The Circle’s Transparent Approach to Exploring our Relationship with Technology
***Minor spoiler warning
Between promises to explore our dangerous relationship with technology and an impressive cast, I had high hopes for The Circle. While it proves to be an enjoyable film, The Circle fails to meet its potential through a lack of balanced or nuanced exploration of our relationship with technology. When Mae (Emma Watson) goes “fully transparent” under the direction of the Circle’s Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and his partner Stenton (Patton Oswalt), we get a complete view of Mae’s life through incredible technology. One of the best parts of the movie is seeing the comments pop up when Mae is “fully transparent” as these comments accurately reflect the comments section of almost any YouTube video or online article. Through this pursuit we see Mae fully embracing and even pushing the lengths at which technology should be used with Bailey and Stenton constantly bolstering these ideals. These characters and their actions are all pro-technology which makes sense for Bailey and Stenton but at a certain point just becomes confusing with Mae due to the negative consequences created by her use of all-consuming use of such technology.
On the other side, Mae’s friend Mercer is anti-technology from the start, and soon cuts off from technology completely. Mae’s parents go transparent along with their daughter but after a breach in their privacy also cut off from technology entirely. The movie struggles to tap into the potential of thoughtfully exploring our relationship with technology because the characters and their actions are too pro-technology or anti-technology with little middle ground in between. Ty (John Boyega) is a missed opportunity in this regard. As the creator of the TruYou software that is integral to the Circle, he works at the company but is morally conflicted about the Circle’s intrusive actions and exposes these intrusions to Mae. Through Ty we could’ve received a more nuanced exploration of the film’s overarching questions. Instead the film ultimately uses Ty as a plot device to impart necessary information and act as a resource to execute the film’s ending.
While disappointing in this sense, The Circle is still an enjoyable film. It kept me fully engaged as there is not a single moment where I felt my attention wander. The overall concept is intriguing and many facets of the story aren’t that far off from our current reality. Going “fully transparent” in many ways is Facebook live or any form of video live streaming taken to the extreme. The company culture of the Circle is rooted in companies like Google and Apple who provide their companies with more and more benefits in order to keep their employees at work, giving them everything they need at the company so they are incentivized to work as much as possible. The film even satirizes our society’s push to be extroverted and our relationship with social media and the meticulously crafted image many construct through their social media presence. The scene where two Circle employees approach Mae about her lack of presence on social media and lack of presence at the Circle’s social events is easily one of the film’s best scenes. As an extension of this, the ratings consumers give to employees of the Circle reminds one of ratings real-world consumers give to employees at companies like Lyft or Seamless, furthering the artificiality of a data-driven and data-defining society. The tension and stakes build swiftly, though the point to which they climax feels like a strange choice considering the events throughout the rest of the film. Ultimately, The Circle could’ve been stronger and more thought-provoking if it found more of a middle ground concerning our relationship with technology and imparting such balance and nuance to more of the characters and their actions. I am interested in reading the book and seeing how it compares to the film and if it perhaps provides a more balanced perspective.
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