Grainy black-and-white footage shows nuclear power plants, oil-slicked oceans, and a group of people breaking into a large mansion. A woman tells viewers that when you help to destroy the environment, maybe you shouldn’t get to feel safe in your own home. The footage shows a black substance seeping out of the air vents in the mansion and down the walls of the beautifully kept house. The woman promises the East will attack three more companies (and their executives) who have harmed the environment and the public through their actions.
Jane (Brit Marling) works as a field agent at a private investigation firm, located outside of Washington D.C. Her descent into the East’s inner sanctum begins the morning of a big interview with her boss, Sharon (Patricia Clarkson). For months, Jane has extensively researched eco-terrorism, freeganism, and those who live on the fringes of society. Jane drives to work, passing a lush field with three galloping horses. She waits for her interview outside of Sharon’s office and looks at the other field agents who graduated in her class. When Sharon calls Jane in for the interview, Jane spouts her numerous credentials. Sharon agrees that Jane has talent and drive but is concerned that Jane has never experienced professional failure; a lack of failure can breed arrogance. Sharon then gives Jane a plain box; Jane opens the box and finds a pair of Birkenstock sandals inside. Sharon’s doubt in Jane was a ruse to throw her off her guard. Jane has the job. She must uncover all she can about the East and report her discoveries back to Sharon, who will pass the information on to one of their clients, one of the East’s targets. That night, Jane carves chunks out of her sandals to make them look more worn.
Jane’s boyfriend drives her to the airport; he thinks she has been assigned to Dubai. After he drives away, she heads to a motel and dyes her hair from brown to blonde. Before she goes to sleep, she prays that she will do the right thing. Jane adopts the name Sarah and begins to travel like a nomad, befriending other transient youths and keeping an eye out for information about the East. She checks in with one of the firm’s contacts from time to time, and after a few weeks pass, he grows impatient with the lack of new developments. Jane decides to find a prominent anarchist with potential ties to the East, and she soon joins the people traveling with him. Everyone wants to find the East, and one transient, Luca (Shiloh Fernandez), suggests that the East is a myth. The group hops onto a slow-moving train together.
Down the line, security guards stop the train and look for trespassers. They discover Jane, Luca, the anarchist, and their friends. Everyone runs, and before she dashes around a corner Jane sees the anarchist flash a security guard a badge. He is undercover too. Jane sees the guards grab Luca, and she intervenes when they hit him. Luca flees, but the guards subdue Jane and handcuff her to a post. Earlier, Jane tied a paper clip to her necklace, and she maneuvers the paperclip to her mouth so she can unlock the cuffs. A guard sees her run away and chases her. Jane climbs over a barbed wire fence, and Luca pulls up in a beat-up van. He offers to feed Jane (whom he believes is Sarah), which means searching nearby dumpsters for food. While Luca is dumpster diving, Jane notices a compass hanging from the rearview mirror: the arrow has been glued, so it’s permanently pointing to the East. She realizes Luca is part of the East and cuts herself with the jagged edge of a soda can.
When Luca sees her injury, he wants to take Jane to the hospital, but she refuses to go to one. He drives her to a deserted rest stop and takes her into a bathroom, where he demands to see her cell phone. He scrolls through her contacts and calls “home” while Jane feigns offense at his intrusions. Another operative answers the phone and pretends to be Sarah’s concerned mother. Luca buys Jane’s cover story and drives her far into the woods to a ramshackle mansion. He takes her into the house and introduces her to Doc (Toby Kebbell), the resident medicine man. Doc chastises Luca for bringing a stranger into their midst, but Luca explains how Jane saved him. Doc implies that Benji will not be happy but agrees to treat “Sarah.” He washes his hands with a strange liquid and tells Jane to drink some of it. She complies, reluctantly, and asks if he’s a doctor. Doc went to medical school but does not practice traditional medicine anymore. His hands also shake noticeably. Doc explains to Jane that, when he worked with Doctors Without Borders, he took a routine antibiotic. Within a few weeks, the antibiotic began attacking his nervous system and his memory. Jane does not believe a dangerous medicine would be allowed to stay on the market, but because Doc’s maladies are listed as side effects of the antibiotic, he cannot sue them. Doc glues Jane’s cut together with superglue. She stands up, and sways; the liquid Doc told her to drink was a kind of sedative. Jane collapses.
