Movie Review: The Circle (2017)
Here’s the biggest problem with this piece of crap.
We think our hero, Mae (Emma Watson), views The Circle, a Silicon Valley megacompany, with the same cynical eye we do. She even jokes with a savvy insider, Ty Lafitte (John Boyega), about people who drink the Kool-Aid. They laugh about it together at a company event.
Then she not only drinks the Kool-Aid, she bathes in it. She becomes the Kool-Aid. She starts out reluctant to update her profile on True You, The Circle’s Facebook, then agrees to have her entire life recorded 24/7 (w/bathroom breaks). It’s called “going transparent.” And in this way she accumulates millions of followers and thus power. During her day, random comments waft around her like perfume. And she seems perfectly happy with it! She doesn’t see the danger! She agrees with CEO/guru Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and COO Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt) that transparency equals accountability and privacy is for losers!
Basically she becomes LonelyGirl15 2.0.
Even inadvertently broadcasting her parents having sex doesn’t make her rethink any of it! No, she doubles down. Eamon is working on a proposal that would allow voter registration through True You, but she goes further: She suggests every person be required to have a True You account. That it would be law. It’s an idiotic, illegal proposal but Bailey and Stenton nod like it’s wisdom, or at least strategy, and she puffs up, proud, at her little foray into petty tyranny and thought control.
Which means our hero is not only stupid, she's horrible.
Sure, she finally sees the light when she causes the death of her longtime friend, and gentle soul, Mercer (Ellar Coltrane of “Boyhood”). During one of The Circle’s “all hands” meetings—which are like a mix of pep rally and TED talk—she uses her tens of millions of followers, along with The Circle’s “SeeChange” camera devices stationed all over the world, to track down a British woman who locked her kids in a closet and went on vacation. (They starved to death.) But they do it—they track her down and she's brought to justice. Yay for The Circle! Yay for Mae! Then someone shouts out that they should track down Mercer, too, who sells chandeliers of antlers, and everyone agrees; and though Mae knows it’s wrong she goes along with it. Hey, guess where he is? In a cabin in the wilderness. But he’s found! And he flees from the attention! Into his truck! And onto a highway! And guess what happens? Yeah. Bye-bye, Mercer. And the movie turns somber, and quiet, and montage-y, as Mae rethinks her recent life choices.
And gradually she begins to see what we saw an hour ago, so she teams up with Ty to get back at The Circle. How? By suggesting that Bailey and Stenton go transparent. All of their emails, their IMs, their VMs, their corporate strategizing. On stage, the two men eye each other warily, then look angry, then Stenton stomps off.
But all I kept thinking was, “No one thought of this before? The hell?”
More, I’m curious what Eamon Bailey’s end-game is. We never really find out. I don’t think it’s particularly malicious, I just think he has a double-standard. He wants his privacy but no one else’s, since everyone else’s gets in the way of the data he wants to record and store and filter, which will get at the heart of, I don’t know, being human or something. But I never did figure out any specific end-game.
But Mae, our horrible, stupid protagonist, wins in the end. Kinda sorta. There’s a weird ambiguity in the final scene. Mae goes kayaking—always her one respite—and she’s surrounded by drones. And she doesn’t seem to mind. Because...? Because she's horrible or because she's smart or because she's a 21st century automaton inured to it all?
I like casting Hanks as the villain, but that’s about the only thing I liked with “The Circle.” Watson, or her character, isn’t particularly likeable even in the early going. And then of course she becomes a Circle jerk.
Here’s advice to anyone in Hollywood making a movie about Silicon Valley tech companies: We don’t like them. We don’t like them because...
- ...they have more interesting jobs than we do
- ...that pay way, way better
- ...and that make products that make us feel stupid
Keep all that in mind if you’re going to do one of these in the future. Oh, and don't turn your heroes into assholes, either.