Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Written by: James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers
Cast: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Ellar Coltrane
Swift shot: When I first heard about The Circle, I was immediately intrigued. I hadn’t heard anything about the Eggers novel of the same name, but this is certainly a movie whose time has come. A movie perhaps set in the future, but the just around the corner future we don’t typically experience in sci-fi flicks. In fact, technology has caught up with our imaginations exponentially over the past few decades.
There isn’t anything particularly remarkable about The Circle, really, we are already there if you’ve ever heard of the NSA’s Prism program and study current events. While The Circle is not about the NSA, it focuses around a fictional civilian company, but it does ask some very difficult questions about the right to privacy and where we are headed as a digital society. The film lacked a kind of edge I was expecting going in, and it wasn’t as thrilling as I was hoping.
Mae Holland (Watson) is a fresh face to the Circle, landing an interview that reminded me more of an interrogation than a standard job interview. Her friend, Annie (Karen Gillan) is one of the gang of forty, a kind of inner circle within the Circle campus, which is headed by CEO Eamon Bailey (Hanks) and COO Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt). Mae is “very excited” and fortunate to have gotten hired as a mere Customer Experience circler, basically someone who takes trouble-calls and resolves customer issues.
At the Circle, her feedback from customers is instant and recorded forever. She is not happy about her 87 out of 100 average after just one week, and when she is confronted about not participating enough in circler activities, she decides to share a nice piece of artwork her friend Mercer (Coltrane) created on the company’s internal “TruYou” page, and that’s when things finally get remotely thrilling.
I mentioned Prism earlier as a guide, but even that doesn’t obtain data at the level that the Circle’s newly minted “SeeCapture” omni cameras can (or at least I hope not). As the film begins, these little mini-sticky cameras have saturated the world in a kind of door-to-door backdoor carpet bombing campaign that Bailey and Stenton immediately put to less than noble uses.
And therein lies the problem with the ideals of the Circle, as we all know the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In the end, the question becomes who controls the circle? That’s another problem, it doesn’t take long to get to that conclusion, it really should be almost immediately, and then you are stuck with watching the rest of the film play out.
As far as the story goes, there’s not much that is unpredictable, except for maybe why Mae is ultimately compelled to keep working for a company she doesn’t fully trust. Her family is the catalyst for her fate.
I wanted to come out of The Circle maybe a bit more enlightened, but that didn’t happen. I still feel that people value, to the death ahem, their fourth amendment right to privacy. Which, in case you forgot it, says:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Not once in The Circle did they mention this pesky little Bill of Right. Perhaps they were trying to appeal to a more global audience, but there’s a reason we lock our doors at night and have passwords and it isn’t always because we are nefarious jerks, some of us just want to keep some things private. The day we willingly give up that right is the day all the others fall. The Circle is supposed to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of giving up that right, but I didn’t feel they made the message clear, in the end. In fact, I am wondering if that wasn’t by design?
If you are a rabid fan of Tom Hanks, you will be happy, even though he barely has any lines in this film, he does make his presence known throughout. Emma Watson, as the plucky guppy treading in a pool of treacherous waters only to be swept away by the power, does a good job as well. Bill Paxton as Mae’s dad steals every scene, and it’s painful to watch as his character is someone in pain, and of course this film was dedicated to him.
The one thing I personally took from The Circle is that I won’t sound like such a nut now when I mention Prism and why it is crucial to fight for your right for privacy. For that alone, I would recommend anyone who thinks it is a grand idea to willingly give up their privacy should check this film out. And remember, if anyone is gathering data on you, it is being used . . . by someone, for something.