There’s something surprisingly endearing about watching the beautiful Brit Marling take a bite out of a half-eaten apple she just pulled out of the trash. I found myself pondering these strange occurrences throughout The East. I’m guessing most of the audience felt the same way, and I’m also guessing the filmmakers are happy about that. I’m not sure I’ve ever really seen a movie like The East; which I mean in the most complimentary of ways.
The film centers around a spy (played by Brit Marling who also co-wrote the script) who works for a private espionage firm. This agent, named Sarah, is given the task of infiltrating a notorious Eco-terrorism group named The East. Sarah is forced to question her own feelings and opinions when the group’s missions get too dangerous for her. Sarah finds herself deviating from her goal of spying on the group and develops feelings for the unrealistically hot leader (a part played very well by a mysterious Alexander Skarsgård). In the end Sarah must decide where her loyalties lie.
The plot of The East seems pretty standard. We’ve all seen spy movies before, and we’ve all read Tom Clancy, but The East set itself apart by changing the stakes. In a typical spy story they’re trying to protect their country, or even save the world. The East narrows the field by keeping the story contained to eco-minded and anti-consumerism ideology.
Now, I know what you’re thinking; “I don’t give a damn about a lake full of fish or some old trees.” I get that, but this film takes it much further than that. One of the “jams” (the hippie word for pranks/sabotage) involves the group posing as party guests at a swanky corporate event for a pharmaceutical company. The jam consists of them “poisoning” the champagne glasses of the big wigs of this company with one of their own drugs that causes serious side effects. Later we see that these people have some serious mental and health issues because of the high dosage of the drug they were exposed to. I basically viewed it as The East torturing these people by compromising their health. It’s not like they just egged a house or something. A later jam has the group kidnapping the CEO and CFO of a coal company and exposing them to insane levels of arsenic. My point is that these are not your typical tree huggers. These people are literally out for blood.
Another unique aspect of the film is its exploration of the Freegan lifestyle. Freeganism is a form of anti-consumerism ideology that consists of reclaiming and eating food that has been discarded. It’s really just a fancy term for dumpster-diving. These people choose to eat this discarded food out of principle. They could always just grow their own food, but they choose to eat discarded food to expose the waste of a consumer society. The freegans involved in this specific group are part of the wider anti-consumerism movement. They also choose to live in abandoned dwellings and consume as little resources as possible.
Most of this ideology is spelled out and exposed in the film. I hadn’t really heard of Freegans before, and the film did an adequate job of revealing their lifestyle to a broader audience. Apparently Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij (the director) both practiced this ideology for a time. This experience clearly fueled their inspiration to write the script and further the cause. To their credit, I really found myself considering their point. It never made me want to eat out of a dumpster, but it made me question the amount of garbage I create every day.
This film impressed me on almost every level. I don’t know if it will be one of my favorites of the year, but it’s certainly in the running. I enjoyed being introduced to an entirely new lifestyle by a film using a classic formula with a twist. The writing was the best aspect of The East, but the cast certainly gave personality to the words. Alexander Skarsgard was particularly strong. I think it was his best performance yet. It was nice to see him in a more muted role after watching him play a comically vicious vampire for the past several years.
I never fail to see a movie with Ellen Page. She’s always interesting to watch. Her performance in The East is no different. Page has a tendency to fill up the screen with her talent despite her tiny stature. In a few scenes she seems like she’s just as intimidating as Skarsgard. Lastly, I’m growing quite fond of Brit Marling. She hasn’t been in much, but the little work she has done is high quality. It takes a lot of guts to get where she’s gotten. After skillfully writing the scripts for Another Earth and The East, as well as adeptly playing the starring roles, I’m curious to see what Brit Marling has in store for us next.
OBSESSIVE NOTE: Thanks Tiny, for sharing your review. You can read more of Tiny’s obsessive thoughts here. You can also follow him on Twitter @ObsessiveTiny and catch him on The Obsessive Viewer Podcast. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook.