A highly-entertaining allegory about personal information as dangerous social tool.
Director: James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now)
Screenplay: Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers (Promised Land), based on Eggers novel
Cast: Emma Watson (Beauty and the Beast), Tom Hanks (Cast Away)
Runtime: 1 hr 50 min.
by John DeSando
"Knowing is good, but knowing everything is better." Bailey (Tom Hanks)
How much information is too much? The Circle shows in a direct and melodramatic form that the saturation point is here. Mae (Emma Watson) is hired by a tech-centered firm, an amalgam of Apple, Facebook, and the CIA. Their inclusion-full-knowledge mantra culminates in Mae’s agreeing to have complete transparency, a Truman Show for our time.
Bailey is the Steve-Jobs guru, whose weekly assembly for the campus is a model of group think and cultism, launching from the newest technology to the newest invasion of privacy. The willingness of the audience to embrace everything from the unethical farming of information to his obviously self-serving anecdotes suggests Jim-Jones cool-aid-audience imbibing.
The film is an attention-getting, absorbing object lesson in neglecting critical thinking.
The film's provocative theme about full disclosure includes the implied dialectic between the common good and privacy. Knowing where criminals are, such as in our sex-offender laws, is good in the case of creeps but scary when innocent citizens are the object.
Two incidents close to the protagonist illustrate the effects of private invasion, one for survival, the other for denying the efficacy. The former is about saving Mae from drowning because of surveillance and the other about the world seeing her aging parents having sex. No one could wish not to have life-saving surveillance; no one could want parental transparency 24/7.
The Circle is frequently simplistic, e.g., having records that allow automatic registration for voting but also require voting, ignores invasion of privacy and personal choice.
None of this polemic completely negates the efficacy of social media and constant contact. However, transparency, the film suggests, invades and makes circus-like a privacy our Constitution implies.
The camera spends too much time on Mae’s bland, wondering stare and meaningless conversations that would be better spent arguing the mission of the Circle. At least it’s a start toward better regulation of social information both public and private.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com