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Movie Review

The Circle also known as “El círculo,” “O Círculo,” “A kör,” “Ring,” “Krag,” “Ratas”

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a sexual situation, brief strong language and some thematic elements including drug use.

Reviewed by: Jonathan Rodriguez
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
Genre:
Sci-Fi Drama Adaptation
Length:
1 hr. 50 min.
Year of Release:
2017
USA Release:
April 26, 2017 (festival)
April 28, 2017 (wide—2,800+ theaters)
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Relevant Issues
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• Seemingly well-intentioned innovations that solve valid problems (such as catching criminals, healthcare, and democracy), but actually have a sinister underlying agenda

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• Dangers to personal freedom and privacy posed by powerful tech and social media companies and governments—tracking each person’s family history, relationships, and activities

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• What would it be like to live in a globalist surveillance society?

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• LACK OF DISCERNMENT leads to being easily deceived

• Foolishness of REFUSING TO LISTEN to warnings of danger

• A character attempts to go off-the-grid for privacy and safety, but this fails

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• This film is based on the 2013 novel by a San Francisco-based writer/editor/publisher David Eggers (founder of founder of McSweeney’s publishing), published by Vintage Books (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group). Eggers is part of the postmodern and post-postmodern literary movement. In 2008, “he was named one of ‘50 Visionaries Who Are Changing the World’ by Utne Reader.”

Featuring: Emma WatsonMae Holland
Tom HanksEamon Bailey, the head and founder of The Circle
Patton Oswalt … Tom Stenton, co-founder of The Circle
Bill PaxtonMae's father
Glenne Headly … Mae's mother
Karen Gillan … Annie, a member of The Circle, one of Mae's co-workers
John Boyega … Ty / Kalden
Ellen Wong … Renata
Ellar Coltrane … Mercer, Mae's ex-boyfriend
Elvy Yost … Sabine
more »
Director: James Ponsoldt—“The Spectacular Now” (2013)
Producer: Imagenation Abu Dhabi FZ [UAE]
Likely Story
more »
Distributor: STX Entertainment

“Knowing is good. Knowing everything is better.”

If there were cameras all around us, and we knew that every move we made, every action we took, was broadcast all over the world, would human rights abuses still take place? Would shady political back-room deals still go down, if we heard every phone call, if we read every email? Would criminals think twice if they knew that technology using facial recognition features could aide in tracking them down anywhere on Earth in under 10 minutes? Do we only make the wrong choices because we know that nobody can see us make them?

Those are a few of the many moral/ethical questions raised in “The Circle,” the new “thriller” from the not-too-distant social-media future, starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. Watson plays Mae Holland, a young woman struggling to make ends meet at a dreadful customer service job. She is floored when her good friend Annie presents her with an opportunity to interview/work at The Circle, a Facebook/Google/Apple hybrid working hard to make the world a more accessible, transparent place—free of secrets. Because, as we learn from Circle founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), “Secrets are lies.”

He introduces The Circlers to a new product called SeeChange, a camera the size of a golf ball that can attach to anything, is available in every color imaginable to blend into its surroundings, comes equipped with facial recognition technology, and is cheaper to buy than an inexpensive pair of jeans. Bailey shows The Circlers images from across the globe where his team planted the cameras, and the audience is stunned. Not simply at the quality of the images or the impressive technology, but also at the global implications of this product.

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Fast-forward to the product being widely used throughout the Earth. Mae is involved in a late-night kayak accident and her life is saved by SeeChange cameras affixed to the kayak rental shop where she “borrowed” the kayak after-hours, and by one attached to a buoy in the water. A very embarrassed Mae is summoned to meet with Bailey and the other head of the company, Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt).

They assure her that they are happy she’s okay, but can’t help but wonder if Mae would have stolen the kayak if she had known the cameras were there and that people were watching. We do things we shouldn’t, Bailey reasons, only when we think no one knows about it. He then takes it one step further by asking Mae why she would want to deprive people of the beautiful sights of the Bay and keep them all for herself. The beauty of SeeChange, he argues, is that we no longer have to keep the good to ourselves. When we broadcast everything we do, we take people along for every moment we experience, every amazing sight we see. And when we don’t, we are selfishly committing an injustice.

Mae becomes a firm believer in SeeChange and volunteers to become a first person in the world to wear the camera and broadcast her life to the world 24/7—full transparency. She immediately becomes a global obsession to millions and a celebrity to her fellow Circlers. The rest of the movie follows the tensions that rise from various sources, including family and friends, who think Mae might have sipped a little too much of The Circle“ Kool-Aid.”

“The Circle” is an odd movie, and not a particularly great one. It poses some very real and very interesting questions, but doesn’t deal with them in any meaningful depth. Nor does the film ever really present a conflict. Emma Watson’s “heroine” isn’t really much of one because this “thriller” never actually thrills.

Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) is “the bad guy,” mostly because we know these products have potentially bad implications, but he never does anything that shows us he’s anything other than a man who wants to make money off of people’s addiction to social media. The whole movie is far more interesting in concept than it is in reality.

Critic Matt Zoller Setz (RogerEbert.com) says… “For whatever reason, you can’t help trusting Tom Hanks. …You just know that if he ever used his considerable influence for evil rather than good, almost no one would resist him, and the handful that warned against him would not be believed. …His performance in “The Circle” as Evil Tom Hanks is the best thing in the picture.”

Tom Hanks is good as the Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg clone who we are drawn to despite knowing there is something just a little off about him. Unfortunately, Emma Watson disappoints as Mae, and she doesn’t get any help from a script that doesn’t engage us with her character.

This is one of the first movies I’ve watched where I kept thinking to myself, “This movie is really bad, but I bet the book is really good.” I have not read the source material by Dave Eggers yet, but I imagine this being a story that plays much better in book form. I’ve read the ending to the book is quite a bit different than that of the movie, as well, which I would hope to be true, because the end of the movie is as big a letdown as the parts leading up to it.

