Movie Review: The Circle

Tom Hanks. New movie. That was all I needed. Is The Circle Bridge of Spies or Mazes and Monsters?

While desperate to find a more fulfilling job Mae, played by Emma Watson, is hired by the Circle, a social media conglomerate. As she moves further up the chain, Mae realizes that the Circle is far more sinister than she anticipated.

With any satire it is best to not put too much thought into it. Held up to enough scrutinity most satirical works would utterly fall apart. What makes those works compelling is how they embody their respective themes. You are meant to take them at face value and acknowledge the blatancy of their message. Do you know how much sense RoboCop would make if you really thought about it? Suddenly a story about the dangers of corporatization with fascist undertones makes a whole lot less sense.

That is the case with Circle because it is dumber than hell. To think about the logistics required and level of behavioral conditioning to make any of what is going on possible would render the film even dumber. Such is the nature of satire because you cannot understand its themes without suspension of disbelief. I watched a “Midnight Screenings” review of the movie and Brad Jones could not separate logic from a story that was not supposed to be logical.

Satire is designed to make you think and Circle gives you a lot to consider. The conceit of the movie is social media is a self-creating surveillance platform. By posting information, videos, and pictures, we unintentionally create a digital profile for companies to exploit at will. It also centralizes our online activities where various processes are funneled through a single service that manages everything on top of social media. Imagine Zola’s algorithm from Winter Soldier, but with Facebook, Google, and Amazon as one company.

With a centralized Internet, you have everyone knowing everything about each other. It is not just the company running the show, but your friends, family, and coworkers. Information is out in the open and available to anyone that bothers to look. This creates a hive mind mentality where you know people before they know you and vice versa. Suddenly you do not live your life according to life, but through the filter of social media. There is no sense of discovery or the joy of meeting new people because you looked them up beforehand. And as social media grows beyond a trend, it becomes an essential part of life that everyone must adopt.

Circle presents these ideas in a way that leaves you to make up your own mind. On the one hand, being fully transparent keeps everyone honest. No one has anymore secrets because you are constantly out in the open. However, by making transparency a part of daily life, privacy dies. With a centralized Internet that becomes vital to existence, being transparent and subject to a hive mind forgoes any notion of personal solitude. You cannot do or say anything online without everyone knowing what is going on. Is being honest with the world really important enough to sacrifice your privacy?

The questions Circle asks are provocative. The actual film is pretty stupid. Why anyone would go along with full transparency is moronic. It makes sense given the Mae character is an idiot that thinks streaming her every waking second to the world is a good idea. The lunacy reaches its pique when a mob-sourced Orwellian tracking program unintentionally kills her friend. She seems totally fine with people invading each other’s privacy until people start invading each other’s privacy.

Watson was not that great in her performance. I understand mastering another accent is difficult, but she could have at least tried to sound enthusiastically inconsistent. Most of the time she was edging into Natalie Portman terriotiry. Granted, she was not as bad as the Boyhood kid as Mercer, the one who dies. Hanks was obviously the better, even though he had maybe 25 minutes of screen time. John Boyega showed up as Ty and did an adequate job. Seeing him made me want to watch Force Awakens again. Karen Gillan stood out because she had the most to do. She does a great job of showing how crazy you can get when you realize you work in a hive mind.

If you want to watch The Circle, be sure to leave logic at the door. There is not a single frame of footage that would standup to conventional rationality or common sense. See it as a satire because it was made to be a satire. Otherwise, it sucks and you lose what makes it mostly okay.

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