Current Weather
The Spy FM

Rediscover Your Inner Anarchist In The Anti-Corporate ‘East’

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
May 31, 2013

The second collaboration between writer-director Zal Batmanglij and actress and co-writer Brit Marling is called The East, which happens to be the name of the movie’s anti-corporate terrorist cult. Marling plays Sarah, an agent who infiltrates the group. She doesn’t work for the FBI. Her employer is a private security and intelligence firm run by the sleek, profit-oriented Sharon, played by Patricia Clarkson. Its clients are Big Pharma, Big Oil, or Big Rich Any Corporation that, according to the group The East, poisons the world and everyone in it.

In outline, it’s a standard conversion narrative — one of those melodramas in which someone on the morally wrong side has a spasm of conscience and maybe crosses over. Maybe. I don’t want to say where Sarah ends up. The East is a romantic activist outlaw fantasy, but it has enough nuances and excellent actors with excellent hard-to-read faces to keep you guessing. It helped me rediscover my inner anarchist.

The key, I think, is that on the subject of cults, Batmanglij and Marling are genuinely and thrillingly ambivalent. Their less conventional first feature, Sound of My Voice, also centered on an underground group — in that case headed by Marling as a prophet who claimed to have traveled back in time from the future. The protagonists were documentary filmmakers pretending to join up — but under the spell of the cult’s invasive rituals they lost their certainty.

So, of course, does Sarah in The East — and probably I would, too, given the coolness of the actors playing East-ers. The magnetic Alexander Skarsgard is the leader, Benji, and he’s a soft-spoken dreamboat — but with secrets behind that facade. Ellen Page is wonderful as Izzy, who is suspicious and abrasive but finally heartbreaking in her commitment. Toby Kebbell is superb as a doctor whose experience with a poorly tested drug in Africa has led him to have seizures. That pharmaceutical company is the next target, the weapon its own product. Through all of this, we watch Sarah’s face: Marling has a stillness that’s riveting. It’s no wonder that when she meets with Clarkson’s Sharon — at one point on their building’s roof — we don’t know where her sympathies lie.

It’s not a subtle film. And it’s rigged. The East members bathe one another in a lake. They feed one another. They play trust games. They’re a family — a little loony, a lot touchy-feely, but irresistible to those of us who still have counterculture dreams. The East might use dangerous outlaw tactics but is never in the context of the movie wrong. What, they ask, is worse: ejecting chemical waste into water that ends up giving children tumors or chucking lying CEOs into the same toxic soup and watching them sputter and flail? And what would be for someone like Sarah a judicious middle ground? What would be for us? [Copyright 2013 NPR]

Leave a Reply

12AM to 5AM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

Listen Live Now!

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

View the program guide!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center