The Circle (2016)
It is always disappointing when an extremely popular actor appears in a movie of less than worthy construction. In other words, even the best actors take jobs in movies that are utter failures. For Emma Watson this lamentable occurrence was found in her recent flick, ‘The Circle.’ There is no question that people set out to watch this movie even if they weren’t certain of such matters as a premise. Ms. Watson grew up before the eyes of her fans during over a decade of the ‘Harry Potter’ Saga. Enhancing this effect is indubitably her post-Potter work with the United Nations on behalf of women’s rights. It is an, unfortunately, fact of life that people engaged in the entertainment industry must consider the means of artistic expression as their job. Some work is not as enjoyable or productive as other assignments. We all have first-hand experience with this phenomenon whenever a boss comes up with a horrendous assignment. I admit that this prologue to the actual consideration of the film is out of respect for this talented actor. The statements do apply to many if not most actors of substantial reputation. For validation, please consider Halle Berry in ‘Catwoman (2004) or for Doctor Who fans, ‘The Lair of the White Worm (1988)’, starring a very young Peter Capaldi. Actors need to work which does involve projects not prominently featured on their resume. ‘The Circle’ suffered from would best be described as anti-synergism’, the sum of the individual parts was less than the whole. The primary premise was socially relevant and of contemporary concern directly targeted to a millennial audience. The story considers the impact the significant penetration that social media obsession has had on such fundamental concepts of privacy, transparency and accepting responsibility. Some may wonder how themes like these presented by a top-notch cast could go wrong. The answer to that question is easily resolved by watching the film. This action will require consigning yourself to the loss of 119 minutes that could have been more productively spent playing Minesweeper. I realize that’s a bit harsh, the film does manage to make some cognizant points but overall it is difficult to accept such a waste of potential.
Mae Holland (Emma Watson), is a young woman who is just starting out in life. As with most in this position in life, Mae is unsure of which direction she wants that nascent should take. Her friend, Annie Alberto (Karen Gillan), is employed in one of the world’s leading high technology firms, The Circle. Mae manages to get a job as in the Customer Experience department. It is obvious by merely having an ambiguous title department is a strong indication that its corporate mandate is not set along traditional lines. A supporting factor is seen when Mae attends a company-wide meeting. If you have ever attended such a mandated function the last term that would come to mind as a description would be exciting or life-changing. Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), is the energetic corporate leader that has become newsworthy in recent years. During the meeting, he is introducing a revolutionary new concept, ‘SeeChange.’ Through the deployment of a myriad of small video cameras strategically placed in every conceivable nook and cranny, life will be broadcast in real time. He continues to explain that the problems that have continually plague humanity come down to secrets. Hiding information results in distrust, animosity, and discord. By streaming everything possible, a global age of transparency will usher in peace and tranquility. No tyrant will be able to act against the population. No government can infringe on the rights of the governed and people will not be able to take advantage of the weak and vulnerable. Mae sat transfixed by the magnitude of this world-changing moment. Energized, Mae embraces the corporate culture that pervades The Circle by throwing herself into her presence in social media. She rises quickly in the organization. The similarities between life in The Circle and a cult become increasingly apparent. The co-founder of The Circle, Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt), moves the company in a political direction by introducing a potential candidate.
Later, Bailey and Stenton approach Mae with a career opportunity that will put her in the vanguard of a new social movement. Ty Lafitte (John Boyega), is the creator of a popular product of the company, ‘True You.’ He encounters Mae, offering her to show her something special, the place where all the personal information is retained is shown a picture of a light fixture in the shape of deer antlers, possibly made from a set. She harmlessly takes a picture sharing it online. Followers jump to the conclusion that her friend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), was responsible for killing the animal. Suddenly, Mercer is the target of a massive campaign of hatred online. This visualization breaks through to reality as people start calling Mercer out in public, cameras recording his reaction hoping for something inflammatory. During some off time, Mae is kayaking at night, admittedly not the best idea especially for an otherwise bright young woman. The kayak overturns necessitating her need to be rescued. It turns out that SeeChange cameras noticed her plight. The story juxtaposes a negative and positive reaction to online content demonstrating the two-edged sword. While this is a positive aspect in this instance, the point is not presented as effectively as possible. It also fell short of providing a suitable showcase for Ms. Watson’s abilities. Mae is offered an opportunity to become the first person to go completely transparent, every moment of her life would be streamed live by wearing a small camera always.
Proving a foil to Mae’s position falls on Annie. She is concerned that full transparency will entirely undermine the fundamental right of a person for privacy. Now it is not ‘Big Brother’ scrutinizing your every move; it is an inordinate number of strangers are privy to each personal moment. Mae inadvertently sees her parents in a very intimate act, trying to look away but not before it is broadcast to the Circle. She quickly discovers that relationships are all but impossible for a person with complete transparency. The dangers inherent in transparency have Annie frightened when Eamon announces support from all 50 states for voting through Circle accounts. Mae doubles down by suggesting that every individual is required to have a Circle account.in an effort to demonstrate the public benefit of this arrangement she states the using The Circle anyone can be located within twenty minutes. Ten minutes after posting a picture of a wanted escaped criminal he is located; the conclusion of the story was plainly telegraphed as if the audience had full transparency regarding the screenwriter’s outline.
The themes presented here are indeed important. They present issues that are a continued source of growing concern. The main problem which prevented the story from achieving its potential lies in its heavy-handed approach to presenting the intrinsic need for privacy and the detrimental results that follow abdicating it so fully. It is a simple matter to see how the seeds of this are already taking root. Not only are millions of regular people posting every action, thought and decision but it is prominent with celebrities and, to the chagrin of many, public officials. The themes were much better handled in several episodes of the incredible British television series, ‘Black Mirror.’ Besides Ms. Watson Academy award winner, Tom Hanks is misplaced in this movie. His reputation is well earned making it obvious that this role could not have offered much in the way expressing his considerable talent.