I knew stepping out of the theater I wouldn’t be writing a normal review for The Circle. There is so much going on, and I feel like I cannot summarize it in a nice little review. That said, here’s a quick rundown on content: There is no violence, virtually no profanity. There is a scene where a character turns on a camera and sees her parents in bed together, but when she realizes what’s about to happen, she quickly turns the camera back off; that is the extent of “sexual content.” [end obligatory content review]
The Circle asks questions yet provides no answers. It does provide multiple view points yet doesn’t really proclaim one better than the other. It doesn’t really solve any of the problems. If anything, it creates more, and offers even more questions before fading to black.
What is privacy worth? Are secrets lies? Are we better off with zero privacy? Are we safer when everyone knows? But at what cost? We as the audience don’t get the luxury of going, “Well, these are things we should figure out in the distant future,” because (to my understanding) basically all the technology presented in The Circle is available TODAY. This movie isn’t science fiction, it’s science-OK-what-are-we-going-to-do-with-this? It’s also not fair to call it a dystopian because The Circle does plenty of good too, but, again, at what cost ultimately?
Mae (Emma Watson) is a young woman starting out in life and her friend Annie (Karen Gillian in my favorite non-Doctor Who role) is working for the IT company, The Circle. This is the company that is on the bleeding edge of technology and the workplace to be in. It is basically Google and Facebook combined. Annie calls Mae to let her know she got her an interview at The Circle. Just having an interview is life changing, and Annie lets her know that she has to nail this interview. Mae goes in prepared and gets the job.
The Circle campus is beautiful, it’s open, with zero cubicles, and there is a heavy emphasis on community and being a part of it. After being there for a week, Mae is approached by two coworkers asking why she hasn’t filled out her employee social media account. While not said in so many words, it is made clear she’s expected to participate in the community—not just the job. The Circle is a way of life.
Mae quickly gets to put her parents on her health insurance and get her dad the care he needs for his MS that he was denied. At the beginning of the movie The Circle is pitching that everyone put cameras everywhere so everyone can share everything and it is through these cameras that Mae’s life is saved when she makes a foolish decision.
The founder of The Circle, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), pitches the presence of cameras everywhere by this logic: “People are generously sharing their experiences. Because sharing is caring. Isn’t it selfish to not share that experience?” Not everyone will have the ability to do everything, so isn’t it only the right thing to do to share everything?
We desire community. God created us to be with other people (Hebrews 10:24-25; Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; Galatians 6:2). The most introverted introvert still wants to feel included in some way. The desire for community must be fulfilled, but sometimes community just isn’t there. You cannot force it where it isn’t going to happen. Which is why so many people turn to the internet or texting friends from afar to feel a part of something or included in a community. (Which, for the record, is an amazing thing about the world we live in today.)
But there’s a risk involved here—the risk of mistaking the act of following people’s accounts for real community. The Circle shows just how risky that community model is. When such a hyper-focus is put on ensuring everyone is simply participating, you lose track of the value of the individual. People become characters in your news feed rather than fellow human beings.
Two of the story arcs we see in The Circle involves two characters where this loss of individual value comes into play. One character is a loyal, give 110% “Circler.” Eventually, she finds she can’t keep up, and she turns to drugs, works herself into the ground, and almost dies. Her deteriorating condition is clear to anyone who might take the time to look, but The Circle is too busy moving forward. She gets chewed up and spit out by the machine of community.
The other character is an old-fashioned, work-with-his-hands sort of person. He is hard working and has zero interest in being part of this share-everything world. Instead of seeing his value as another perspective, he’s considered “troubled” and “a sick young man.” His different-ness doesn’t fit the acceptable parameters, and therefore he is useless to The Circle.
I won’t spoil the end. The Circle takes the infrastructure of social media and the share-your-life mentality, then takes it forward to the next few steps. The idea is that if everything is out in the open, everyone will be safer and happier. But here’s the thing: someone still holds the keys to your information. And when you give up access to your privacy, you will never get that back.
Heidi Joelle is a transaction coordinator by day and a writer, editor, and reader by night. She can be coaxed from the house by the sound of a good adventure or traveling somewhere new. Her sidekick Smokey the Saint Bernard is rarely far off, usually pretending he's asleep.