How far are we willing to take this whole social media thing? Is it just #millennials #broadcasting their #FOMO? Someday soon it may be #findmyex with your #hiddencamera. That’s where The Circle takes us. It starts with an online profile, moves to affordable spy cameras on every fence (and fiancé), and eventually turns to Batman scanning social media for the Joker. With the new thing being portable cameras and 24-hour streaming, we’re one step closer to the screen-blind passengers on board Wall-E’s cruise ship. I admit I might be curious of Emma Watson’s publicity events – but I’m not terribly drawn to her bathroom routine. What a girl does after she washes her face at the end of the day is sacred business.
Welcome to The Circle; the lovechild of Facebook and Apple. Everything from your contact list to your heart rate can be tracked, stored, and published on one account. The Circle believes its employees need a work/life balance that is measured (and tracked in real-time) by both a professional rating and a popularity number. Am I an 88 or an 89 today? This is relatively easy considering employees of The Circle live, work, and party on campus. Mae (Emma Watson) believes she is very lucky to have landed an internship with this groundbreaking, borderline spy agency. In her first week, The Circle launches affordable, gumball-sized, HD cameras that quickly infect every public space. Not too sure about the ethics behind this Big Brother launch, Mae escapes the buzz one evening to chill on her kayak – only to be rescued by the very cameras she doubted. She becomes a spokesperson for The Circle, dons a 24-hour bodycam, and aids in ushering in new ideas that ensure 100% participation across the globe. Hello eye-strain, goodbye surprise parties.
Mae is quickly welcomed as the new face of the company. She’s a little awkward but it’s nothing The Circle and its forced socialization can’t fix. After her first on-campus rave, Mae feels so confident she walks up to a lonely stranger at midnight, passes some light conversation, drinks from a bottle he stashed in the bushes, and then tries to remember the last five minutes as he unexpectedly walks away. Sound a little like stranger danger? That’s The Circle for you. The most natural of Mae’s conversations are with herself/her online followers. No one wonders why Mae walks alone and narrates her life – she’s an internet sensation. Instead, passersby wave at the pin on her boob and salute her online audience. Just another sunny day in The Circle.
Emma Watson plays a mildly insecure Mae who is in equal parts likable yet frighteningly idealistic. You want to agree with her ideas (even more so when she’s speaking to a crowd) but always question the ethics slightly too late. Mae is the millennial face of The Circle, coached by the huggable Bailey (Tom Hanks) and the profit-focused Stenton (Patton Oswalt). With her eager participation, The Circle’s reach extends well beyond Apple Pay to voter registration and subject tracking. With weekly launches, The Circle turns so fast it can’t see the flushing away of privacy. Even Mae, our quick-thinking, manipulative hero, is too busy looking up to see that she’s falling down. This made The Circle frustrating to watch. It’s an inconclusive movie with frighteningly real suggestions. It made me want to delete all my social medial accounts, pay cash for an RV, and hit the road with a fold-out map.
But it’s so hard to say ‘no’ to the brightest witch of her age and America’s dad. Denying Tom Hanks in a sweater is like telling Tinker Bell you don’t believe in fairies. So when Bailey assures us that global surveillance and forced voting are the first steps to a higher society, we follow along clapping. This doesn’t deny us our giggles when he eventually steps in it and politely cusses.
The Circle gets ever deeper into its own ideology but doesn’t offer a satisfying resolution to pull us out. We’re encouraged to stare at our phones and cross the street, to follow a person’s life more closely than our own, and to upload all our eggs into one un-hackable basket. The story builds relationships that are convenient rather than meaningful, while the main characters are so focused on moving forward that they can’t look left or right. Especially not right. The Circle is an obvious warning not to push too hard on this online community thing. I’m torn on whether I liked it or not, since the acting was decent, the story was surprising, but the message was frustrating. So I give it a 5/10.