Image Nation Abu Dhabi/Playtone/Europa Corp/STX Entertainment
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Produced by Anthony Bregman/Gary Goetzman/Tom Hanks/James Ponsoldt
Screenplay by James Ponsoldt/Dave Eggers
Based on “The Circle” by Dave Eggers
You know what THE CIRCLE could have used? Paddy Chayefsky. See, he understood satire. As anybody who has seen “Network” and “The Hospital” can attest to. He understood that when you have an absurd premise you have to kinda embrace that absurdity and make it work for you. He understood that the wit, irony and sarcasm of satire could make his point about societal issues much better than by relentlessly pounding his audience over the head with those issues.
Which is the main problem with THE CIRCLE. At it’s core, it can be considered a horror movie. One in which social media is The Monster. Technology is not our friend in this movie. And the men who control that technology use that it to enslave people by convincing them that technology will make their lives easier, better and oh, so much more fun. In the world of THE CIRCLE you’re not really a fully functioning human being unless your life is being lived online, every aspect, every thought and feeling shared with millions of faceless strangers that you only interact with through a computer screen.
Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is overjoyed when her best friend Annie (Karen Gillan) gets her a job interview at The Circle, an enormously powerful Internet corporation that appears to be a mashup of Apple, Google and Facebook. If and when you see this movie, if you find that The Circle’s enormously charming and charismatic head and co-founder Eamon Bailey seems to remind you a lot of Steve Jobs, I’d say there’s an excellent chance that he’s supposed to.
Mae comes to work at The Circle and her life immediately starts to get better. She’s able to get her parents (Bill Paxton, Glenne Headly) on her medical plan which means that her father can get treatments for his MS. She can buy a better car. Her ex-boyfriend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane) is leery of The Circle and all of their social platforms that are way too hungry for personal information for his taste. But Mae is enjoying it all. The Circle is like one big college dorm with parties going on and a seemingly endless variety of activities for it’s employees to enjoy. In what is the movie’s best scene, one that demonstrates how the movie could have been more satirical, two Circle employees exhibit cult like behavior as they cheerfully attempt to talk Mae into spending more time on campus, indulging in the numerous activities available and then sharing her experiences online. They are honestly curious as to why she wouldn’t want to fully embrace the multiple social media sharing platforms of The Circle.
“Sharing Is Caring” “Secrets Are Lies” “Privacy Is Theft” “Knowing Is Good. Knowing Everything Is Better” These are the slogans of The Circle, fostering a sort of Orwellian philosophy promoted by Eamon Bailey as his right-hand man and co-founder Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt) quietly works in the background and there are strong hints he’s manipulating elected government officials such as Congresswoman Santos (Judy Reyes) Mae meets the third co-founder of The Circle, Ty Lafitte (John Boyega) who has withdrawn from the day-to-day operations of The Circle and tells Mae two things: that he did not create The Circle for the purpose it serves now and she is not to trust anybody in or anything about The Circle.
But that’s kind of hard for Mae to do when in a series of spectacularly unbelievable events, she becomes the poster girl of The Circle. Mae elects to go “Fully Transparent” and walks around with a camera pinned to her so that every minute of her life can be observed online. Mae has tasted the Circle’s Kool-Aid and likes it just fine and it’s not long before she’s proposing that everybody in the United States should be mandated to become members of The Circle.
There’s two main problems I had with THE CIRCLE. The first is that it takes itself way too seriously. The social commentary on the evils of social media is shoved front and center and that’s the one note the movie never leaves. As I said earlier, some sprinkling of satire would at least have given the movie some much needed humor.
The second problem? The waste of talent. The movie’s MVP’s are Karen Gillan, Bill Paxton (this is his final movie role) and Glenne Headly. They’re the only ones in the movie that bring their characters to life and when they’re on screen, the movie’s energy level rises considerably. Emma Watson appears to have been taking acting lessons from Kristen Stewart as she runs the gamut of emotions from A to B. Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt have roles that are little more than extended cameos and any movie that doesn’t take advantage of the considerable talent of Judy Reyes is just criminal, far as I’m concerned. John Boyega gets to do little more than lurk in the background and act mysterious for most of the movie in what is yet another criminal waste of exceptional talent.
My recommendation? If you’re really interested, wait for THE CIRCLE to show up on Netflix, Amazon or Hulu and watch it at home. It’s not that it’s a bad movie. Just one that is unnecessary. Maybe if it had come out years ago before social media became such a dominant element in human society and had the same prophetic elements that made “Network” such a brilliant exploration of where television was going to go and done the same for social media it might have had some impact. Now? Too late. Way too late.