by Clifford Bugle, published on July 5, 2013|
The duo of Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij is quickly becoming one of the more reliable pairings in American indie cinema. After Marlings Another Earth and her collaboration with Batmanglij on Sound of My Voice, audiences and critics alike excitedly labeled the filmmakers most precocious, and as a result the expectations for The East were palpably high. In terms of the level of respect the film has for its audiences intelligence, the skill with which the story is produced and told, and the relevance of its political and social subject matters the film delivers on the reputation of its makers.
Like Sound of My Voice, we are invited to find our own moral balance as the story progresses, so that by the end we are (at least intended to be) more receptive of its conclusion. The Donnie Brasco-type narrative is firmly adhered to, which makes main character Sarah (Marling) more predictable than some might like. Yet her moral crisis is realized without a hint of superficiality. With all of the films topicality, thrilling moments of anxiousness, and ponderous risk/reward postulations, it ultimately boils down to the relation between perception and identity.
The former can be changed with new knowledge and experiences, which are (according to the film) best acquired with people who live beyond the pale. And as such things accrue, ones character becomes more malleable, shaping into something foreign through a process that cannot be reversed. But once a new identity can be self-defined after the orientation that comes from retrospection agency can be reestablished, and a new moral ground can be firmly stood upon. The East encourages us to undergo this process as Sarah does, and so the best way to judge its caliber is to note whether you see yourself any differently after viewing it.