Editor’s note: The screenplay was co-written by Dave Eggers, the novel’s author, and the film’s director, James Ponsoldt. Eggers has said, “James did all the hard work. He took the book and distilled it down to screenplay length, which is really the hardest part of an adaptation—making those decisions about what to cut out. But I think he really got to the essence of it. …The Circle is about abuse of power. That’s one of the primary themes, at least. …a cautionary tale for how a monopolistic control over digital information, paired with a wholesale indifference to privacy, could lead to some very bad outcomes” (April 26, 2017 published interview).

There is no violence in “The Circle,” although a car accident is dramatically shown. There is a little language peppered throughout, with one f-word briefly muttered at the very end. Sexual content is briefly seen when Mae’s live-streaming picks up video of her parents having sex. Nothing is seen, but the sexual implication is obvious. The scene is quick, and it does have an important part to play in the remainder of the film.

The ideas put forth in “The Circle” have a very “end-times” feel to them. Not necessarily The Tribulation, but more in the events that would occur leading up to that. There is a moment halfway through the movie where Mae meets one of The Circlers who is excited to share about a program she is working on that plants tracking chips in the bones of children, so that if a child ever goes even the shortest of distance away from where they are supposed to be, their exact location can be pinpointed immediately and help can be sent their way.

Our reaction is the same as Mae’s: moderate curiosity mixed with major unease. But it makes sense. And can be convincingly presented. Hearing it come from an eager twenty-something unsettles us. But hearing it from a guy like Eamon Bailey makes us start to really question things. And maybe that’s the point of the movie.

How far are we willing to let world leaders take us, be they technological leaders or political ones? In a world where murders and suicides are taking place right in front of our eyes on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, is it okay to question whether we have become too obsessed with and reliant on social media—and exposing every part of our lives to the world?

Or, as Eamon Bailey suggests, are we not reliant enough on it? Instead of technology taking a step back and doing less, should it be fearlessly moving forward to a world where every person is forced to have a social media account in order to vote or pay their taxes or register their vehicles? Wouldn’t it be easier to make everyone obey the law and do their civic duty? Democratic voting by ALL would be demanded and enforced. The Circle maintains that humans can only reach their full potential, if all secrets and knowledge hoarding is eliminated.

The parallels between Bailey and the Anti-Christ are subtle, yet apparent throughout the film, to a discerning Christian, and the story cleverly centers it on social media. We live in a world where the Pope and ISIS terrorists use Twitter. Religions may divide people across the globe, but social media seems to be the one thing that links us all. That’s why I was intrigued by the concept of “The Circle.” But that concept deserved a much deeper, more challenging film.

Violence: Mild / Profanity: Moderate to heavy—“Jesus Christ” (2), OMG (4), hell (2), f-word, s-words (9), a** (2) / Sex/Nudity: One scene involving Mae’s parents.

Editor’s Note

➤ There are intriguing similarities between the goals of The Circle company and the goals and tactics of the prophesied Anti-Christ, and of those who are paving his way, consciously or not. He will claim to be doing what is GOOD and VITAL for mankind—a solver of big, difficult problems. But, soon, no one will be able to “buy or sell” without his “mark” (Revelation 13:17); perhaps most will receive it gladly, due to its benefits. Many deduce that this will involve some type of personal identity chip—something that is already well along in development and has many potential uses. One of the Anti-Christ’s chief goals is to identify, find, and attempt to destroy all of God’s people—all who refuse his identifying “mark.” It is reasonable to assume he will use every means provided by modern technology to achieve his purposes—global surveillance, global data networks with continual analysis, and his formidable global government. By forming a GLOBAL TOTALITARIAN REGIME, he will control the world’s food, energy, healthcare, all goods and services—a power monopoly, seemingly to bring peace and prosperity, but actually enormously evil.

The Bible indicates that the Anti-Christ’s source of power, and eventual signs and false wonders, is a powerful supernatural being, the fallen angel of wickedness and destruction—Satan, the Devil, “the father of lies” (John 8:44)—“the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9).


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive
Positive—This film struck me as a good alternative to a film I reviewed several months ago, “I.T.” This film is not only more innovative, but much cleaner. The ending must not be mistaken as condoning the characters” actions, but showing just how far some people will let themselves be deceived. It was very thought-provoking and caused you to imagine all the consequences that the film didn’t have time to portray.

There is refreshingly little morally offensive content. Violence is limited to some accident scenes. There is one F-word, some OMGs, and a few uses of milder cuss words. The only sexual content is when an elderly married couple is seen in a sexual position, but nothing explicit is shown. …the purpose of this scene is to show the dangers of letting the government invade our privacy.

In short, I loved this film! It’s smart, stylish, and very relevant to our modern American culture. I think it’s being awfully underrated by critics. It’s a little slow coming to life, but that’s because it paints a thorough portrait of how easily people can be deceived by abuse of technology.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
Gabriel Mohler, age 27 (USA)
Neutral
Neutral—They were trying to make a profound statement(s) about privacy, social media and the ills thereof, but, to me, it appeared shallow and ill-conceived, despite the best efforts of some talented actors. I was expecting a blockbuster sci-fi epic, but there were no scenes that would have strained even a modest production budget. With a PG-rating (in Canada), I was surprised to hear a few JCs and one F-word, that were completely unnecessary.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Brian Schacht, age 70 (Canada)

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Movie Critics

…A shrewdly ominous corporate thriller about the death of privacy in the digital age is, at last, a movie that fingers the proper culprits — namely, us. …a nightmare vision of what digital culture is turning all of us into, with all of our help. …
—Owen Gleiberman, Variety