The Circle

Austin has a local comedy troupe called Master Pancake Theater, heavily inspired by MST3K. Most of the year, they mock feature films, but every November, they do a Hanksgiving show, comprised of clips from Tom Hanks movies. I was hoping that, if nothing else, The Circle would provide some good clips for this year’s show, but I’m not sure it even has much of that to offer.

The Circle is a giant technology company. It’s basically Google, if Google’s attempts at social networking hadn’t failed so dismally. They want to know everything about everything, and everything about everyone, so they’ve just launched a new type of inexpensive, high-quality micro camera that can be placed just about anywhere, has a built-in satellite feed and all kinds of sensors that allows it to discern a lot about its environment. They’re pushing for complete transparency of all things, and have just convinced a congresswoman (Judy Reyes) to take the plunge, making all of her email, phone calls, meetings, and other official communication public as it happens.

Mae (Emma Watson) has just started working at The Circle, with the help of a recommendation from her friend Annie (Karen Gillan), who is one of the higher-ups at the company. She’s working hard and doing well, but she’s being chastised for not being social enough. Foolishly, she thinks that she can still have time to herself. She sees the error of her ways when she goes out on a secret late-night kayaking trip and ends up being saved from drowning by people watching her trip online thanks to some well-placed Circle cameras. She’s quickly convinced by the top men at The Circle (Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt) into becoming the public face for complete transparency, and she begins live streaming her entire life, to the detriment of her parents (Bill Paxton and Glenne Headly) and one of her best friends (Ellar Coltrane).

The Circle is some awful, clumsy combination of Antitrust, The Truman Show, The Net, The Manchurian Candidate, and 1984. It’s clearly meant to be a cautionary tale of the risks of becoming too dependent on technology and too open to sharing every detail of your personal life online, but it’s done in such a clunky way as to be completely without credibility. Just about every step it takes is such a big leap that you have a hard time going along with it, and it’s so heavy handed in its approach that you may well be sore by the end from how much it tries to beat its ideas into your head. It feels like it may be trying to provide commentary on how those in power make decisions about technology without understanding it, except it also feels like no one involved with the movie had any real understanding of technology, either. There are so many poor choices and obvious missed opportunities that it’s hard to understand why so many big-name stars (also including John Boyega, Nate Corddry, and Ellen Wong) were willing to go along with it.