First Hit: Wonderfully interesting in many ways including how close we are to actually having this technology being available today. I grew up being much more private that I am today. Today’s technology makes being open and transparent much easier. This film is about technology and how it could be used to control, expose, and create full transparency among people. It also exposes some of the privacy and freedom of choice issues that we, as a race, may have to face.
In 1999 there was a Ron Howard film called 'Edtv' with Matthew McConaughey in the role of Ed, who was filmed by a camera crew while he lived his life and eventually got the girl despite being exposed this way. What made this interesting was how much equipment and production was required to film this one man.
It's all different in 'The Circle'. Here the company resembles a conglomeration of Apple, Google, and Facebook and the technology they develop is the star. It is a social media platform that also provides other services.
Mae (Emma Watson) is stuck in a part-time customer service department for a utility company. Her mom Bonnie (Glenne Headly) and dad Vinnie (Bill Paxton) want their daughter to be happy, but she’s been hanging around because Vinnie has Multiple Sclerosis. Her high school boyfriend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane) still pines for Mae and is more interested in a life without technology.
Mae gets hired by ‘The Circle’ because her friend Annie (Karen Gillan), who has a high level position with the company, gets her an interview. Drinking the Kool-Aid of ‘The Circle’ philosophy, Mae slowly gets inducted to the group by going to the company parties, staying in the company dorms, eating the company food, and participating online with the supposed “friendships”. Getting a company physical, she ingests a small device that will track her and provide the company with her vital data.
At a company meeting they announce a small inexpensive camera which they begin placing all over the country. The camera provides 'The Circle' clients with ways to view and experience lots of different places and never leave their seat in front of their computer screen or phone screen.
The founders, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt), promote openness while there is a slight sub-current of wanting control and data on everyone and everything. The cameras are part of this data collection. By recording the camera data and the data from their employees ingested monitors, the collection becomes very personal very quick.
Because of the cameras, Mae is saved from drowning in San Francisco Bay. This emotional event further convinces Mae that ‘The Circle’ is on to something and volunteers to be the first person to be online fully transparent 24/7 except for the 3 minutes when she’s on a toilet or when she's sleeping. Of course now she has millions of followers and as people do today, many make snide, dumb or derogatory comments about Mae as well as others who make supportive comments.
Mae comes up with ideas to take this one more step and suggests that everyone become part of ‘The Circle’ and if you are, then you’ll automatically be registered to vote and will be required to vote. One of her co-workers, Ty Lafitte (John Boyega), shares information with Mae which supports concern for The Circle’s plans for the data they are collecting. She also discovers that Ty is the third founder who no longer has an active part in the company.
The ending scenes are great because it starts to bring up the concept and issues around true transparency for all people, including the founders. The questions this film brings up are important to all of us because almost all of the technology shown in the film is available. Would you act better, or as your better self, if everything you did was being able to be seen by everyone else? Would you be OK with everyone having the ability to view all your communications with anyone? Is total transparency of everyone the best path? Or, do we need to have individual privacy?
The film puts forth this question and actually it is a great question because the technology is just around the corner to make ‘The Circle’ happen soon.
Watson is great. She did a wonderful job of portraying her own questions about what she was getting into and then shifting to be the person who leads ‘The Circle’. She had great transitional moments and she performed them very well. Hanks was perfect as CEO because he’s just so nice and believable. You wouldn’t think there was an underlying theme that wasn’t transparent. Oswalt was excellent as the COO because he, more than Hanks, showed a sense of an underlying darker theme. Paxton was wonderful in his final film role. His performance as a man with MS was spot on. Gillan was strong as the overworked believer who started seeing her power fade. Coltrane was wonderful as Mercer the guy who just wanted to live his life his way. Headly was very good as Mae’s mother. Loved how she created support for her husband and empathy for her daughter. Boyega was strong as Ty, the architect of ‘The Circle’ and saw the issues early on. James Ponsoldt and Dave Eggers did a wonderful job of creating a script and screenplay that reflected the way people act today with their mobile devices and bringing up the deeper questions about transparence and control. Ponsoldt did a great job of using his actors to show how companies in Silicon Valley coddle their employees; with transportation, food, parties, concerts, and activities.
Overall: A very interesting story and it brings up questions that will have to be addressed and resolved soon.