Cruss T. Anarcho Mc Professional Protester gives us a review of a new indie film dealing with the topic of so-called ‘eco-terrorism’
Title: The East
Director: Zal Batmanglij;
Screenwriters: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling;
Starring: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell;
Running time: 116 mins;
I’m still not sure what I was expecting going to see The East with a group of comrades. Was I expecting an accurate and balanced representation of the radical environmental movement? Probably not.
Environmental and animal liberation sabotage actions are currently described as the biggest domestic terror threat in the US by the FBI, despite that in over 1,200 ALF and ELF actions recorded in the US since 1996, not one person has been physically harmed. With environmental issues increasingly entering mainstream discourse, a thoughtful look at the most radical streams of the movement, the eco-anarchist covert cells, is welcome. The East had so much promise as a concept, and spectacularly fails to deliver.
The East is a film about a private intelligence contractor who is sent to infiltrate a shadowy and mysterious eco-‘terrorist’ cell known as The East, which is clearly modelled on the real-life radical environmental direct action group, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF).
From the start I was pleasantly surprised by a rarely accurate portrayal of some of the more superficial aspects of anarchist counter-culture, much of which could have been ripped directly from a CrimethInc novel. Scenes of dumpster diving, train-hopping and folk-punk revelry fairly accurately capture the social aspect of the traveller lifestyle. After a promising beginning though, The East soon spirals downwards into the familiar territory of tired cliché.
Whilst faithful to cosmetic aspects of eco-anarchist counter-culture, the writers appear to be as incapable as the cops and the mainstream media of understanding non-hierarchical\leaderless resistence movements. Immediately upon the arrival of the protagonist and all-round tout, Sarah, at The East’s squatted commune in the woods, we learn that the allegedly charismatic Benji is the leader of this eco-anarchist cell (eye-roll).
From here on, the movie is littered with bizarre, tacked-on scenes that will make anyone with a modicum of experience of anarchist counter-culture cringe, and supposedly serious and emotional scenes fall flat or even evoke scornful laughter.
This seemingly experienced covert cell has absolutely no understanding of security culture. A strange woman that none of them knew previously is accepted into the cell within a matter of days, despite the fact that her arrival coincides with the disappearance of another member of the cell who daubs the walls with the words ‘THIS HOUSE IS NOT SAFE’. Indeed.
There are other scenes which aim to paint the group as cultish, but are frankly just weird. An example is the scene where the group go to dinner straight-jacketed (they just have a store of straight-jackets, for some reason, as every serious environmentalist group should, right?). Sarah is watched intently by the group as she struggles to eat food from the table with her mouth. Then the others, with practised ease, begin feeding each other by picking up the ladles with their mouths. Yeaaaaaah. Also included is an incredibly uncomfortable mutual washing scene.
The main redeeming features of The East are the direct actions themselves (known as ‘jams’), which are well thought out and well-executed – they’re stridently and confidently done, giving a much-needed lift to a film that flags painfully at every turn.
The other is Ellen Page, who is awesome.
Politically, the film is painfully naive and liberal. The characters appear to have a very poor understanding of their own motivations and political ideologies, and attempts at including polemic diatribes from the members of the cell seem perfunctory and poorly explored. I won’t include a spoiler, but prepare to cringe uncontrollably and possibly even let an exasperated cry escape from you at the ending. Prepare to watch the protagonist turn from a hardened intelligence contractor into the most annoying kind of bleeding-heart hippie liberal possible.
Although a reasonably entertaining thriller, if you can suspend disbelief for a while, the film stumbles as a result of its predictability, and plunges entirely into the realms of self-parody by its refusal to remain grounded in reality. In the wake of the revelations that undercover pigs in the UK were sleeping with and even fathering children with female activists, this film is an almost insulting inversion of reality. This film contains an undercover pig with a conscience (barf). The reality is that undercover cops appear to derive pleasure from informing upon and destroying the lives of those they are spying on. The protagonist is portrayed as naive and good-natured. Fuck cops, snitches and touts – they’re not that nice in reality.
A promising idea, incredibly poorly executed. If you really want to learn about the ELF or so-called ‘eco-terrorism’ watch ‘If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front‘ which deals, in far greater depth, with the moral and political issues of ecotage.