“The Circle” Movie Review


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     Director James Ponsoldt’s “The Circle”, based on the novel by Dave Eggers, is clearly attempting to warn us about the pitfalls of social media and the consequences of willfully giving up our rights to privacy in a story that takes place in the not to distant future.  Problem is, the film might be five or so years too late because we are already well within the realm the story takes place in.  Boasting an all star cast that includes Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega,  Patton Oswalt, Ellar Coltrane, and the late Bill Paxton, “The Circle” attempts to bring forth what are presented as big ideas, but clearly loses steam in the third act and doesn't exactly know where to go in order to wrap up the proceedings.  Watching “The Circle” under these circumstances is like receiving a Christmas gift you really wanted, playing with it for about an hour, and then being forced to give it back.  

     When we first meet Mae (Emma Watson), she’s working in a boring call center barely making ends meet.  She lives a simple life, regularly visiting her parents, Vinnie (Bill Paxton) and Bonnie (Glenne Headly), as well as a childhood friend and sometimes boy friend, Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), who passes his time by crafting chandeliers made out of deer horns.  The initial scenes are painted with gloom filled imagery.  Everything from Mae’s work cubicle to her beaten up car function as the visual cues describing her meager and depressing life.  But then everything changes.  Much like those McDonalds commercials we used to watch depicting bored and sad kids doing their homework who are suddenly transported to the glossy confines of a McDonalds restaurant as they smile with glee eating a scrumptious (and artery clogging) Happy Meal, Mae receives a call from a friend named Annie (Karen Gillan) who informs her she has secured Mae an interview with The Circle, a massive tech company combining the familiar real life attributes of Apple and Facebook.

     Like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”, Mae is instantly transported to a land of vivid color and endless imagination.  There is likely no coincidence the filmmakers chose to depict The Circle’s office complex as a near mirror image of Apple’s soon to open “Spaceship Campus” which is also a giant circle in shape and is said to contain many of the amenities we see within The Circle’s fictional campus.  Once hired, Mae, along with the audience, is taken on a tour of the grounds, which includes within its lush greenery, plenty of recreational opportunities, high tech meeting areas, healthy food stops, medical facilities, concert venues, and offices that would have made Steve Jobs proud.  Everyone is surrounded with tech.  Workstations have multiple computer screens, each of which are tracking the details of each and every employees life, conveniently storing the data on cloud based servers buried deep beneath the campus.  

     In doing so, The Circle, as a social media application creates both work and social schedules for the thousands of employees who seem to practically live there.  Within meetings of the top officers of the company, including the two founders, Bailey (Tom Hanks) and Stenton (Patton Oswalt), people speak of grand ideas about where their beloved tech and applications can be improved and further enhance the lives of the hundreds of millions who use the company’s products and services everyday.  It’s made clear within the first few scenes on campus that all of the phones, computers, tablets, and software are all engineered and manufactured by The Circle, and it doesn't appear that there is anyone in place of whom their leaders answer to.  

     The dominating theme of the company’s pursuits is that of transparency amongst the individuals who serve the people, with the obvious target being politicians.  There is also talk of using their social media application to ensure each user votes in every election, an idea that you realize is only building to something even more groundbreaking.  And that’s where the story’s arc ultimately takes us, when Mae volunteers to become “transparent” and attach a camera to her body and one to cover nearly every part of her apartment in order for millions of people to watch her every move, despite the warnings from another high level employee, Ty (John Boyega), who doesn't see eye to eye with the direction The Circle is going.  It all sounds great, until you realize the filmmakers simply ripped off the entire concept behind “The Truman Show” and then fail to take the plot to a logical or satisfying conclusion.  It’s safe to say, a lot of people will leave the theater scratching their head.

     In a society where many of those in the younger generations have spent the majority of their lives having conversations with people represented by text on a smart phone screen and their thumbs doing all of the talking, it was refreshing to see a young character like Mercer who goes out of his way to meet Mae at work so as to actually converse with her in person.  Mae even asks him why he didn't simply call or text, and his answer couldn't have been more appropriate as he tells her he wanted to look into her eyes while telling her something important to him.  Of course, the entire effort is ruined given the setting, when hoards of tech people begin recording the conversation with their phones and millions of people watch via Mae’s body camera as Mercer pleas with her to return to her roots and leave The Circle behind.  It’s at that point, the story really could’ve gone somewhere, but instead, like most people in this world, the addiction to social media proves too powerful to overcome.  The bold ideas the story presents, never actually amount to anything,  resulting in “The Circle” feeling more like an ongoing and endless group text thread.  GRADE: C-