Imagine you have only one online service that does everything. You log in once, using your credit card and some personal information, and you are logged in to every single aspect of your life.
Frustrated with having remember fifty passwords? The Circle is made for you. “It’s the chaos of the web made elegant”, Mae Holland (Emma Watson) explains in her interview at The Circle (please teach me your job interview skills, Mae).
This is The Circle, a swanky tech company where Mae Holland gets a swanky new job and easily becomes a top performer. A week in, she tells her parents she wouldn’t want to work anywhere else. At the same time, her colleagues stress the importance of being at weekend on-campus parties and being active on the corporate social media network. They seem to know about her father’s illness, offering support groups for Mae and insurance for her parents.
“The Circle is more than just slightly off”
And yet, from the beginning, The Circle is more than just slightly off: very early into the movie, one of the most important people in the company, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) gives a presentation to his adoring employees on how The Circle will revolutionise the world, with millions of cameras in all kinds of locations, citing “accountability” and “sharing is caring”. It is fairly obvious from the beginning that neither Bailey nor his closest associates are held to account at all. Which turns out to be the crux of the movie. (Sorry for the spoiler, I guess. It is really obvious from the beginning).
The movie does a good job of exposing the danger of this fictional company (that bears some resemblance to certain companies like Google, Facebook, or Snapchat’s new Maps function), but it fails to deliver more than exposure. I’m not kidding. You get nearly two hours of exposure.
The themes of The Circle are hauntingly timely – for instance, it deals with politicians making their communications entirely public for transparency’s sake, and with important people’s emails being made public against their will; it also deals with what happens if everyone is watched 24/7, whether they want it or not.
“The themes of The Circle are hauntingly timely”
It’s safe to say that I am left unsatisfied by this movie especially because it got to such a great start. The cast delivers fantastic performances. Tom Hanks is a boss with creepy ideas, but charming enough to make his staff, and the audience, feel good about whatever he does. Emma Watson’s Mae is lovely and personable. I found myself irritated at her character for falling so quickly for Circle propaganda, but I know that if I were in her situation, I would do the same. She has reason to: the company essentially buys her favour. Ty Laffite (John Boyega), the disillusioned founder of The Circle, exposes a part of its unethical side, would be more interesting if he were used more. He briefly reminds the audience of what life could be without 24/7 surveillance – by sneaking wine into an office party – and otherwise only teases at the possibility of taking down the company.
The Circle wasn’t badly done – and that made the ending, or lack thereof, incredibly frustrating.
Structurally, the movie felt incomplete. It seemed the writers had written all the build-up, couldn’t find a satisfying ending, and gave up altogether, never bothering to write a third act, or a second half, or an ending that might tie the hints dropped about The Circle together. Too many strings were left loose for the movie to be satisfying.
“Structurally, the movie felt incomplete”
The film stops at a point that could have led on to more revelations about The Circle. It could have opened a relationship between Ty and Mae. It could have dealt with the inner workings of The Circle and its history. Instead, it ends right when these possibilities open. Admittedly, I haven’t read the book on which The Circle is based, but it is also debatable whether “the book made mistakes too” is a valid excuse for making those mistakes in the adaptation.
I read one time that some movies were a great pitch, but couldn’t have a satisfying ending, while others have a great ending but are hard to sell because the premise doesn’t sound that interesting (this is, of course, a gross paraphrase). The Circle was clearly the former. The premise could have been fascinating. It just never delivered an ending.