Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij talk THE EAST; lady spies, anarchists and not giving any answers

You may recall last week that I said that there’s a good chance you would probably be seeing me talk a lot more about Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, and Momma Cloete never raised no liar! After the trailer for their latest collaboration, The East, hit last week, the film itself debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. It has been getting pretty great reviews, which based on the irrational love I had for both Another Earth and Sound of My Voice, has me more excited than Darryn in a pie shop.

Marling and Batmanglij spoke to Collider about the film, specifically their love of espionage and the colour grey.

While there are some similarities between The East and Sound of My Voice, in that this is essentially still about somebody infiltrating a group (though in a Bizarro World twist, Marling’s character is now the one trying to get in), but that’s not where the story came from, as the duo explains.

Brit Marling: “Well Zal and I are super into espionage stories, and we wanted to do an espionage story with a girl.  We also liked the idea of doing an espionage story in which the girl is sort of an action hero, but of smaller actions.  It’s not like Bond or Bourne where there’s just like constantly gadgets and guns; Sarah Moss is using like a paper clip and dental floss and whatever is around and doing some pretty unusual and brilliant things with it (laughs).

So we liked this idea of this girl who is a corporate spy, which is a space we haven’t seen before, normally we’re following people from the FBI or the CIA and now we’re following a girl who works at a corporation that’s outsourced to do intelligence work.  And what does that mean when suddenly the intelligence work is becoming more mercenary?  It’s not connected to a democratic process at all, you know there’s no oversight.  This is just a corporation that wants to make more money that is selling espionage.  So that’s where we sort of began with this girl, and then of course she goes on this journey infiltrating this group of anarchists who’ve been very successful targeting corporations for specific malfeasance.”

Zal Batmanglij: “ And what’s interesting about anarchists is they’re like—it’s the extreme left, but it’s also very much the extreme right…. So we were fascinated by that and that world of anarchy and as anarchy being a dramatic vehicle for us to talk about how frustrated people are.  People are frustrated all over the country whether they’re in Oklahoma or Oregon or San Diego or San Francisco or LA or DC or New York or Omaha or wherever.”

On of the strongest aspects (well, depending on your tolerance for such things) about Sound of My Voice was definitely it’s ambiguity. You never exactly who was telling the truth. That grey area is taken to its extreme in The East where the titular group may be terrorists, but they’re eco terrorists fighting against people who are destroying the environment. So who do you root for? Who is actually the good/bad guys in this film? Just like most things in life, that’s a question that’s apparently not easily answered.

BM: “We always wanted to stay in open waters because that’s where we are.  I don’t think there are any easy answers right now, and even within The East group itself there are conflicting ideologies.  Benji and Izzie and Doc and all these characters don’t necessarily agree about how far is too far.  They have that conversation in the basement at one point where it’s like, “Well if it’s eye for an eye and people have died, can you take a life?  If taking that life will potentially save a thousand lives, ten thousand lives, a hundred thousand lives, where do you draw the line?”  Those are fascinating questions and I don’t think there are any easy answers to them.”

ZB: “We certainly don’t have any of the answers, so how can we [tell the audience what’s right?].  Our film isn’t preachy, it’s a thrill ride.  You don’t know what’s around the corner.”

BM: “And I think that’s why this movie is appealing to so many people, because whether you’re on the far right or the far left, whether you’re part of the people saying we should have no guns or either people saying we should give teachers guns [referring to Newtown massacre]… Or anywhere in between that, it doesn’t really matter because everybody feels that something has unraveled and that something is very off, and this movie is wrestling with that.”

Note, “wrestling” not “preaching” as Batmanglij pointed out earlier. So don’t go into this movie expecting your mind to be changed, but it may just give you some things to think about.

ZB: “ I don’t think we set out to make The East in order to necessarily change people’s hearts; I don’t know how much movies actually change people’s hearts.  We wanted to make something that was thrilling and got you to thinking.  The combination of thrilling and thinking really fascinates us both.”

BM: “But also feeling.  I think movies do change people’s hearts.  That’s the funny thing about cinema, I mean it is an intellectual medium, but it’s also sort of anti-intellectual.  People go to the cinema to be moved; they wanna laugh, they wanna cry, they wanna feel something deeply, especially if they’re not feeling deeply in their own lives.  I think this story is really about that and that’s part of why Sarah’s so attracted to The East, because whether her politics are different from theirs or come to align with theirs or not, this is a community of people that’s really connected to one another and cares for one another and is fighting for one another, and her life in comparison begins to feel sort of isolated and alone, and she wants to have a sense of community.”

Now, despite me thinking it’s perfect as is, there has been talking of not just a sequel to Sound of My Voice, but possibly turning it into a trilogy. How far along is that talk?

BM: “…We finally got a chance to get away for two weeks and think about what we would like to write and we feel excited about it, and we feel excited to carve out the time to actually sit down and write it.  We’re big believers in spending a lot of time telling the story out loud to each other until you really crack the narrative and you can sit down and tell it to any stranger from first scene to last scene and hold their attention.  That’s when I think the moment we begin to open Final Draft and actually start writing.  So we’re not quite at that phase yet (laughs) but it’s exciting that that’s on the horizon.”

There’s been no release date confirmed yet for The East, but expect it some time in the next few months. Until then, you can tide yourself over with the trailer.

In “The East,” Sarah Moss (Marling) is a brilliant operative for an elite private intelligence firm whose top objective is to ruthlessly protect the interests of their A-list corporate clientele. She is assigned to go undercover to infiltrate an anarchist collective known for executing covert attacks upon major corporations. Living amongst them in an effort to get closer to their members, Sarah finds herself unexpectedly torn between two worlds as she starts to fall in love with the group’s charismatic leader, finding her life and her priorities irrevocably changed.

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  • http://twitter.com/blahsum James Francis

    This looks very cool. Now I keep thinking about Fight Club’s anarchy groups…