So the future might be shaping up to be just as horrible as the pessimists have been predicting, but with a few unexpected twists. Yes, people will become enslaved, but to social media and search engines, not to governments. And yes, people will be watched and monitored, but with their permission. They’ll give it all away, freely.
“The Circle,” based on Dave Eggers’ novel, is as chilling as a horror movie. Yet the world it depicts is practically our world, just a tiny leap into the near future.
Directed by James Ponsoldt, the movie follows Mae (Emma Watson), who is thrilled to get a job at The Circle, a company that’s a hellish cross of Facebook, Apple and Google. The place is run by its two founders, played by two loveable actors, Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt. What harm could those guys do?
In an early scene, Eamon (Hanks) introduces the company’s new product to an auditorium full of employees, who cheer as though they’re at a Pyongyang pep rally. The company’s wearable new camera will cost next to nothing and record every moment of your life, follow every step and log facial recognition data for everyone you see.
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Mae agrees to become the first person ever to go “transparent.” Aside from a few timed bathroom breaks, her life is out there, being broadcast and commented on, all day, every day. And the world is following her.
“The Circle” not only shows a ghastly path that the future might take; it also articulates the mentality that could create and sustain it. According to Eamon, complete transparency strengthens democracy — nothing untoward can happen behind closed doors. It enforces morality — people tend to be at their worst when they’re sure no one can see them. Anyway, isn’t privacy a form of theft? If you have a great experience offline, you’re robbing others of the possibility of vicarious participation.
This is demented thinking, but it holds a certain logic. Privacy might not be immoral, but it is subversive, and thus it would have to be classed as immoral by the people in power. It’s in privacy that people decide how they really feel and what they really want. The privacy of the masses is the greatest threat to totalitarian control.
“The Circle” is a plea for the preservation of privacy, but it’s nicely constructed so no one character expresses the film’s point of view. Mae is tech friendly; her boyfriend (Ellar Coltrane) is an anti-technology absolutist, not at home in the modern world. And Mae’s parents (Glenne Headly and the late Bill Paxton) seem amiable and lost, trying to mind their own business and create their own safe space.
Alas, older people are so naïve.
Rated PG-13 for a sexual situation, brief strong language and some thematic elements including drug use. 1:50. Fayette, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.