Corporate malfeasance gets a clamorous treatment in The East, from Fox Searchlight and opening at the River Oaks Three this Friday. The East stars Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Jason Ritter, and Toby Kebbell. Star and writer Brit Marling discussed her work and process with Free Press Houston during a recent phone interview.
“Writing is really lonely. Zal and I wrote the film together, bouncing ideas off of each other,” admits Marling. “But eventually you are looking at a blank page and you’re really in your own world.”
Previous films written by and starring Marling include Another Earth, directed and co-written by Mike Cahill and Sound of My Voice, directed and co-written by Zal Batmanglij. Marling, Cahill, and Batmanglij all know each other from their days as students at Georgetown University. Marling has also appeared in prominent roles in films such as Arbitrage and The Company You Keep, the latter being a film that Marling states she jumped at when the opportunity arose.
In The East, Marling plays an FBI-trained operative who now works for a private intelligence company. Marling is tasked with infiltrating an anarchist collective that practices corporate sabotage. While Sound of My Voice was about a cult group led by a mysterious woman from the future, Marling doesn’t see The East as being about cults. “This group is a tribe, a community. My character is a spy who goes deep undercover and creates a new identity. But, what is that subterfuge all about if you fall in love with a new philosophy?” Many of the ideas on display in The East could be right out of recent privacy invasion stories.
“There’s a prescience to the material,” notes Marling. “We had written a scene where the group breaks into the Hampton summer estate of an oil CEO and creates an oil spill in the house. And a week later, the BP oil spill in the Gulf was in the news.” At one point Marling’s character, Sarah, reveals a cell phone in the sole of one of her shoes. “That’s the only real spy kind of tool we used.” The rest of the time Sarah uses her ingenuity, like a scene where she tears a Coke can in half to use as a sharp object or even her secondary use for dental floss.
At one point, members of The East crash an exclusive party on Cape Cod being given by the CEO of a pharmaceutical company and spike the guest’s champagne with antibiotics that the company has a contract to market in Africa. Yet, when Marling’s character contacts her boss (Patricia Clarkson) and attempts to subvert their raid, she’s told to stand down. “They’re not our clients,” Clarkson’s character says. Eventually, this experience makes Marling’s character doubt her own worth as a spy and an infiltrator.
In some ways, the Occupy Movement influenced The East. “There’s a sense that these people are agents of change. To some degree, our characters were based on the feelings of young people we were meeting and interviewing. It’s a story about people who seek revenge against corporate malfeasance like vigilantes seeking justice,” Marling states. “Yet how far is too far?”
Marling literally burst onto the scene at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival when both Another Earth and Sound of My Voice premiered and were bought by Fox Searchlight. The East was actually funded and distributed by Searchlight. “Speaking of tribes, that’s a good one to belong to,” adds Marling.
- Michael Bergeron