REVIEW – Purge (2012)

PurgeVideovista have my review of Antti Jokinen’s Purge or Pudhistus in its native Finnish.

Based on a hugely successful novel by the Finnish-Estonian writer Sofi Oksanen, Purge uses two different time frames to explore the links between the rape and brutalisation of women during the Soviet annexation of Estonia and the rape and brutalisation of women at the hands of the contemporary sex trade. Clearly, this is not only a worthy subject for a film but also a potentially fascinating one. Are contemporary sex traffickers just the latest manifestation of a systemic hatred of women? Have different generations of women responded differently to this treatment? Given that this type of thing has been going on all over the world since time immemorial, what is it that is unique to the experience of Estonian women? These are just some of the fascinating questions that Purge could have taken on but rather than raising awareness and probing the darker side of human nature, director Antti Jokinen prefers to sexualise rape and suggest that it’s something you could probably get used to eventually anyway.

Warning – The following passage is triggery for rape as is the rest of the review but it’s not nearly as triggery as the film itself:

While the male gaze may be distracting and insulting in the context of a film like Transformers 2, detecting it in a film about the systematic brutalisation of women is an absolute disgrace: every time Zara is stripped naked by her pimp, Jokinen’s camera lingers on her undergarments. Every time Zara and Aliide are raped and beaten, the camera pans down so as to ensure that the audience gets a good long look at their firm young breasts. In one scene, Zara’s pimp has her get down on all fours to masturbate while he takes photos, and Jokinen places his camera in the same position as the pimp’s, thereby ensuring that the audience is forced to see Zara through the eyes of a murderous rapist. Aside from being exploitative and downright creepy, Jokinen’s systematic sexualisation of rape serves to put his audience in a position of tacit complicity with rapists and torturers, which is precisely the opposite of what this film is supposed to be about!

Purge is a fantastic example of Jean Cocteau’s observation that “style is a simple way of saying complicated things”. The script and subject matter of Purge point to a film that decries the historical mistreatment of women by encouraging the audience to empathise with the victims of historical abuse. A competent director would have read the script and used cinematic technique to place the audience in the position of the abused women thereby encouraging them to not only understand what it would be like to be in that situation but also to get angry about the fact that those situations existed in the first place. Unfortunately, rather than encouraging us to sympathise with the victims of rape, Jokinen uses cinematic technique to place us in the position of the abusers who leer at vulnerable women and enjoy their bodies as they writhe in pain and humiliation. Simple stated, Purge is the most unpleasantly misogynistic film I have ever seen. Even worse, Antti Jokinen has directed two feature films thus far in his career and both of them have been about rape. I would never go so far as to suggest that this forms some sort of ideological pattern but I would urge Jokinen to take a long, hard look at his artistic output and consider how he really feels about women.