After the financial crash of 2008, a natural response by some young people has been to question the system of capitalism and ‘corporate greed’ that led to such a deep recession for so many Western countries around the world.
The East concerns a small group of radical ‘freegans’ (people who choose to only eat other people’s leftovers as a protest over the wasteful nature of modern living). “The East” are planning four ‘jams’ (or attacks) on the companies they believe to be most representative of the worst aspects of corporate greed, and so oil companies, pharmaceuticals, and chemical plants become targets for the irresponsible way they allow the people and planet to suffer, all in the name of making more money.
Tasked with stopping these jams is Sarah Moss (Brit Marling, also the film’s co-writer). She works for “Hiller Brood”, a security company which promises to protect corporations from organizations like “The East” in return for bucket loads of money.
Sarah’s job is to infiltrate The East, and pass on information to her company in the hope she can stop them from further attacks on big corporations. However, it is not long before she starts questioning whether she is working for the correct side.
Thematically this is a film very ‘on the nose’, and going in I was not sure I would like this kind of directness for a topic that strikes right at the heart of the discussions an event like the credit crunch inevitably provoked. Nevertheless, the film does strike a reasonably good balance between showing us the positives and negatives of an organization like “The East”. As such, the film is sympathetic towards the motives for their jams, while being wise enough to question their methods, which include the ‘poisoning’ of a company’s employees with their own drugs.
One criticism in particular is that radical left-wing organistations like this are pretty much universally opposed to any violence that would cause harm to any humans or animals. Given the great lengths the film goes to in making The East’s actions believable and relatable I found it difficult to fully understand their moral compass. Perhaps the film maker’s were aware of this, as the organisation’s symbol is literally a broken compass (pointing east of course).
However, their methods do of course make for a more entertaining film. The jams we see are all nicely varied as a tense as any good heist movie. Added to that is the additional layer of interest as we are not sure who exactly the good guys and bad guys are, an important question Sarah has to confront as the film progresses.
The East is not perfect in its execution. In some ways it feels rather naive, and relies on the audience to already be sympathetic of an agenda which demands a change from the type of free market capitalism that existed before 2008. It also chooses to make its central character a Christian, something could have been a lot more developed as she comes to question the morality of those around her.
It is, however, wise enough to ask just enough questions of the best way to change such a system? Does it come through attacks on corporations? Through reason? Or some other way? Likewise, the characters in the film appear to be caricatures at first, but I was pleased and surprised about the way depth was added to each of them as the film progressed.
The East then proved to be a pleasant surprise. While not a perfect film, it did create very believable characters (aided by fine performances from across its cast), as well as a tense, dramatic tale that asks plenty of important questions about the world post-2008.