. It is really strange to see a film that's basically The Warriors meets The Strangers aim every single moment at this highly specific goal.

The ostensible leads are white, but it's an ensemble and they don't get that much more attention than several other characters. One's the main lead from the second movie, so is there as a promise of continuity, while the other's Juliet from Lost in calm Mom mode. She plays a Senator running for President on the platform of repealing the Purge (an annual no-laws day that's basically a murder fest), which in the 2nd movie was very clearly revealed to be a metaphor for unfettered capitalism. It was in the first film too, but tucked in more politely, where the second's climax was pretty much black revolutionaries massacring evil country club-type whites.

Well, the structural climax of all three movies is someone eschewing violent revenge, thus showing a way to break the cycle - humans treating humans as humans, that kind of thing. But seriously: the right wing's nightmare vision of the Black Panthers guns down Judge Whitey and pals in a freaking multiplex genre pic. That was new.

And gets doubled down on in 3, both as a way to focus hatred on Republicans and distinguish them from the liberal (or close enough these days) white minority from which Hillary emerges.

Juliet's family was slaughtered in a Purge, is what drives her. Hillary's wasn't, but was of course slandered mercilessly by the Republicans in a way not matched till Obama's candidacy. Near the end, a black character stands up for Juliet and her bodyguard as "white people, but our white people," convincing the Panther types to stand down. The subtext is that Hillary will be the third "black president" ('member that?) if permitted.

While the white characters are surviving an initial assassination attempt that forces them outside on Purge night, we're simultaneously following black characters (and one Mexican) in a working class DC neighborhood. They each embody one common attitude toward politics: there's an activist who's learned the hard way to distrust all politicians, a committed supporter who the others find idealistic, someone who's given up on caring about politics and someone who never has. The never-carer disappears from the scene, as a sort of acknowledgement that some people can never be reached. The winning over of the young radical and the old giver-upper is thus the main action of the plot. They help the whites, once they show up, simply because they're decent people who'd do that, then risk their lives getting them to a place of safety once won over slightly, then rescue them again, then eventually join them in a climactic raid when fully won over, at last taking bullets for Juliet.

She wins them over chiefly by listening to them and clearly giving a shit about them, as well as to injured or dying black men in two different scenes, reminding viewers of the Clintons' listening tours and town halls. Because they see her up close they know that she, unlike the others, means it.

The whites they eventually battle are ... well, kind of over the top if you haven't been watching the RNC recently, almost understated otherwise. Here we learn they're a literal blood cult, meeting at the National Cathedral and sacrificing various sorts of poor people (impoverished ones, I mean) to commemorate the Purge they started as a way to kill off everyone but rich whites and their most devoted servants.

If there was a surprise approaching the glee levels of the 2nd film's "going there," it's the association of religion with the 1 percent (and both with white supremacism and fascism). This was an interesting risk, given the project here, but probably gotten away with because it's not emphasized much in the dialogue. The last and meanest villain standing is an evil priest (the runner up was a skinhead cop/soldier type), and the Catholic association's probably calculated to bring up memories of widespread child molestation. The actor's very gay-seeming, which is a nasty and probably entirely cynical decision based on the assumption that otherwise progressive African Americans (or anyway those likely to be fans of the Purge series) have a blind spot when it comes to homophobia. It's all designed to say, "Yes, the other white people are mostly Christians like you likely are, but either their version is completely fucked up or maybe Christianity itself is, so don't stay away from the booths or vote for the wrong side because of abortion or anti-secular rhetoric or whatever." Like I said, an interesting risk.

The anti-revenge decision gets made by the local Panther-type leader, who has the Purge-party candidate at his mercy but finds he can't kill him because he begs for it, driven by his crazy social Darwinist religion. He realizes Juliet must be right that the real enemy here is an ideology, not specific people, so the candidate's martyrdom will just make everything worse. Activist energies instead need to be channeled along another line. They've gotten into the Cathedral through a tunnel built for a church from revolutionary days, and a character flat out says that they're using the "Old Founding Fathers to undermine the New Founding Fathers" - the name of the party that set up the Purge. I.e. democracy can be used to undermine this form of capitalism, by voting regulations and a decent safety net into place.

In the end Juliet's elected and the store the middle aged depoliticized man had owned is being renovated by the surviving young radical and the Hispanic idealist, who talk about how "this place is coming together again," obviously meaning the USA. We don't see them actually vote, but the last shown action of Juliet is her vote for herself, the first at that station ... where a lot of people in line are black.

Meek's Cutoff was electorally topical but probably not out to directly motivate. I'm not sure I've ever seen a film quite like this. The standin for a Republican nominee is a generic silver-haired white guy, a Romney or Pence type, so clearly Trump was not considered likely when they filmed. But it's not like Trump's infinitely far from that template, which is probably what Trump himself realized back in 2011 or whenever.
proximoception: (Default)
Something else about The Americans that deserves crediting: no character seems superior to another. All are designed to give the sense of being somebody we don't fully understand, who knows things we don't, has lived through what we haven't. Probably less true in season 1, but once it got its feet that was something it was careful about. Breaking Bad was good at that. The Wire became good at it. And The Walking Dead - even the bad showrunners attempted this, they just sucked at it, but it's essential to what Gimple's trying for. (Though on that one we're always given some plausible reason to not see that those other characters have their own side to the story. It's very careful to push us into the in-group mindset of the protagonists, where actions understandable or ambiguous become opaquely hostile simply because of who's performing them. According to that Wall Street Journal Facebook analysis, WD's the 4th most popular show among Trump supporters, so maybe it does it a little too carefully...)

Yeah, The Americans eventually really did catch some of what made Breaking Bad work. Season 4 was maybe on the level of BB's S2, or often enough was. Perhaps 3 on the level of BB's 1? Mostly on the strength of Martha, if so. But each Breaking Bad season is maybe twice as masterful as the one before, so there's still not really any comparison. It's nice to see some of its lessons being picked up, though.

Kind of seems like the candy shop scene in Better Call Saul was borrowing from the computer shop one in Mr. Robot, now I think of it, so it's not like all the learning's one way.


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