First, a caveat…this website isn’t very old, and this is the third movie to be reviewed titled either Circle or The Circle. They’re all very different too. Circle (2015) is a hard-driving low-budget sci-fi flick about 50 people who are abducted by aliens and forced to kill each other. The Circle (2014) is a touching Swiss docudrama about one of Europe’s first homosexual publications and one of the EU’s first gay marriages. The Circle (2017) is a sci-fi drama based on a David Egger’s book ruminating about our willingness to sacrifice privacy to corporate overlords and what big data means to our human connections.
Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is an impoverished college graduate who, through the help of her friend (yay networking!), gets a job at The Circle, a fictional company that operates like an amalgam of Facebook, Google, and Apple. The Circle has a private campus where they have doctors, stores, night clubs and concerts by Beck. The charismatic-but-a-touch-geeky Steve-Jobs-aping CEO Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) leads weekly sermons promoting new invasive products, like the SeeChange, a network of tiny internet cameras that can be surreptitiously installed all around the world in an array of camouflaging colors. A pair of cheerleaders pressure Mae into filling out profiles, reading and sending emails, and participating in every event (not that it is mandatory, participation is at her own discretion, but she was missing from all of the events on her first weekend!). It’s exactly the company you’ve always wanted to work for!
If this all seems a little paranoid,
wait until The Circle kidnaps Mae and turns her into a Human CentiPad. Sorry, wrong show. The Circle isn’t a terrible company from the inside – they take care of their employees’ health free of charge, and even help care for Mae’s MS-afflicted father – but, red flags arise quickly when Mae posts a picture of an amazing chandelier made by her country wannabe-boyfriend, Mercer, only to find that Mercer is being forced off the grid after being stalked and receiving death threats when the progressives at The Circle notice the chandelier was made of antlers. Wait…are you sure this isn’t South Park? Wasn’t this a plot from that season with PC Principal? Where’s Lorde?
Despite all of this, Mae decides to “Go Transparent” and becomes a shooting star employee at The Circle. That is, she decides to wear a camera 24/7 broadcasting her almost every thought, barring 3 minute bathroom breaks. She is followed around by a commentariat who post about the events both in Mae’s life and on their own (i.e. “I’m really late for school, but I can’t stop watching this girl waking up.”). These comments blip up and disappear so fast you can’t read them all – even appearing in foreign languages and alphabets – at once demonstrating their lack of importance and their disposability. Their inanity and wit are pure YouTube (once you eliminate 95% of YT’s troll army).
The first 85 minutes of The Circle would form a pretty good pilot for a television series about our willingness to invade our own privacy for a little promise of fame and fortune. There’s plenty of workplace drama as Mae’s only friend at The Circle, a speed-popping world-traveling executive, is being pushed out by the executives while having a nervous breakdown. Meanwhile, drone employees use tons of peer pressure to push for an ever increasing fealty to Big Data and its corporate holders. In the executive offices, Mae and Emon float an idea to tie The Circle software in with national voting software to “ensure” voting participation. There’s even a subplot with the original developer of the software behind The Circle who has gone missing and is now stalking the campus like some sort of Phantom of the Internet. The emotional climax that happens at the end of the 85 minutes would have been a great cliffhanger as The Circle looks deeper into the world of “transparency.” An Orwellian deep dive into the world of peer pressure, oversharing and corporate control of the government is exactly the type of show I want.
And then it all falls apart.
This is one of those movies where I imagine the writers found themselves at the end of Act 2 and discovered they already had written 90 pages. Trying to keep the script until 120 pages (this is a 110 minute movie), they speed through a rushed underdeveloped finale that completely confuses the message without adding much to the story. I’m not going to tell you the ending, but…it sucks…hard. It will kill any appreciation you had for the movie that preceded it. Just replace this ending with the mental image of some sort of weird Black Mirror-lite series, and it will all be better…