Overview: A young woman lands a highly coveted job at tech giant The Circle, but soon finds herself challenged by a host of moral dilemmas when her boss asks her to participate in an experiment for the company. STX Entertainment; 2017; Rated PG-13; 110 minutes.
All Eyes On You: Based on Dave Eggers’s 2013 novel of the same name, The Circle carries a premise that is equal parts ridiculous and believable. Though this sounds like a bizarre contradiction, the film taps into the overblown tech anxiety buzzing everywhere from The White House to personal consumers and amplifies those fears into a semi-realistic, not-so-distant projection of the future. Mae Holland (Emma Watson), a newbie at tech giant The Circle, attempting to quickly adapt to the oversharing company culture feels the call to go “transparent,” streaming her every moment after The Circle’s many hidden cameras incidentally save her life. This social experiment turns Mae into a star at the company, landing her in top-secret meetings with her Steve Jobsian boss Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), in which she suggests that every American of voting age must be required to sign up for a Circle account to vote. Mae wants to streamline all aspects of citizens’ lives with The Circle, and encourages the powers that be to “go transparent” to the degree that she has. Mae’s embrace of social technology is contradicted by ex-boyfriend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane). Mercer represents Mae’s simplistic life before the flashy, streamlined tech lifestyle of The Circle, and as she continues to remove her boundaries, Mercer demands that she respect his. He does not exist online (with consent at least) and refuses to sign up for The Circle, but that all changes when Mae posts his craftsmanship on her Circle account without his permission. Ultimately, Mercer and Mae’s tensions continue to build in the film due to the invasion of privacy she inflicted upon him.
These issues of privacy, and consent to sharing images of oneself, are not unwarranted. We live in a world where there’s already 2 million cameras tracking United Kingdom citizens alone, a number that will only continue to increase—and that’s only a portion of the 1 billion smartphone cameras we have among us. Facebook, the social giant that The Circle seems to be most heavily based upon, made it clear at their F8 conference earlier in April that your camera is going to be the linchpin of their newest social technology. Google Brain can now make you more accessible than ever, regardless of if you want to be or not. We also rightfully demand increased transparency from our governmental agencies, with some good consequences (such as the increase of police officers wearing body cameras), and some bad (like our world leader incessantly Tweeting about our national security). As we advance, so does tech, and with more tech creates more data—endless, boundless amounts of data that we generate every time we touch our phones, computers, smartwatches, AI speakers, on top of all the data generated from security cameras, body cameras, and more. Couple all of that with the recent Republican-led rollback of online privacy laws, and it’s likely that we will be facing some major ethical and social concerns in the very near future. For one, we have to ask ourselves: what do we do with all this data? Or rather, what might this data, and the systems we have to process it, do to us? The Circle skims along the surface of these questions, but despite its best efforts, never seems to dig a little deeper.
Is That Irish Or American?: While The Circle feels timely and tries hard to broach the concept of digital privacy, it struggles from a leaden performance by Emma Watson. Watson’s distracting American accent comes across as Irish for half the film, heavily contrasting with the down-home background we’re meant to believe she comes from. It’s strange that Watson, and John Boyega’s throwaway character for that matter, are doing their best at Americanized accents, but Karen Gillan keeps her Scottish lilt. All distracting accent choices aside, Watson doesn’t feel like the best pick for Mae Holland. She comes across as more sophisticated than Mae seems like she should be, and it shows. Watson’s general affability is her only real saving grace here; it’s clear she’s doing the best she can with the material she’s been given, but even her wide-eyed excitement over a more unified, Circle-ized society can’t save the denseness of the dialogue. There’s also a lack of emotional investment that plagues The Circle. Too many characters appear within the 110 minute runtime for us to truly care about them, muddled with poorly-explained introductions as to why we should be caring about them. Even Tom Hanks feels like he’s sleepwalking through The Circle, which is a real testament to the film’s writing deficits. When the big reveal happened at the end of the film and the credits began to roll, I turned to my movie companion and asked, “that’s it?” That moment was the first time in nearly two hours that I was curious about what might happen to any of these characters, and that’s a real disappointment for a film that showed a lot of promise.
Overall: In the end, The Circle is plugged into the right ideas on digital privacy, yet seems to lose sight of its main purpose: to entertain.
Featured Image: STX Entertainment