Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The East: Brings Us A Study In Consumerism and Authenticity | A Review

The East: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page | A Constantly Racing Mind

"But if we hurt people, aren't we just as bad as they are?"

I ndependent filmmakers Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling make philosophical films that make you want to ask questions, and examine your own life.  In "Another Earth,” they made us think about our actions and the consequences, and the hope of redemption.  In "The Sound of My Voice," Batmanglij and Marling wanted us to consider the possibility of time travel.  Their stories are thought provoking and they sometimes don't care too much for the rules of storytelling.  In "The East," they have honed their narration skills to much finer point.  The story that "The East" gives us is a look at anarchy, anti-consumerism, and a modern day look at extreme corporate activism.  The film stars co-writer Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård ("Battleship," "Straw Dogs"), Ellen Page ("Juno," "Inception"), Toby Kebbell ("Wrath of the Titans," "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"), and Shiloh Fernandez ("Evil Dead," "Red Riding Hood").  "The East" runs about 2 hours long, is rated PG - 13, and has some interesting characters who we want to care about.

S tarting a movie with a threat, sets the mood immediately and strikingly. What it doesn't tell you is that "The East" builds up the espionage quickly, but evenly.  The film opens up with a scene of an oil-drenched beach and a seagull covered in the goo.  Ellen Page voices over a threat to the corporate eco-terrorist of the world.  The scene changes to hooded terrorist breaking into a nice home in a house in the Hamptons and pouring oil into the vents of the house as a message to the owner, a CEO of a big oil company.  Sarah (Marling) works for an exclusive private spy firm, Hiller-Brood, whose clients are the big corporations.  Sarah (her undercover name) gets a prime assignment from her boss Sharon (Patricia Clarkson), the head of the firm.  The assignment is to infiltrate an anarchist group called The East.  After Sarah has studied the anarchist cell, she prepares to leave for her undercover assignment.  She tells her husband that her assignment is in Dubai.  After her husband (Jason Ritter) drops her off at the airport, she ditches her clothes and luggage, hits the road, and takes off for parts unknown as a homeless drifter.  Her goal is to find those who will help her find the anarchist cell. After some bullying by some rail yard detectives (bullies), she is picked up by Luca (Fernandez) and is given a quick lesson on freeganism.  Yes, that is where you go dumpster diving for food that restaurants must legally dispose of, but is still good to eat.  Sarah is brought to the group seeking medical attention (she cut her arm as a ploy).  Once in the group, she continues her spying and gaining intel on the cell. 

The East: Brit Marling, Shiloh Fernandez | A Constantly Racing Mind

"Why is it self-righteousness goes hand in hand with resistance movements?"

T he different characters that we meet have some interesting backstories.  There is Doc (Kebbell); he’s the group’s medic and a victim of a pharmaceutical company that makes the antibiotic drug Denoxin.  The drug causes the victim to not recognize their own faces, have tendons snap, seizures, and brain damage.  Then there is Izzy (Page).  She is one of the most radical of the group, and the most cynical.  Her crusade against an industrial plant that dumps arsenic into the local water is both heartfelt yet cruel.  She wants to stand up for those who can't.  The leader of the group is Benji (Alexander Skarsgård).  He claims that the people with him are not his followers.  He is both a charismatic figure and a tortured one.  He first appears in the film after about the first 20 minutes looking like a Christ figure, as he is thin with long brown hair.  Despite of what Benji says, he is the cult's leader.  There are others in the group that adds to the dynamic of the film.  Also in the group are Thumbs (Aldis Hodge) as the moral compass of the group, and Tess (Danielle Macdonald) who is the group’s computer hacker.  The activist’s goal is to commit three "jams" or acts of eco-terrorism on three major companies.  Their methods are simple, an eye for an eye.  After each jam, the group loads a video to YouTube announcing what they have done.  Tess encrypts the video so that the FBI can’t track it back to the originating IP address.  Izzy makes the announcements.

"It's easy when it's not your home easy when it's not your life.  The place where you sleep. Your kids, your wife. But when it's your fault it shouldn't be so easy to sleep at night. Especially when we know where you live.  Barry Redmond, CEO of Lorex Oil, 2641 River Road, East Hampton. You dumped fifteen million barrels of crude into the Atlantic. We don't care how rich you are. We want all those who are guilty to experience the terror of their crimes. Because it shouldn't be so easy to get away with murder. Lie to us we'll lie to you. Spy on us we'll spy on you. Poison our habitat we'll poison yours. We are The East and this is just the beginning. We will counterattack three the next six months for their worldwide terrorism.”  ~ Izzy

M arling's character, Sarah, is complex.  She prays and listens to Christian music.  She lies to her husband about her work.  She has her own sense of morality and a certain sense of naivety wrapped within a hard shell of a ambition and confidence.  She is deft at spy craft, she keeps her wits, yet she later succumbs to her feelings about the group and their cause.  She doesn't necessarily agree with their methods and finds herself in the middle of this conflict between the hard right of the corporations and the far left of the anarchist cell.  Sarah sees the utilitarianism of Sharon and her spy firm, and the radical excess of The East.  About a little more than half way through the film, we find her deep in conflict.  She starts to see the inauthenticity of her own life, while she works for the morally corrupt corporations that destroy our world.  Most importantly, she sees how we as individuals support the inequality that consumerism, and therefore capitalism, which allows the rich to benefit at the expense of the labor and suffering of others.  She sees the humanity in the group, and the possibility that she can make a difference.  The group is portrayed as a bunch of fun loving hippy types who feel self-righteous in their cause.  Batmanglij and Marling spent some time in 2009 with an anarchist cell learning their mentality about corporations, consumerism, freeganism, and bathing in a river with a group, thus giving them insight that became the ideas behind this script.  Ellen Page's role is smaller, yet one of the most potent.  As in "Juno," she is a fireball.  She is forceful, smart, and determined.  She later becomes a driving force for Sarah.  There is a scene in the film that is symbolic and foreshadows a later event.  The scene is where Thumbs finds a dead deer in the woods.  A "thrill kill" (kill for sport) that the group doesn't want to go to waste.  The group elects Sarah to cut open the deer so that they can take the meat.  However, Sarah cuts too far and cuts the intestine, crap spills out.

The East: Eco-terrorism and spin the bottle | A Constantly Racing Mind

W hat is poignant about the film is that it brings to the foreground events that we know are going on in the world today.  The government is spying on us; major corporations protect themselves by printing the side effects in small print, and deny that they pollute our water.  In light of Wikileaks and the Edward Snowden incident, "The East" makes a statement.  Marling and Batmanglij's films tend to build the suspense and the drama, but they leave a lot to the imagination when they conclude their films.  I think they do a better job at bringing the "The East" to a conclusion.  As I said before, they tend to leave much to the imagination.  In "The Sound of My Voice," they give you the punch line in the last few moments of the film, and then before you can process what you just saw -- fade to black.  In "Another Earth," the ending is more of a quiet moment of reflection and for some, may have been a letdown.  "The East" is worth watching if you care about global warming, privacy issues, or just about any of humanity's problems.  For me, it was a revelation, which leads me down another level of awareness.

Just remember,
"Those side effects are listed on the side of the bottle.  That is how they rape you in broad daylight."


Movie Data

Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Year:  2013
Staring: Alexander Skarsgård,Brit Marling,Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Producer(s): Michael Costigan, Jocelyn Hayes, Brit Marling, Ridley Scott,Tony Scott
Writer: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling
Rating: PG-13
Release Date: 6/23/2013
Running Time: 116 minutes

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