Living in a world centered around stopping terrorism, we commonly associate the word “terrorist” with those who seek political changes by use of violence and intimidation. We have many routine checks at airports to ensure that unchecked weapons don’t make it aboard planes. We have soldiers fighting for our freedom. We have borders. We have a lot of safety measures to ensure the protection of our citizens from large weaponry from outside forces. What if, however, the largest terrorist threats came from within our own country? What if those terrorists didn’t have to use weapons to make their point, but instead used our own resources against us? To familiarize with The East, you must familiarize yourself with the term “Eco-Terrorist”.
The East opens with a threatening phone call from an unknown woman, as we see the aftermath of the Gulf Oil Spill and how it affected countless animals in the area. Izzy makes it known that “If you spy on us, we spy on you”. They manage to break into the home of one of the men responsible for not cleaning up the oil and they flood his house with the same oil. After news spreads of this event, we meet Sarah (Brit Marling), a former FBI Agent who has now been asked to join a private intelligence group for the company Hiller Brood. Her mission is to travel around the U.S. and look for traces of The East. Her goal is to infiltrate the group and find out the different targets that the group has. To lead this life, Sarah must lie to her boyfriend Tim (Jason Ritter) and tell him that she has to go to Dubai for business. That “business” time is how long she has to find the group and gather some information on them.
After hopping trains and traveling around Pittsburgh, Sarah and a few other East seekers run into trouble with the police. Sarah manages to escape and saves the life of a man named Luca (Shiloh Fernandez) along the way. As it turns out, Luca is a member of The East and Sarah injures herself to get closer to Luca and to have him bring her back to his hideout. When Sarah finds herself in a cabin, deep within the woods, she meets the key members of The East, including Doc (Toby Kebbel), Thumbs (Aldis Hodge), Tess (Danielle Macdonald), Izzy (Ellen Page) and their leader, Benji (Alexander Skarsgard). Upon meeting Benji, Sarah is asked to join the group for dinner and she slowly begins to get to know each and every one of them.
As the group sets up “jams” for businesses that have had a negative effect on fellow humans, Sarah begins to look at the organization through a whole ‘nother light. While the group may be harming people, Sarah discovers that it’s not without good cause. The targeted corporations are responsible for Oil Spills, Medicated Drugs with horrible side effects, Pouring arsenic into a creek that winds up in families houses and much, much more. As Sarah battles with her own moral demons on the issues at hand, she still plays both sides of the fence and is aiding both The East and Hiller Brood. As The East line up more deadly “jams”, Sarah is forced to make decisions that will come as a surprise to most.
What I think works best for The East, is the film’s explanation behind why the group is doing what they’re doing. No “jam” is without a cause. As we learn in the film, Doc has suffered mental deterioration and Parkinson’s Disease-like syndromes from a prescribed Medical Drug. When he confronted the company seeking help, they dismissed his case and began to mass produce their drug. Not only was Doc’s life in danger, but the live’s of millions will soon be. He has a viable cause for the “jam” and the human part of you can somewhat agree with his rationale. It’s those little explanations and truths that you receive from the film that make you empathize for The East and their “Eco Terrorism”.
While the group does have reasons to justify their actions, they tend to overlook the fact that they may be just as bad as these companies that they’ve sought out to destroy. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. This famous Gandhi quote sums up all the hypocrisy within the group and is something that the film struggles to deal with. The characters are so caught up in what they are doing that they forget what they’re actually fighting for. If they approached these matters in a civil way with factual evidence, their cause would grow much more easily and they would most likely help change the companies for the better. Alas, that seems a bit too complex for characters who live in the woods and eat old food that has been discarded.
Along with some major plot issues, the film also doesn’t flush its characters out enough. We get to know Sarah and Benji very well, but the other characters are only given a handful of time to present their information. Had they been more fully formed, I believe that they would have been more relatable and easier to feel for. We do get to explore Sarah and Benji, so that helps tell the larger story at hand. It’s a story full of morality, realism (in terms of actual events) and some very tense sequences. The East is a fun, political thriller to watch unfold and it does a great job when it makes you think twice about the actions of this and other eco-activist groups!
The East Trailer