The East (2013) is an indie thriller directed by Zal Batmanglij, about eco-terrorism, surveillance and corporate ecocide. Sarah (Brit Marling) becomes an operative for an elite private intelligence firm based in Washington D.C. who is tasked with infiltrating an anarchist group known for executing covert attacks upon major corporations. She infiltrates an activist cell and begins her career as a spy. The cell is led by the charismatic True Blood star Alexander Skarsgård and includes a doctor (Toby Kebbell), brain damaged by a dose of anti-biotic whilst working as an aid worker abroad plus a fiery Ellen Page. Ellen is so convincing you would hardly recognise her as that charming and humorous girl who spoke about permaculture on American chat shows in 2012.
Writers Batmanglij and Marling spent two months in 2009 practicing freeganism and co-wrote a screenplay inspired by their experiences and drawing on thrillers from the 1970s. The East was filmed in Shreveport, Louisiana.
There the cell lives deep in the woods, off the grid. But there is no permaculture design here. They neither generate their own power nor grow their own food. Instead they live out of dumpsters on principle, their freeganism an angry expression of their activism, exposing the volume of good food thrown away because of centralised sell by dates. Food becomes a symbol of outrage about the appalling waste generated by our western consumer cultures.
As Sarah delves into the shady and amoral world of corporate ecocide, she finds her priorities changing dramatically as she becomes emotionally involved with her targets. There is an inevitable romantic element in the film as well. Full of tension, it is sensitively filmed and convincingly acted.
The activists plan 'jams'. They infiltrate a cocktail party / celebration of the pharmaceutical company that produced the drug that damaged the doctor and many others and spike the champagne, dosing the guests with their noxious drug. They kidnap the CEO and Chair of the mining corporation whose industry is poisoning the local water table, inducing a cancer cluster in the local children. Both of these actions have a certain poignancy which I will not reveal as it will spoil the storyline for those who haven't seen the film.
The action in the film escalates to an inevitable crisis in the final jam they have planned. Again I won't spoil the story for you but what I will say is that the denouement is not a simple moral tale and this is why I like this film. It has deeper layer of psychological complexity. It implicitly expresses a means of dealing with corporate ecocide and corruption and it is not with violence and 'them' and 'us' thinking.
I am sure ecocide campaigner, Polly Higgins, would appreciate this film. I did.
Director: Zal Batmanglij; Screenwriters: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling; Starring: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell; Running time: 116 mins; Certificate: 15
For more about ecocide read Ecocide: The Power of International Law to Create a New World
Sign the End Ecocide by 2020 Campaign: WISH20 is a Global Citizens Initiative to build the support for ending all Ecocides by 2020.
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