Jane awakens to find a woman’s face hovering over her own. The woman apologizes, but her speech sounds slightly garbled. Jane starts to sign with the woman, whom she realizes is deaf. The woman calls herself “Eve,” but Jane sees a tattoo of an A entwined with a J on Eve’s shoulder. Eve explains that until Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), the East’s leader, says otherwise, she must stay in the room. It doesn’t take long for Benji’s second-in-command and possible paramour, Izzy (Ellen Page), to come to the room. She tells Jane that if she wants to come to dinner, she must wear a straight jacket. After some bickering between the two women, Jane agrees to wear the straight jacket. Downstairs, Jane meets Benji for the first time and sees that everyone else wears straight jackets, too. Each person has a bowl of stew and a long-handled spoon in front of them. Benji bids Jane to eat first, and she removes the spoon from the bowl with her mouth so she can slurp out of her bowl. Immediately, every other person at the table takes their spoon and uses it to feed their neighbor. Jane feels humiliated and selfish, so she storms away from the table. Benji follows her outside and tells her she might be able to discover new aspects of herself. He also tells her she can stay at the ramshackle mansion for two nights.
The next day, Jane goes into the forest to contact her handler. She hears someone approaching and pretends to be peeing. It’s Benji. He guides her back to the house. That night, Jane is locked in her room but manages to break out. She cannot find anyone in the mansion, so she goes outside and follows flickering firelight. She spies the rest of the East there are maybe twelve others standing around a bonfire and drinking champagne. She takes pictures of the gathering with her camera, and Eve catches her. Jane pins Eve to the ground and covers her mouth. She tells her that she’s an undercover agent and can send Eve to prison for years. She correctly guesses that Eve’s real name is Jessica and terrifies the deaf woman with her threats to keep quiet or else. Before letting Eve go, Jane tells her not to ruin her life because the East has convinced her no one else could love her. Eve sobs and runs away.
Eve leaves the East in the middle of the night, but not before painting “This House Is Not Safe” across the kitchen wall. Benji and Izzy blame Eve’s departure on their skittishness about their current master plan, and Jane offers to take Eve’s place. Benji and Luca do not want to involve Eve, but Doc, Izzy, and another member named Thumbs all vote to induct Jane. Benji tells her that she will only know what she needs to know but makes her swear to her full commitment to their plan.
Benji, Doc, Jane, and Izzy shave, cut their hair, and bathe in the river. Other members of the East dress them in beautiful gowns and debonair suits. Benji and Doc also open a box filled with medicine. Benji goes into the woods and pulls the tarp off of a beautiful Mercedes. He and the others climb in the Mercedes and drive to the party of one of Doc’s college friends. On the way, Izzy explains that Jane’s job is to distract their host, Porty McCabe, while they do what they plan to do.
The party takes place at Porty’s family’s estate. Porty takes an instant liking to Jane and buys the East’s cover story that they just want to mingle and have a good time. Porty introduces Jane to his father, Robert, who runs a pharmaceutical conglomerate. Slowly, Jane realizes that McCabe’s company is the same one that makes the antibiotic that poisoned Doc. In fact, the company has just signed a contract with the United States Army to make sure that every man and woman in uniform receives the antibiotic. Across the room, she sees Luca, dressed as a waiter, passing out champagne. She watches as Doc and Benji begin to slip tiny doses of the antibiotic into the champagne. Jane begs Porty to take her to a bathroom, where she calls Sharon and asks for advice. Because the pharmaceutical company is not one of Sharon’s clients, she tells Jane to let the East carry out their plan and not to blow her cover. Jane worries about the harm the medicine might cause to those who drink it, but Sharon echoes her earlier sentiments: if the drug was dangerous, the company would not sell it.
Back at the party, Jane tries to grab as many glasses of champagne as possible. She cannot get every glass, however, and watches as most of the guests drink their tainted champagne. The company’s publicist, Paige Williams, espouses the benefits of the antibiotic while Doc watches her with a cold dark look on his face. On the drive back to the mansion, Jane yells at her fellow passengers for not telling her about their plan. She worries that the party guests might become sick. Doc tells her that when he proscribed the antibiotic for himself, he also gave it to his sister. The drug destroyed her nerves and her memory as well, and she committed suicide. Because the pharmaceutical company will not acknowledge that they sell dangerous medicine, the East must combat them in more subversive ways. Above all else, Doc, Benji, and Izzy believe the East must be held accountable for their wrong doings.
