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Eco-terrorism, off-the-grid anarchy, and counter-attacking capitalistic corruption in Zal Batmanglij’s The East

“Spy on us. We’ll spy on you. Poison us. We’ll poison you.”

When I think of terrorism as an average American citizen with a “normal” job, it’s hard for me to imagine committing large-attack crimes against anyone, regardless of how mad the system makes me. But for more dedicated anarchist activist groups who, like me, are infuriated with this American mess, they really take rebellion to the next level: giving corporations a taste of their own medicine, gaining vengeance with counter-attacks on those who essentially make money off killing people every day. For instance: the top tier of those responsible for the Gulf oil spill, or any said pharmaceutical brand poisoning us with drugs.

In Zal Batmanglij’s new thriller we are introduced to an anarchist eco-terrorist group (or, eco-liberator group, if you will): The East. They live off the grid somewhere in the woods plotting their next “jam,” aka their word for an attack against any said corporation. And they are not afraid. “Spy on us, we’ll spy on you.” They eat out of trash cans, bathe in ponds, preserve the Earth, and they will not think twice before they get revenge the people in charge of these evil money-making operations. When an ex-FBI agent turned undercover spy Sarah (Brit Marling) get “ins” on The East working undercover for a private agency run by her very one track-minded boss Sharon (Patricia Clarkson), she is introduced to the cult’s sustainable world (that’s surprisingly, very peaceful) and begins shifting her thoughts on their motives: maybe they aren’t in the wrong. Oh, and of course she starts to fall in love with their cult leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), whose Jesus-like beard pretty much says it all (I mean, who wouldn’t?).

The East collective accepts Sarah as an outsider, but not rightfully so at first. Izzy (Ellen Page), the groups “#2”, is suspicious of Sarah right from the beginning, causing somewhat of a tension (not to mention Ellen Page is just f*cking awesome). But as time goes on and as Sarah assimilates herself amongst them, they form a bond and Sarah even joins The East in one of their jams poisoning a pharmaceutical giant (who ruined one of the member Doc’s life) with their own drug, secretly injecting it into champagne flukes at a party.

Marling, who co-wrote the screenplay, actually lived 2 months off the grid with followers of the freeganism movement doing anthropological research prior to the film alongside Batmanglij. “We were just fascinated by this lifestyle and wanted to look within it[.] […]  Brit and I were fascinated by the generational dissatisfaction around. A lot of our generation thought we’d been conned[,]” Batmanglij said in an interview with The Irish Times.

The East is as powerful as it is political. Right away you are reminded of the reality that most times we are too caught up in our own little worlds to pay attention to the retrospective global deterioration we’re just starting to feel the consequences of. Throughout the film you will find yourself, like Sarah, caught in between what is legitimately right and wrong. Is distributing an illegitimate drug to people across the world claiming it as a medicinal “breakthrough” the same as tainting its very same creators? Well, that’s for you to decide…

(photo via Rope of Silicon)

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Kaitlin Duffy is a writer from Cleveland. When she's not blogging or pondering the great complexities of the world and outer space, she is finding rare vinyl steals, visiting new places, laughing often, Instagramming everything in sight, watching movies, or working on her first feature Port de Cleve.