Gotham Salon: "The East," An Eco Thriller

What is the appropriate moral response to grave injustice? When do ends justify means, and when, if ever, is violence the right solution for addressing social wrongs? These are the compelling questions addressed in Zal Batmanglij's riveting new film, "The East," about corporate-environmental crime and an eco-activist group that fights them.

The film does a great job of exploring these issues. There is the timely theme of democracy becoming more and more controlled by corporate power, another exploring the nature-based, mind-exploring freedom rampant among radical fringe groups, and still another as the Internet as a tool of power for ad hoc activist groups to find each other and band together. These contemporary themes converge on the age-old moral question of what is right action in the face of injustice. Is it justified to live by "an eye for an eye"? Or was Gandhi right when he said, "An eye for an eye, and the whole world becomes blind"?

Unlike many anti-corporate films, this one is character-driven, suspenseful, and surprising, with a hot love story woven throughout. Ellen Page seems in her element as an eco-warrior. The inimitable Patricia Clarkson is stellar as the cold-blooded CEO of a firm that uses espionage to take down activists. And Alexander Skarsgard is a smolderingly intense leader of the eco collective who, having come from privilege, moves effortlessly between his long-haired hippie lair in the woods to suit and tie (and he sure does clean up well).

An aspect of the film that especially interested us was that director Batmanglij and female lead Brit Marling (his real life companion) prepared for "The East" by spending several months off grid, living among dumpster-diving "freegans," eschewing consumerist culture, not using money, and rarely able to bathe. Their experience lends grit and credibility to this portrayal of life among transient political dissenters, the brave, flawed, utopians among us who reject capitalist excess and are fighting for a world where there's less waste and exploitation, more preservation and honor paid to the natural world under assault. We highly recommend "The East." It opens in N.Y. and L.A. on May 31 and around the country starting June 7. You can watch the trailer here. And check out our Gotham Salon discussion about it below. Till next time!