Days pass, and Jane becomes a more permanent fixture in the East. She knows they will hurt others to achieve their goals, but in their spare time they play music, swim in the river together, and forage for food in local dumpsters. The food is still good, but due to federal laws, grocery stores must dispose of them. Jane’s attraction to Benji grows, too. She sees him return from a swim in the river and drinks in his naked form. She also breaks into a set of crates in the attic, where she finds a picture of a young boy who is obviously Benji. She realizes the mansion belongs to his family. The East posts another video describing their attack at the McCabe party. In response, Paige Williams gives an interview where she claims everyone is fine. She uses her own good health although, she admits, she did have a cold as proof that the antibiotic is safe. Everyone argues about what the next step should be and are angry that the pharmaceutical company has countered their attack. Benji decides to send everyone back to the real world so they can wander and think about their commitments to the cause. The true believers will eventually return.
Jane returns to Washington D.C. and her boyfriend. She drives to the firm’s headquarters, again passing the field with horses in it. Sharon is overjoyed at Jane’s work because now McCabe has hired them as a risk assessment consultant. She wants Jane to return to the East to continue to gather information on their next targets. Before she returns, Jane and her boyfriend see another interview with Paige Williams. Now Paige is frail and obviously sick. She claims she no longer has a functioning memory. The drug has destroyed her and is dangerous.
Jane goes back to Benji’s ramshackle mansion and the East. She is welcomed back into the fold, although Izzy still keeps her at arm’s length. One night the group plays a derivative of Spin the Bottle. Someone spins the bottle, and when it lands on a person, they can ask that person to give them a high five or kiss them. If the person on whom the bottle landed feels uncomfortable with the action, they can suggest something else. Luca and Thumbs hug Doc. Benji kisses a woman’s naval. When Jane spins the bottle, it lands on Benji. She asks if she can kiss him, but he asks for a hug instead. Jane feels rejected, but later she allows members of the East, including Benji and Izzy, to bathe her in the East.
The group begins planning their next attack. They watch a home video of a woman bathing her two young sons. An alarm goes off every few minutes, and Jane asks why. Izzy explains that the water in the town where the lives is contaminated by a chemical plant that dumps its waste into their source of water. In the video, the woman explains that she and her husband have struggled to sell their home and cannot afford to move. The water stripped the enamel from her sons’ teeth; now they all brush their teeth with bottled water. The video ends, and Izzy explains that the youngest son died soon after.
Benji, Izzy, Doc, and Jane dress up again. They drive to a hotel, where the chemical plant is hosting a conference. Izzy approaches a well-dressed older man at the table. It is her father. He calls her Annie, and it is obvious he hasn’t seen her for years. Though Izzy’s father tries to engage her in conversation, she focuses on her mission: getting him to admit his guilt in polluting the nearby town. When her father condescends to her, Izzy stabs his leg with a syringe, and he passes out. Jane realizes Izzy’s father is an executive at the chemical plant. Izzy screams for a doctor, and Doc steps forward. An ambulance collects Izzy’s father and a female executive from the chemical plant, but since Luca and Thumbs are the drivers, they don’t make it to a hospital. Instead, Izzy and the others draw guns on her father and the other executive. Izzy says it is 11:55 p.m. and almost time for their swim. She wants them to strip naked and swim in a small pond outside of the chemical plant. The female executive cries and offers them money, but Izzy won’t have it. People have died, and it’s time for them to pay. Izzy repeats the time, and Jane wonders what happens at midnight. The female executive finally answers: at midnight, the plant dumps its toxic waste into the pond. That’s why she won’t climb in. Thumbs and Doc begin to drag her towards the pond, and Jane tries to intervene. She doesn’t want to kill anyone. The female executive screams, Izzy and Jane fight, and the sludge shoots into the pond. Suddenly, Izzy’s father dives into the pond. He apologizes to “Annie” and begs for his forgiveness. Something snaps in Izzy, and she runs towards her father, crying out for him. Benji grabs her, and police sirens blare in the distance. Everyone struggles to get Izzy on Benji’s motorcycle so they can leave, but they’re still fighting when the police arrive. Thumbs and Luca exchange gunfire with the police, and Benji finally gets Izzy to leave with him. When they return to the mansion, she slumps off of his bike. One of the cop’s bullets pierced her back and lodged itself in her abdomen.
