The Hippo


May 25, 2020








The Circle (PG-13)
The internet is evil and social media is a mechanism for oppression in The Circle.

By Amy Diaz

Specifically, I would probably throw my ID badge and run during the conversation in which two employees upbeatedly scold her for not attending “non-mandatory” fun weekend events (“pieces of flair” by another name) and show a creepy amount of knowledge about her dad’s health problems.
But the company also helps her dad (Bill Paxton) by setting him and her mom (Glenne Headly) up on the Circle’s health care plan. Perhaps her gratitude is why Mae doesn’t question SeeChange, a new tiny-camera-thing that The Circle is selling and gluing everywhere. After a SeeChange ball stuck to a buoy leads Mae to be rescued during an ill-fated (and comically ill-timed) kayaking trip, she agrees to the idea of company heads Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks, perfect as a mild-mannered villain) and Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt) to live totally “transparent.” That is, she agrees to wear a small camera and broadcast everything she does (with only occasional three-minute bathroom breaks), including her entire work day, phone calls to her parents and brushing her teeth.
Mae’s high-profile stunt brings her into the founders’ inner circle, where she learns about new crowd-sourced surveillance applications and a push to get the government to use them for a mandatory voting program. And, since the Circle’s corporate logo is in red, that will make it easier for them to issue red handmaid robes and white bonnets when they give up the pretense of being a company and just become a full-on theocracy with some bullnonsense about “connectivity” as their god.
Perhaps because Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is much buzzed about lately, I found myself thinking a lot about that and other dystopian stories while watching this movie. (With catchphrases like “secrets are lies” and the observation that an undocumented private experience is stealing from the knowledge of humanity, this movie also 1984s all over the place.) This movie actually solves one of my general problems with dystopia films, which is that they usually involve people getting weird outfits (the sad shlumpy knits of Abnegation, the glam-rock clown costumes of the Capitol) and agreeing not to read books from “before” and a bunch of other lockstep behaviors. Here, people choose the Circle because it offers simplicity and cool-looking electronics. This feels like a more likely and thus more terrifying kind of dystopia, one where a single company is within sight of controlling the government because it’s easier than thinking up another password. 
In much the same way that I enjoyed the ridiculous nature of the recent Unforgettable, a thriller about a woman fending off her fiance’s lunatic ex, I kind of enjoyed the over-the-top anti-social media hysteria of The Circle. Tom Hanks with his innate decency is great as the jeans-wearing head of The Circle, giving dippy, jargon-filled, slightly con-artist-y talks to an auditorium full of his rapturous employees every Friday.
Also nice touches: Mercer (Ellar Coltrane, the boy of Boyhood fame) is Mae’s tech-eschewing friend who gets internet-hectored after she posts a picture of the deer-antler chandeliers he makes. There are so many Silicon Valley-like moments that seem played for menace here where they are usually played for laughs on that HBO show. I’m not sure if it’s purposefully supposed to be funny, but there’s something daffy in how Mae’s friend Annie (Karen Gillan), a fellow Circle employee, is suffering a slow-motion nervous breakdown essentially because she doesn’t go home to sleep. 
Like that lightly lined windbreaker that is really only useful for about three weeks a year, The Circle is  silly and lightweight but it fills its purpose until summer comes along. C
Rated PG-13 for a sexual situation, brief strong language and some thematic elements including drug use. Directed by James Ponsoldt with a screenplay by James Ponsoldt and Dave Eggers (who also wrote the novel on which the movie is based), The Circle is an hour and 50 minutes long and distributed by Europa Corp and STX Entertainment. 

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