Excerpts from roundtable interview by Ronald P. Salfen (“Presbyterian Outlook”) of Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling, director and lead actor (and co-writers) of “The East.”
Interviewed at Dallas, Texas, April 24, 2013
Presbyterian Outlook: OK, I have to ask about the prayer.
Brit Marling: OK.
PO: “Keep me strong, but don’t let me be weak”?
BM: Yeah, Give me the strength to not be arrogant, but to not be weak, Yeah.
We were really interested in the idea that Sarah, who’s a religious person and a very moral person, finds herself in a very morally gray zone, in which there are no obvious answers. She’s ex-FBI, she comes from being trained in law enforcement. You know, our laws are based on a body of ethics that hopefully a society agrees upon. But in corporate espionage, which is the job she does now, there isn’t law enforcement, and what you’re really connected to is a profit margin, and making more money the next quarter than you did the quarter before. So I think she finds herself in a really morally gray zone during her deep-cover experience with “The East,” and I think she goes on this journey, she’s in this anarchic space, and they will often speak against organized religion.
PO: That was one of the lines in the movie, against the church.
BM: Yeah, her experience in connecting with other people, and connecting with nature, actually makes her spirituality deeper. I think the spiritual side of her actually deepens on this journey, and that’s why the film ends with her prayer, and the Amen. Even though a lot of her perspective has changed, she’s still the same person.
Zal Batmanglij: And this is not a woman who loses her religion, this is a woman who finds her religion.
PO: Did you base this script on your own experience?
ZB: In the summer of 2009, we lived with various direct action groups: anarchist farmers, you know, collectives. So we had direct experience with these people, and were very moved by their way of living. And also fascinated by it. But actually, when it came time to write the movie, “The East” is a completely imagined group, inspired by that summer, and our travels, more for the texture of that world, and the texture of those characters. The direct actions they did were inspired by our frustrations about the headlines we were reading in the news. The actual corporate crimes in the story are exactly as they are, they’re not hyperbolized or dramatized for effect. Like, there are drugs on the market that have permanent side effects. There are companies that are poisoning the water systems and causing kids to die of cancer from that poisoned water. That’s all true and documented. So we figured out a fictional way to sort of bring those stories into light, and have some sort of dramatic interaction with them.
RONALD P. SALFEN is the minister at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.