"The Circle" Review

Title: The Circle
Director: James Ponsoldt
Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks
Studio: STX Entertainment
Genre(s): Science Fiction
Rated: PG-13 (For a sexual situation, brief strong language and some thematic elements including drug use)

The disappointing thing about “The Circle” is that it asks some timely and important questions that human society is having both socially and politically without ever getting a good idea of what is at the heart of the issues and what it feels about them.  Granted, I’m not always sure how “I” feel about these issues, but I’ve got an idea of where my optimism ends and where my concerns begin, and if I can do that without a college degree, I’d hope professional writers and producers would be able to have a more definitive idea on the subject.  Of course, this is a movie coming from Hollywood, a place George Clooney claimed was “a little out of touch with reality” while he happily accepted an Oscar for Best Support Actor, so maybe the disconnect shouldn’t be too surprising?  Never mind.

If you are reading this review then chances are you are reading it on a mobile device.  It makes me cringe to think that this carefully worded piece of journalistic garbage is being consumed in such a way, but that is the way of the world, and our future does not appear to be changing anytime soon.   We are connected to our mobile devices, taking pictures of everything we see, and vlogging about our lives as if every little thing we do is so important it needs to be chiseled in stone.  Or maybe not, seeing that kids today don’t place a lot of value is physical objects?  I don’t know, I still buy CD’s, so maybe I’m out of my league with this concept myself.  But this the concept of The Circle, which is a company run by Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks, who also produced the film) that seeks to make truth transparent and readily available. 

For his company has set up a massive social media empire that connects to cameras, phones, e-mail, TV’s (which appear to have 3D features in this world, interestingly enough)., computers, and everything that can be plugged in.  He reminds me of a cross between Steve Jobs as Mark Zuckerberg as he talks about all the wonderful things this technology will be able to do, how it will bring people together, all while being oblivious to the potential dangers of creating a system that has its fingers in every aspect of people’s daily lives.  He’s a CEO though, and just interested in progressing his company and making the shareholders happy.  The movie mostly follows a young woman named Mae Holland (Emma Watson), who starts out as a receptionist at the company and is perplexed by the amount of personal information her employers ask of her.

As the film progresses those concerns seem less and less important as she seems to not only buy into The Circle’s bigger philosophy, but even wants to expand the products reach.  She perplexingly tells her parents “just because something is broken doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed.” She says this after a tragedy in the film takes place (that I will not spoil here) that makes us stop and wonder what her real thoughts on The Circle are?  For that matter, throughout the movie I was rarely sure what she thought about the company.  There is much hesitation on her part to participate in the various activities her company boss asks her to do, yet when she does relent she seems to embrace the tasks with little to no thought on what this means for her as a person.  This is where “The Circle” becomes frustratingly vague.  I have no problem with movies letting audiences decide for themselves what things mean. 

I do, however, feel film makers need to make it clear how the protagonist feels about everything happening in their lives, and understand why they do what they do.  For Mae I was never sure what she felt about The Circle or what it was doing.  She never has a moment where she realizes she is more disconnected from the real world more and more each day.  If she is this passive then I suppose it comes as no surprise she becomes a centerpiece for the company’s propaganda machine, but people who are easily manipulated should not be main protagonists because they don’t feel anything.  We are watching a movie character, not manipulating a video game character.  “The Circle” ultimately fails because it is about a concept but not an idea.  People are very aware that privacy may soon be a thing of the past.  What they struggle with is whether they should embrace that future or rebel against it.  “The Circle” is a film that doesn’t know how it feels about either scenario and it shows.

Parents, there is a scene of implied sex, some mild language, a disturbing death, and an undertone of creepiness.  Recommended for ages 13 and up.