Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Movie Review: The Circle

Will Emma Watson drink the Orwellian Kool-Aid?


STX Entertainment

If Facebook were a tech company headquartered in Hell—and who's to say it actually isn't, eh?—it might closely resemble The Circle, the blandly creepy organization at the center of the new movie by director James Ponsoldt (The End of the Tour). The picture is based on a 2013 novel by Dave Eggers, and it shows us a world in which individual privacy has withered, and heedless vigilantism is routinely fanned into online witch hunts. This ugly digital future is a little less-disturbing than it might have been, because in many ways it's already arrived.

Emma Watson is Mae Holland, a young Bay Area woman who's rescued from a dismal temp job by a call from her longtime friend Annie (Karen Gillan), who works at The Circle and gets a job interview for Mae so that she can come onboard, too. (The interview is a typically whimsical nerd interrogation: "Joan Baez or Joan Crawford? Sushi or Soylent?") The company is a shiny paradise in which employees are coddled at every turn. There are support groups for all sorts of life annoyances, and off-campus party excursions at which stars like Beck provide the entertainment. All of the employees seem to be young, and all are deliriously enthusiastic. Soon Mae is installed in a deluxe dorm room, marveling at her amazing luck.

The first unsettling sign that something's not quite right at this place is a visit from two team-leader-type employees who are concerned that Mae is remaining a little too mysterious: she has to be much more active on social media, and to start dealing with the thousands of friendly messages she's been letting go unanswered. Also, it's been noticed that she doesn't come into the office on weekends—not that there's anything wrong with that.

Mae quickly gets with the program, and soon comes to the attention of The Circle's beamingly avuncular leader, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), and his purring subordinate, Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt). At the "Dream Friday" gatherings he runs in the company auditorium, Bailey strides the stage like the ghost of Steve Jobs. He's currently talking up a tiny new camera the company has developed that can be unobtrusively stuck on a wall to broadcast what it sees, in real time, to Circle subscribers worldwide. The camera is called SeeChange, and it's a powerful human-rights weapon, Bailey says: "Tyrants and terrorists can no longer hide." Nor, of course, can anyone else.

Not everyone buys into The Circle's life-swallowing agenda. Mae's parents (Glenne Headly and the late Bill Paxton, in his last movie role) give it a try, but bail out rather than sacrifice their privacy. (They're old, what're you gonna do?) Also resistant is Mae's once-close pal Mercer (Ellar Coltrane, of Boyhood), who is found by Circle honchos to be guilty of not staying in close-enough touch with her—of not accepting the necessity of constant online connection. Mercer comes to regret this. Also skeptical, as Mae eventually learns, is a mysterious guy named Kalden (John Boyega), who as a cofounder of The Circle knows some alarming things about it.

Unfortunately, nothing about the movie is quite alarming enough. There's no menace beyond The Circle's determined creation of an all-encompassing surveillance state—and don't we already live in one of those? Nothing new seems to be at stake. This is a non-sci-fi movie that might have been improved by the addition of an alien invasion.

Still there's a real totalitarian chill to some of the rationalizations put forth here for a society in which everyone is constantly logged on and keeping track of what everyone else is up to. There's nowhere to hide—and that's felt to be good. "Secrets are what make crimes possible," says one character. "When you're depriving others of your experiences," Bailey asserts, "you're stealing from them."

It's as disconcerting as always to recognize how easily this sort of agenda can be sold to so many people. Drawn ever more deeply into The Circle, even Mae not only drinks the Kool-Aid, but soon starts doing laps in it. "Do you believe you behave better or worse when you're being watched?" Bailey asks her at one point. "Better," she says.

NEXT: Yes, Science, But How About a March for Math?

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  1. that might have been improved by the addition of an alien invasion.

    See? Krugnutz was right, Bastiat was wrong!

    1. I’m starting to believe that reason commenters could be replaced by a sufficiently trained AI.

      1. You guys are not commenting enough. We might need to have a talk about that. Also, I’ve noticed you haven’t been commenting on the weekends, NTTIAWWT.

        1. If John weren’t dead he’d be going on and on right now about how Emma Watson is overrated and not sexy and therefore a threat to him somehow.

          1. Wait… is John really dead? Anyone have a link to the details??

            I’ve always enjoyed his posts.

            1. Rumors of John’s death may be great exaggerated.

              1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

                This is what I do..,.,.,.,.,. http://www.careerstoday100.com

            2. No, he just got all pissed off one day and announced that almost everyone still commenting here was stupid. I don’t think he’s been seen here since.

              1. He’d always done that at least once a week. What was different about this time?

        2. Yeah, Tulpa, get it together!

          1. Don’t hate me because I’m obstreperous.

  2. While I’m mildly curious to see it, it might be one I wait out on Netflix. The book, while overlong, is a dark satire that’s actually hilarious in places. It’s a bit like reading Nineteen Eighty-Four with the main character being replaced by a female Mr. Bean. I’m not sure how well that translates to the screen, and this review doesn’t really say.

    1. Agreed- I thought the book was a pretty good We/1984 trope, though not quite as well done.

      If there is anything I felt the book missed, it was that they invested the authoritarianism in a couple of characters, where the real threat seems to be coming from a collective authoritarianism. Stories always need to put a face to the bad guy, but in reality, the “Bad Guy” changes every week- every time some new twitter fanatic, you tuber or other flash in the pan pundit makes some quip that the masses confuse for poignant insight in a viral conflagration of condemnation.

      Unfortunately, in the book, the masses are more dupes than conspirators- they are all happy people seeking inclusion and having a little bit of fun. The book centers most of the blame on a couple characters, in many ways absolving the social media participants from their part in the coming dystopia.

