THE CIRCLE, US, 2017. Starring Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Ellar Coltrane, Bill Paxton, Glenn Hedley, Karen Gillan, John Boyega. Directed by James Ponsoldt. 110 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language).
Well, this is embarrassing. Do you often have that message appear on your computer screen when Word or Mozilla is telling you that it is not responding and they come up with that embarrassment apology and make suggestions about how you could rectify the situation?
Well, this is embarrassing. When this reviewer consulted the IMDb entry on The Circle and found such hostility towards the film, its subject, the screenplay, performances, it was a very awkward moment. Principally because the reviewer had liked the film a lot and was being shamed by a vigorous, sometimes vicious, combination of reviewers, bloggers and trolls. Perhaps I should have guessed it because the cinema release in Melbourne was at only six venues in outer suburbs, for one week only, one session per day at 10:15 AM.
So, the challenge was to articulate what was so interesting in the film.
It was the subject. The Circle is a technology company which is moving so fast that it is gaining members as prolifically as Facebook, Link-in, Twitter…, especially members in the younger age bracket who are eager to be in instant and detailed communication with as many people as possible and as instantly as possible. The aim seems to be to make everything, every thought, every feeling, even every secret, as available as imginable.
At the centre of the story is Mae, a strong performance by Emma Watson, a young woman doing secretarial work who gets the opportunity to have an interview to work for The Circle, assisted by her good friend, Anna (Karen Gillan) who has a significant position in the company. Mae gets the job and is delighted. She goes to the weekly Friday evening gathering of workers and members, enthusiastic young adults, who listen in admiration to the genial and good-humoured self-promotion of the CEO, Eamon Bailey, played, significantly, by Tom Hanks.
Important are characters in the background of Mae’s life, especially her parents (Bill Paxton and Glenne Hedley who both died soon after completion of the film) and a kind of boyfriend, Mercer, played by Ellar Coltrane (whom audiences saw growing up, year by year in the twelve years of the making of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood).
Mae is constantly challenged by exuberant co-workers, wondering why she doesn’t participate in all the communal activities of the company. Mae likes to kayak and, one night, to get away from things, she takes a kayak from a locked facility, goes onto San Francisco Bay, gets into trouble and immediately there are searchlights and rescuers. Everybody knows about and has looked at what she has done. The consequence is that Mae is challenged, acknowledging how she felt bad when she was keeping secrets, enthusiastically agreeing to wear a mini-camera all the time so that all the members of The Circle can her see her every action, share her every thought and feeling, including her contact with her parents, her father suffering severely from MS.
While the audience in the cinema is looking at Mae, brief message after message, Twitter -like, sail across the screen, everybody participating in Mae’s life. Mae is so buoyed by all of this even to suggesting that as individuals register for The Circle, automatically they are put on the electoral roll – leading to an optimistic sharing of ideas and attitudes, everyone united. She doesn’t think of the word ‘totalitarian’.
So, the challenge to the film’s audience, the screenplay written by Dave Eggers who wrote the original novel, is where we stand on communication, where we stand on privacy, where we stand on invasions of privacy, guilt feelings and shame and shaming, and where social media is taking us and is taking us so rapidly.
Maybe the bloggers felt threatened by the message of this film, a caution on the repercussions of social media, some of them potentially tragic.
This reviewer liked the message and its challenge, the performances, the implications of the themes. It is hoped that there are some out there who will also like The Circle.
Icon Released August 17th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.