Movie review: The East (2013)

The offspring of the rich are disgruntled by how their elders made their money—profiting from the destruction of the environment and the death of others. I can understand their horror at profit at all costs. At the poisoning of our water supply, which in turn poisons people. At the sale of drugs that cause disease and death. I get that disgruntlement.

But I don’t get a lot of motivations, rationales, and turning points in this movie.

Jane is a corporate operative who infiltrates a so-called anarchist collective. A group of mostly rich kids that have dropped out of society to rage a righteous war on those responsible for poisoning the environment and people. They poison those responsible through their own products and production processes.

The incongruities abound. A group member’s father is confronted for the role his company plays in the death of people from pumping toxins into the community’s water supply. The punishment? To make him swim in the river right when the company has its middle-of-the-night toxin dump into the river. He is unrepentant. Until suddenly we hear a splash and see him naked in the water, apologizing to his anarchist activist daughter.

Or the husband who suddenly leaves Jane amicably. He’s just getting a place in Georgetown since she hasn’t been talking to him. (Um, she’s been away several times, undercover, trying to infiltrate the anarchist group.) And Jane seems unfazed by his leaving.

Or Jane suddenly deciding to download the list of other operatives for the leader of the anarchist group. So that he can watch these operatives. (Watch = post their identities which would likely lead to them being killed.) Jane was sympathetic to the group’s cause, but in the end, rather than divulge the identities of the operatives, she goes to the individual operatives, certain that if they just knew the truth, they would turn and not continue working for The Man. They did not need to be outed. Or killed. Just informed. A somewhat naïve thought.

The message about the heads of companies profiting by destroying others was very heavy-handed. I couldn’t relate to anyone in the movie. Not the company heads seeking profit above the welfare of others. Not the anarchist group acting out of self-righteousness to harm others. I did have sympathy for the people harmed by the companies’ action. And for Jane. A little sympathy amid my puzzlement.

The fact of communities and lives being ruined and destroyed by the products and production methods of companies is currently hitting close to home. In one segment, a mother uses a timer to limit how long her sons take for their nightly bath. The community’s water has been contaminated by arsenic and other toxins spilled by a nearby company. While people need to bathe, having the kids bathe longer would contaminate them too much.

I flashed to the recent incident in West Virginia where Freedom Industries spilled undisclosed chemicals into the Elk River. Residents in the area—approximately 300,000—were advised not to drink or use the water, then told it was ok to do so, then told not to do so. Communities downstream, as far away as Evansville, Indiana, are monitoring the water of the Ohio River for these contaminants.

Aside from a brief discussion about the rationale of an-eye-for-an-eye-type justice, the movie depicts the issues as black and white, us vs. them, companies vs. ordinary people, profits vs. caring for others and the environment. Things are rarely that clear-cut. An eye for an eye does not solve the problem. Neither does just informing the unknowing operatives about what is really going on, about the damage being done. People do need to be informed, but it is too easy or it is human nature to turn away. To ignore the problem or to collude. What is the middle way of acknowledging the problem and seeking to solve and even prevent it? The movie doesn’t show that. We are left with the solution of informing others. As if ignorance, not willful ignorance, is the problem.

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