      1. I do love the dreck that gets “mistaken for poignant insight” these days. I love the clickbait headlines that start with, “She had the perfect response to [insert person we’re supposed to hate]!”

    2. It could afford to wait for netflix. It was okay. It seemed to be selling the fact that privacy is long gone and we should all just accept it, everyone should be “transparent” and cameras should record everything because then no one will do anything they shouldn’t be doing. Also everything you have ever done or said should online and available for everyone. The movie embraces that thought, not what I was expecting out of the movie.

  3. Yeah, yeah, but is it “dystopian”? If it isn’t “dystopian” I’m not paying a dime to see it, and by not paying a dime I mean I’ll gladly watch a pirated version like a good little anarchist.

    1. There’s an app for that

    2. The story is pre-distopia. It ends right as the collective is at the point of driving us all straight to hell.

  4. it shows us a world in which individual privacy has withered, and heedless vigilantism is routinely fanned into online witch hunts

    Come on, that’s completely unrealistic.

    1. It’s pretty surreal that these Hollywood actors will make a movie that satirizes the Silicon Valley dogma that increasing technological sophistication and degraded personal privacy are inherently good things for society, while sharing the same political ideology as the entrepreneurs and politicians who actually believe it.

      1. I know!!!!!
        That is exactly what gets me!

        There was a storyline in season 6 of The Office in which Kelly participates in a corporate program for racial minorities wherein she gets all sorts of special training and whatnot. The show completely mocks the idea of such programs – Kelly is completely incompetent; Kelly doesn’t feel she’s ever been harmed by her skin color; Kelly just goofs off all day as part of the program; even the program’s name (“Print in All Colors”) is satirical.
        Obviously the writers understand how worthless and potentially harmful reverse-discrimination programs are.
        Yet, those very same people will stop at nothing to ensure progressive politicians are in powers at all levels.
        It’s as if they think reverse-discrimination is funny when part of a sitcom, but somehow cannot see how it works in real life.

        It is one of the most bizarre examples of widespread cognitive dissonance out there.

  5. Unfortunately, nothing about the movie is quite alarming enough.

    Booooooringgg. Maybe they should have had Michael Bay direct it. At least then it would have been full of explosions.

    Emma Watson

    I’ll be in my bunk.

  6. So they expect us to pay money to watch a movie about watching the web watch us?
    Or will they just take it directly from paypal whether we watch or not?

    1. That is reductionist ridiculousness. It’s about an evil company that’s wants to make billions and the product they’re selling is complete surveillance of everything about you. The rest is about Emma Watson embracing that and making it her own so that no one, not even the VIPs, not herself, get any privacy because privacy is a crime because other people’s life values are less than they could be because they can’t what everyone else is doing or has done.

  7. Ads for this movie have been popping up on my Kindle for a month or so, which, now that i know what it’s about, seems appropriate.

  8. it shows us a world in which individual privacy has withered, and heedless vigilantism is routinely fanned into online witch hunts.

    IOW it’s a documentary.

    1. I thought Atlas Shrugged was sort of a documentary novel.

      1. Atlas Shrugged was prophecy.

  9. “When you’re depriving others of your experiences,” Bailey asserts, “you’re stealing from them.”

    Not giving is taking, IOW.

    1. This is not new. For decades Democrats have claimed that rich people who “don’t pay their fair share” are actually stealing from the poor. It doesn’t matter that they never define what “their fair share” is or acknowledge that the wealthy are complying with the law.

      The claim that failing to give is really theft is one of the more Orwellian concepts the left has come up with.

  10. What would be interesting [at least to me] and possibly relevant is a poll taken of patrons as they exit the theatre.

    1. Did you find the film disturbing in any way? If so, how?

    2. Do you agree that you behave better when you’re being watched? Is this a good thing?

    Depending on the venue, I predict a pretty significant number would not be all that bothered by these themes. They would mostly just want “their people” to be doing the watching.

  11. Squirrels still eating comments apparently. If this is duplicate that is why:

    I would like to see a poll taking of theater patrons after seeing this movie.

    1. Did you find this movie disturbing? Why or why not?

    2. Do you agree that you behave better when you are being watched? If so, how?

    I predict that, depending on the venue, a significant number would not be all that bothered by these themes. As for 1984, that’s just about Trump stuff.

    1. ok, blame the squirrels, or my impatience.

      1. ‘refresh’ the page after commenting. That works for me.

        1. Preview. If your name appears, post. Wait at least 20 seconds. Refresh. Login again. Refresh. Preview. If your name appears, post. Wait at least 20 seconds. Refresh.

  12. In this movie, does the company suggest that politicians always wear one of these cameras as a way to combat corruption?

    1. That was a major theme in the novel, which was horrible.

    2. Actually, that subject is broached…

  13. Does anyone else think that in the first movie when Hermione was frozen and defenseless and wearing that short and sexy skirt, Harry and the red-headed kid had their best chance but blew it?

  14. Plenty of Silicon Valley firms would be just like this, if only they had infinite money, didn’t have to produce, and only needed a marketing department.

    1. Good point. Just because they want to do this doesn’t mean that they CAN do it. Not if they expect to make money and stay in business. That’s exactly why all the big businesses turn to government for help.

  15. You know, I really don’t want people watching me pick my nose and go to the bathroom, but hey, maybe there are people who get off on that kind of thing. And if they do, then it’s only fair that I get to watch them get off on it, right? Sauce for the goose, etc.

    1. It’s an MMP circle-jerk.

  16. Emma Watson has drunk deeply of the Orwellian kool-aid…wait, you mean the character she plays, no idea.

  17. The softthreat in this movie is a feature, not a bug. The film isnt as menacing as you’s like precisely because the message its trying to send is that the surveilance state won’t be all that bad, so just embrace it.

    1. And that’s some menacing shit.

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