We’re all jittery about terrorists right now. What’s
especially worrisome are the “homegrown” variety, the ones in our own
society who have some kind of issue with the culture, and decide to take it
out on the rest of us.
“The East” is about a posse of eco-terrorists, who target rich
executives of drug companies whose medicines produce untreatable side effects.
Or rich executives of manufacturing companies whose industrial waste not only
harms the environment, but the people living nearby the plants. The fact
that this little hippie-commune-murderous-terrorist-gang has a few personal
connections makes their crusade a little less idealistic and a little more
vindictive. But it’s still violent. And if they are harming people to
protest harming people, how are they any different?
Brit Marling plays Sarah, a counter-espionage operative, hired by a
private security firm working with the FBI (do they even play well with
others?), to infiltrate “The East” gang and discover who the operatives
are. Yes, she knows all about the Patty Hearst complex. But that
doesn’t mean she isn’t susceptible to a certain reluctant transference,
Sarah feels the pull of being part of a small group that believes in
something, and is willing to take action. Because they live in a remote
area by themselves, they’ve grown incredibly close to each other. They
sincerely believe that what they are doing is right, that they are the
prophetic voice crying in the wilderness. They are hostile to strangers
and suspicious of Sarah as a newbie. But gradually, she wins their
trust, by becoming one of them. Naturally, this leads to differentiation
problems when she checks in with her boss, Sharon (Patricia Clarkson).
By the end, everyone’s boundaries are a little bit obscured, but that
doesn’t mean that loathing of corporate greed isn’t real in the
counter-culture. And we’re not at all surprised that there might be
counter-espionage efforts to smoke out the infiltrators. In the midst of
all this moral ambiguity, how to navigate with a strong personal integrity
One endearing part of this film, for believers, is Sarah’s genuine
spiritual life. Yes, she actually prays, a couple of times, aloud.
Though there’s no invoking the names of any deities, still, it’s a winsome
moment. She prays that she will be delivered from her own arrogance, and
yet still stay strong. Well, a posture of personal humility is a good
place to start in any prayer.
Those who have close friends in a church fellowship will also recognize
the yearning for connection in a group of like-minded companions. But
“church” is listed as the enemy here, along with corporations and yes, law
enforcement. Yes, it’s a sympathetic examination of a season of
playing with anarchy. That makes this film a most unusual offering for a
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving,