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Movie review: A terrifying future predicted in ‘The Circle’ 

The circle movie poster–It’s impossible to deny that we’re living in different cultural times. Two decades ago, or even a decade ago, the way people lived life was very different. The words Social Media conjured the image of a friendly newscaster, not a 24/7 obsession.

Now, thanks to Social Media, no aspect of our lives is left uncovered. Or at least that’s how it seems. We talk about ideas like transparency and openness, but sometimes it’s fair to wonder if we’re all speaking the same language. How much of our lives do we want to be exposed?

That’s where privacy comes in. Now I know, you’re thinking something happened here. This is a lot of heavy talk about privacy, transparency and Social Media. I thought I was getting a film review. Well, you’re getting both thanks to “The Circle,” a new film that tackles these ideas and is based on the novel from Dave Eggers.

In the film, a young idealist named Mae (Emma Watson) is, like most Millennials, looking for a career and meaning. She tells a recruiter her greatest fear is “unrealized potential,” and she means it earnestly. She’s paying the bills—at least some of the bills—working as a temp. And she lives a quiet life with her parents, Bonnie (Glenne Headly) and Vinnie (Bill Paxton). But her father’s ALS and their family’s economic station present plenty of challenges.

Matthew Fox Movie Reviews

Movie Review by Matthew Fox

That’s why, when Mae gets an interview at The Circle thanks to her friend Annie (Karen Gillian), it seems like a dream come true. She gets the job and joins the company, but she’s still learning the ropes. Soon, The Circle becomes all consuming. She lives on campus and gets a rating based on participation in the company message boards and seemingly unending activities.

The Circle isn’t presented so much as a company, but as a culture for the thinking set. And under the surface, things might not be as rosy or egalitarian as they appear. Mae crosses paths with Ty (John Boyega), the genius who helped create The Circle platform, and he warns her to be weary of the company line.

But as Mae is drawn into contact with company leads Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt), she begins to buy in more. Soon, Mae is made the face of living a completely transparent life, and she finds that her newfound fame and popularity come with a price.

“The Circle” is hardly the first story to suggest that corporations are greedy and self-serving, or that technology can be a double-edged sword. But there’s something about the portrayal in this case that feels a bit more unsettling. Maybe that’s because it’s seeming more plausible by the day, a fact the film is all too happy to play up.

In a lot of ways The Circle as created by co-writer and director James Ponsoldt looks a lot like Apple mixed with a commune. They have cutting edge technology and purport to believe in a world without secrets or borders. Cameras, everywhere and recording everything, will make our lives better. And Mae is like patient zero and Steve Jobs all rolled into one. The idea behind this story is deeply unsettling.

But the film as a whole doesn’t live up to the premise. I was engaged by the story and the deeper issues. And I was impressed by the star-studded and deep cast. But the film was just OK. The performances were fine, but not overly engaging. The characters felt a lot like caricatures and, in the end, the film didn’t really seem to do a good job engaging the lofty questions and ideas it wanted to explore.

That’s why the film fell flat at the Box Office. It might be an important and culturally relevant idea, but it’s presented in a flaccid way that won’t engender the kind of conversations it hopes to elicit.

“The Circle” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for a sexual situation, brief strong language and some thematic elements including drug use.

Two stars out of four.

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About the author: Columnist Matthew Fox

Matthew Fox is a graduate of Biola University's Radio, Television, and Film program. He is an avid film and TV fan, and writes about both on his blog, each week. He lives in Colorado Springs, CO with his wife, Lindsay, where he follows the second love of his life, the Denver Broncos.