Review by Micah Unice

The East – or What If Hipsters Were Right

Somewhere exists an alternate dimension where women manage just fine to produce and star in effectual, penetrating films without having to be descendents of a yogurt dynasty or look dynamite in Lululemon yoga pants. In our callow universe, however, only a select few who are both lovely and capable of following Mother Jones are given enough free rein to actualize their art. One of those diaphanous birds is Brit Marling.

Coasting in the wake of the attention she garnered from her collaborations with Zal Batmanglij (“The Sound of My Voice”) and Mike Cahill (the under-celebrated “Another Earth”), Marling returns with her original partner for her most gumptious project yet: high-minded enviro-thriller The East. She plays Sarah, a nubile operative for a private security firm that hires her to infiltrate an eco-terrorist group that calls itself The East. Her job is to report and eventually protect her firm’s corporate clients from The East’s political attacks, which grow increasingly vicious as she becomes more enmeshed in the group’s ideals.

As an illustration of what those kinds of ideals are, upon her arrival, Sarah is invited to join the other The East kids in putting on straitjackets and tenderly spoon-feeding each other using their teeth. They throw bonfire parties in the woods where they drink hippie beer and stare at each other meaningfully through Kubrickian masks. And most importantly, they plot out and execute eco-terroristic “jams” against environmentally irresponsible corporations: things like spiking the champagne at a pharmaceutical company party with its own hazardous drug and forcing white CEO’s to swim in polluted rivers.

Marling is more on form than she’s ever been, even when her dewy cheekbones aren’t bathed in woodsy fairylight. Sarah embodies the film’s constructive rage as well as the audience’s unease with the idea of retaliatory activism. She conveys a sort of romantic trepidation that pricks at every millennial’s suppressed wonder of anarchism. Alexander Skarsgård is the group’s leader Benji, looking like a hairy Eddie Vedder with a hangover. His performance is nearly as layered as Marling’s (and significantly buoyed by his constant glistening nakedness). Then there’s Ellen Page, who plays her character Izzy more or less like a weathered Juno, had Juno grown into a sociopathic communist with a hatred for people who like dresses.

Purportedly during filming the cast was required to live together communally and express their characters through heroically bland Whole Foods fashions. Whether or not that affected their performances, The East has an undeniable human element at its core, one that would have been difficult to achieve in a studio-based project. Without that sense of honesty, the moral questions it asks would come across as ostentatious. Fortunately, it’s much, much better than that. (Though in lieu of popcorn, you might want to consider hand-threshed quinoa.)

The East – or What If Hipsters Were Right

Somewhere exists an alternate dimension where women manage just fine to produce and star in effectual, penetrating films without having to be descendents of a yogurt dynasty or look dynamite in Lululemon yoga pants. In our callow universe, however, only a select few who are both lovely and capable of following Mother Jones are given enough free rein to actualize their art. One of those diaphanous birds is Brit Marling.

Coasting in the wake of the attention she garnered from her collaborations with Zal Batmanglij (“The Sound of My Voice”) and Mike Cahill (the under-celebrated “Another Earth”), Marling returns with her original partner for her most gumptious project yet: high-minded enviro-thriller The East. She plays Sarah, a nubile operative for a private security firm that hires her to infiltrate an eco-terrorist group that calls itself The East. Her job is to report and eventually protect her firm’s corporate clients from The East’s political attacks, which grow increasingly vicious as she becomes more enmeshed in the group’s ideals.

As an illustration of what those kinds of ideals are, upon her arrival, Sarah is invited to join the other The East kids in putting on straitjackets and tenderly spoon-feeding each other using their teeth. They throw bonfire parties in the woods where they drink hippie beer and stare at each other meaningfully through Kubrickian masks. And most importantly, they plot out and execute eco-terroristic “jams” against environmentally irresponsible corporations: things like spiking the champagne at a pharmaceutical company party with its own hazardous drug and forcing white CEO’s to swim in polluted rivers.

Marling is more on form than she’s ever been, even when her dewy cheekbones aren’t bathed in woodsy fairylight. Sarah embodies the film’s constructive rage as well as the audience’s unease with the idea of retaliatory activism. She conveys a sort of romantic trepidation that pricks at every millennial’s suppressed wonder of anarchism. Alexander Skarsgård is the group’s leader Benji, looking like a hairy Eddie Vedder with a hangover. His performance is nearly as layered as Marling’s (and significantly buoyed by his constant glistening nakedness). Then there’s Ellen Page, who plays her character Izzy more or less like a weathered Juno, had Juno grown into a sociopathic communist with a hatred for people who like dresses.

Purportedly during filming the cast was required to live together communally and express their characters through heroically bland Whole Foods fashions. Whether or not that affected their performances, The East has an undeniable human element at its core, one that would have been difficult to achieve in a studio-based project. Without that sense of honesty, the moral questions it asks would come across as ostentatious. Fortunately, it’s much, much better than that. (Though in lieu of popcorn, you might want to consider hand-threshed quinoa.)

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