Benji carries Izzy into the kitchen and lays her on the table. Doc says they will have to cut her open and get the bullet, but his hands shake too much, and he might nick an organ. Jane offers to perform the surgery, and after making the initial cut, she buries her hand in Izzy’s gut. She tries not to panic as she roots around the other woman’s abdominal cavity, and after a few moments she extracts the bullet. She sews Izzy’s wound shut, and the members of the East sit vigil over Izzy together. Dawn comes, and Izzy is paler than ever. Jane flees the confines of the kitchen and sobs in the woods. Benji finds her, and they embrace. Their grief turns to passion, and they have sex in the forest. Afterwards, Benji explains that his parents died in a boating accident. He was on the boat with them and was the sole survivor. He inherited a large fortune, but he didn’t like the person he became when he had so much money. Now he runs the East and works for a better world. Izzy dies, and the members of the East bury her under a large tree. Luca leaves the East after Izzy’s death, because he thinks Benji cares more about his ideals than his people.
Disoriented and grieving, Jane returns home too, although she struggles to feel like she belongs. She goes to work and passes the field with the horses. According to her, the East abandoned its third and final mission due to Izzy’s death. Sharon commends her for her hard work. Jane’s relationship with her boyfriend ends, and she’s adrift until Sharon calls her. The East has posted another video, and she needs to return to them one more time.
When Jane arrives back at the ramshackle mansion, Benji tells her that they will be the only people on their mission. It will take them all night to drive. She and Benji drive away in the Mercedes, and she falls asleep. When she awakens, she sleepily asks him where they are going. Benji tells Jane that he thinks she already knows. Jane sits up and sees the field with the three horses. She looks ahead and sees the firm’s headquarters. Benji (and Luca) have known all along that she was a spy for the firm. They pull into the firm’s parking lot. Benji will wait in the car, and Jane will go inside. He wants her to hack into Sharon’s computer and gather the identities of all of the firm’s field agents. Benji hopes to make contact with them, and Jane assumes it’s because he wants to recruit them to the East’s cause. If Jane chooses to tell the firm he’s in the parking lot, though, he’ll understand.
Jane goes to Sharon’s office. She’s a nervous wreck, and Sharon’s assistant notices. Jane demands that the assistant go and fetch Sharon, who’s in a meeting in another part of the building. The assistant leaves, and Jane breaks into her boss’s office. She roots around in Sharon’s drawer and finds a packet of Listerine strips and some floss. She uses her phone to take pictures of all of the firm’s field agents and their background info. She pauses when she comes across her own profile. Jane runs towards the elevators, but Sharon catches her. Jane makes up a fake story about the company that the East planned to target for their final mission and gets away, but not before learning that the FBI has decided to raid the ramshackle mansion that day. Back at the mansion, Doc hides members of the East in a compartment before the floorboards. He manages to call Benji and warn him of the raid just before FBI agents burst into the house and arrest him. In the lobby of the firm’s headquarters, Jane tries to leave by scanning her phone against a card reader, but the reader won’t pick up her badge. The security guard at the front desk takes her phone but allows Jane to go. She runs outside just in time to stop Benji, who was speeding away.
In the car, Jane tells Benji about the raid. He knows. She asks, again, what he wants to do with the field agent’s identities. She thinks that if they went to the firm’s agents and showed them the truth about the companies for which they spy, many agents would gladly come over to their cause. Benji disagrees. Besides, he doesn’t want to work with the firm’s agents: he wants to expose them. Jane argues that the agents might be killed, but Benji says that would be a consequence of their actions. Jane confesses that she lost the phone and couldn’t get the contacts. Benji is upset, but he still invites her to run away with him. They can escape into Canada via some sympathetic truckers and can rebuild the East together. As drawn to Benji as she is, Jane turns his offer down, and they part ways.
Jane goes to a bathroom. She roots around in her mouth, gags, and pulls out the Listerine strips packet. She tied a piece of floss around the packet, tied the other end of the floss to her tooth, and swallowed the packet. Inside is her SIM card, on which she saved the pictures of the different field agents. The end credits show Jane contacting and recruiting different agents to join her in a different fight against corrupt corporations.
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