29 June 2013
THE EAST (Dir. Zal Batmanglij, 2013, US) - The Educators
The Edukators, directed by German director Hans Weingartner, appeared in 2004 when the anti-globalization movement was in full flow. The plot sees three radicalised anti-establishment students form a romantic triptych, breaking into the homes of a wealthy German elite and deploying some creative uses of culture jamming. ‘The edukators’ take hostage the head of a corporation but any plans to change the world slowly unravel when romantic entanglements hijack proceedings. Nearly a decade on and recent zeitgeist films such as Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring and The East are attempting a similar ideological protest but this time relocating counter culture proselytise to a contemporary American context in which an economic bankruptcy is the new reality facing the youth. The East sees a former FBI agent, now working for a monstrous private intelligence firm, sent to infiltrate a radical political group titled ‘The East’ using militant, coercive tactics to humiliate corporations guilty of violating human rights. The recent Redford film The Company You Keep works almost as a companion piece to The East, exploring the long-term consequences of counter culture activism. Interestingly, the link between the two films is the presence of upcoming Indie actress Brit Marling who co-scripted The East with director Zal Batmanglij. Aside from some moments of contrived melodrama, this is a well-paced and intelligently detailed study of counter culture ideology that has deservedly transcended an art-house release, appearing in some of the multiplexes. Perhaps this is testament to the topicality of the film, magnifying with a daring gaze the ideological contradictions inherent within a philosophy that seeks accountability in a world of cancerous hypocrisy; this includes the new age subversives trying desperately to negotiate their way through a benign media culture that brands their controversial confronting of power as an extension of terrorist illusions permeating the news every night. Whereas ideological intentions are reasonably valid, the stylistic approach, striving for an all too familiar Indie aesthetic of elliptical editing, a trite and manipulative soundtrack, and ambles of selective focus threatens to disrupt the sincerity of the political questions being asked. Director Batmanglij could have taken a more realist approach given the characters who form the group are from a seemingly privileged background of middle to upper class families. This would have certainly helped to build more sympathy for the group and their beliefs. Thankfully the depiction of corporations as private entities immune from any moral and legal boundaries is in keeping with the contemporary view of corporations as pathological and undeniably evil. The ending, advocating whistleblowing over eco-terrorism may seem like an ideological compromise too far but it finds a striking parallel in our own reality, referencing Bradley Manning, and now Edward Snowden. It is in the film’s brave ending, extrapolating a faith in political activism which is strangely idealistic yet a fundamental necessity in countering abuses of corporate power that cannot go unchecked any longer.