The Circle

Studio: STX Entertainment
Directed by James Ponsoldt

Apr 28, 2017 Web Exclusive
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Complete disregard for a person’s fundamental need for privacy is a bad, bad thing, even when it comes in the name of a greater good. (Even Bruce Wayne figured that much out.) Most people will likely balk at the idea of cameras watching them at all times, or a shady, quasi-government corporation analyzing their secrets and emotions for profitable data. To buy in to The Circle in even the slightest, you’ll have to accept a premise where all but the farthest outliers of American society would be willing to surrender their last shreds of privacy in exchange for social media likes.

When Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), the Steve Jobs-ian head of a nightmarishly hip Facebook/Google amalgamation known as The Circle, goes ahead and builds Batman’s all-knowing surveillance machine, that’s only the beginning – and the public welcomes it.  

Enter Mae Holland, a wide-eyed “guppie” – as new recruits at The Circle’s Utopian campus are called – who’s just thrilled to have landed her dream job at the world’s trendiest MegaCorporation. Sure, she’s a little spooked by the prospect of Big Brother at first, but after her ailing father is invited onto the healthcare plan and her own life is saved thanks to one of The Circle’s all-seeing cameras, she starts chugging the company Kool Aid. (Literaly chugging: a clause in the employment contract requires Circle staffers to drink a high-tech smoothie containing tiny sensors that track their movements and vitals.) After a meteoric rise within the company’s rank and file, Mae is invited to become The Circle’s new spokesperson by “going fully transparent” – wearing and being monitored by cameras at all times in a Truman Show-like living hell, her every moment broadcast to millions, save for absurdly short three-minute blackout periods when she’s expected to go potty.

The Circle is frustrating in spite of its inherently huggable cast, who are likability boiled down into a weaponized form – Watson and Hanks are joined by Patton Oswalt, Karen Gillan, Star Wars’ John Boyega, and Ellar Coltrane, the kid from Boyhood. Unfortunately, there probably isn’t going to be a person sitting in the audience who’s a bigger dolt than our heroine, who doesn’t see this scary corporation for the invasive monster that the rest of us do. It takes her most of the film’s runtime to figure out what we did in the movie's first 20 minutes.  

For what it’s worth, though, the social media comments Mae receives – which appear on screen throughout the film whenever Mae is “transparent” – are hilarious in their mundanity. Someone, somewhere, had to come up with a comments like “I have a hangnail,” and then someone else, somewhere else, had to superimpose those over shots of Emma Watson brushing her teeth. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself more interested in constantly-flashing non-sequiturs than in Mae’s painfully slow journey towards the truth. 

Author rating: 3/10

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Average reader rating: 2/10



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Michael Shores
April 30th 2017
7:52am

The critics don’t seem to understand this book or film.  It’s not about The Circle or Eamon or even Mae.  It is about us, or rather the us that has embraced free search engines, twitter, snapchat, facebook and all of the ways that the web has trapped so many of us.  And that is what makes the film so uncomfortable to watch.  It’s about Mae’s co-workers and the ordinary people who track down the criminal and Mae’s boyfriend.  One does not have to delve very far into psychology to understand that behavior like this is not only possible, but is in the wiring of our brains.