Astrology: Film: ‘The East’: Director Zal Batmanglij Talks ‘Food’ Archetype

Fox Searchlight

There’s a scene, relatively early on in The East, in which Brit Marling’s character Sarah, a corporate spy working for a high-end consultancy, has her loyalty tested by the members of the eco-terrorist group she’s infiltrated. The proceedings look like a conduit for torture: Sarah’s at the communal dining table, bound in a straightjacket, unable to use her arms. So what’s for dinner?

It’s an exercise devised by the members of the group, who call themselves The East, which is presided over by their leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgard). The trick to eating, of course, is grabbing the spoon by its long handle and feeding the person beside you. Sarah fails miserably.

What we learn, in addition to its agenda of payback to companies that create products whose manufacturing m.o. poisons people and injures the environment, is that this group nurtures its own. These folks are foodies in the best sense – even if it entails dumpster diving – where food is an archetype that evokes the Moon, but it’s dished out by the Lunar Mother in a non-traditional way.

Director Zal Batmanglij explains that the scene underscores that heaven and hell are the same location – but the people in hell starve because they can’t figure out how to work the cutlery, and the ones in heaven are nourished because they feed each other. The test at the table, he adds, was the group trying to show Sarah her personal selfishness. “This group wants to be an antidote to alienation,” he says.

But it’s not just about food on a plate. “People are ‘hungry’ for an authentic experience,” says Batmanglij. “They’re hungry for physical and mental food.” Spending time with activists was key. “The people we encountered were sexy,” he says. “They had a certain fearlessness in their eyes.” And maybe an fiery appetite in the belly, too.

It’s about “taking waste [food from a dumpster] and turning it to bounty,” he says.

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