"Flat, Unsatisfying Movie with a Bland, Disappointing Ending"
What You Need To Know:
This story may sound intriguing; however, despite some cogent warnings about the abuse of Internet technology, THE CIRCLE is an unsatisfying thriller. Also, the heroine’s character is poorly written and hard to pin down. Finally, the ending offers a schizophrenic, bland conclusion about the benefits and drawbacks of Internet technology. THE CIRCLE has a strong humanist worldview with some foul language, a bedroom scene that generates some further conversation and brief light violence. MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution for older children and younger teenagers. THE CIRCLE isn’t really a movie for children.
(HH, B, AC, Acap, LL, V, S, A, MM) Strong, somewhat schizophrenic and unsatisfying humanist worldview that, though it warns against abuse of new Internet technology, including possible totalitarian abuses by government and large corporations, ultimately argues that human beings may just have to get used to new Internet technology that has a tendency to violate their privacy, plus the heroine is a conflicted and poorly written character in a story with some undeveloped or under-developed anti-capitalist implications; 14 obscenities (including one “f” word), two strong profanities and three light profanities; brief violence where the driver of a truck being watched and chased suddenly crashes; brief glimpse of a clothed, older married couple in bed together on a video feed attached to their daughter and the incident is discussed several times, including by text messages; no nudity; some alcohol use in a couple scenes among adults at a party; no smoking or drugs; and, strong miscellaneous immorality includes corporate bosses at an Internet company are revealed to have darker ulterior motives for violating people’s privacy, some arguments for taking away everyone’s privacy so that everything is transparent and everyone can be held accountable, and young heroine is shown being willing to do anything, even ignore her parents in favor of constant work, in order to succeed.
THE CIRCLE stars Emma Watson as Mae, a seemingly average young woman from a poor family who gets hired by a powerful and mysterious Facebook-style Internet company and rises to the top when she pursues success at all costs. Despite some cogent warnings about abuse of Internet technology, THE CIRCLE is a flat, unsatisfying thriller with some foul language, a bedroom scene that generates some further conversation and light violence. It has a strong humanist worldview that comes to a schizophrenic, bland conclusion about the benefits and drawbacks of Internet technology.
Mae is a young woman stuck in a dead-end temping job at a water company, calling people to get them to pay their bills. A friend calls Mae to tell her she has a job interview at The Circle, a Facebook-style company in San Francisco. Excited for the opportunity, Mae passes an interview filled with strange questions designed to test character and provide insights into her thought processes.
While the job seems like another pointless customer-service phone position, Mae is impressed by the numerous perks offered to the employees, including free food, all sorts of exercise programs and games, and other expensive amenities. Her parents, who are poor and dealing with her father’s worsening multiple sclerosis, are proud of Mae. However, as she’s drawn ever further into the company’s insular, all-consuming culture, they start to worry.
The company’s cult-like atmosphere is pushed by its founder, a man named Bailey played by Tom Hanks, and his main associate, Stenton, played by Patton Oswalt. Bailey is a Steve Jobs-like figure who spends most of his onscreen time making grand speeches to his giant staff about his new tiny cameras that can be placed anywhere to provide images of just about everything imaginable.
Bailey claims his intentions are pure, to just provide people with an extended window on the world that also can be used for good, including the ability to track down previously unfindable criminals anywhere in the world within minutes. When a senator tries to investigate the company over privacy issues, the senator is suddenly caught in a scandal. This halts the senator’s investigation, but another senator comes forward to say that the government would be willing to have everyone’s conversations, posts and emails be seen by the public in real time, with the idea that transparency and accountability are not only good for government, but also good for everybody.
Mae is soon caught up in this mindset, particularly when the company doctor tricks her into swallowing a tiny sensor tracking all her biological functions, including her heart rate, on a constant basis. When she’s briefly concerned about this, the company quickly offers to care for her parents, who are going broke due to her father’s multiple sclerosis.
Soon, Mae volunteers to be the first regular citizen in the world to allow herself to be filmed constantly, with only three-minute bathroom breaks going unseen. However, as millions trace her every move, she’s warned by a disillusioned member of the company (John Boyega) and a former boyfriend (Ellar Coltrane) that there are nefarious motives and consequences to the company’s plans. Suddenly, Mae has some serious decisions to make.
This story may sound intriguing on paper. Also, THE CIRCLE raises some important questions about how far companies should be allowed to extend their influence on society and how much privacy people are willing to forego in our over-saturated media age. However, Director James Ponsoldt’s pacing is strangely flat. This limits the amount of thrills or excitement viewers might expect from this concept. Also, the character of Mae has too many contradictions. One moment, she’s skeptical about the cameras, the next she’s a self-obsessed media star, another moment she feels the technology is noble and then evil again. Finally, the ending makes no sense in relation to the rest of the movie.
THE CIRCLE rests on Emma Watson’s shoulders, but her character’s contradictions make her so annoying to deal with that Watson can’t make her character someone to root for or identify with for long. Hanks is mostly seen delivering his onstage speeches, with a couple brief scenes in his office that are meant to be subtly sinister but never really generate much spark.
Overall, THE CIRCLE winds up taking the position that while it might be good to question technology occasionally, tech advances can’t be stopped, and so everyone might as well surrender to them. It’s a lazy, disappointing conclusion, and since it’s so contradictory to the direction most of the movie is heading towards, it also detracts from the movie’s quality. Ultimately, the ending, and the story leading up to it, comes across as a rather schizophrenic, humanist view lacking enough morally uplifting, much less redemptive, content.
THE CIRCLE has a limited amount of foul language, but there are three strong obscenities and profanities. Also, violence is limited to a truck chase that ends violently. Furthermore, there’s an extremely brief and unclear sex scene with Mae’s married parents caught on her Internet camera by accident. So, MOVIEGUIDE® advises caution for older children, including younger teenagers. THE CIRCLE isn’t really a movie for younger children.