I don’t know if you know this, but it turns out that technology can be used for good and for evil. That’s the lesson of The Circle, the latest in a long, long line of movies that tell us that the shiny new tech thing we love so much might not be so good after all.
We meet Mae, played by Emma Watson, who gets an entry-level job at The Circle, a sort of Facebook-meets-Google-meets-Apple company that’s just introduced tiny eyeball-sized cameras that can be glued to any surface, ostensibly to open the world up to a new level of transparency, exposing injustices for all to see. Before long, after a series of awkward events, Mae has fallen into the good graces of The Circle’s co-founder, played with expert charm by Tom Hanks. And before much longer, Mae has decided that she’ll be the first person in the world to go completely transparent, with cameras on her 24 hours a day, broadcasting her life to The Circle’s billion-plus users. Needless to say, this doesn’t all turn out quite the way Mae hopes it does.
Now, I make it sound like I disagree with the premise of the movie, but it’s not that. It’s that we’ve seen this movie so many times before. There’s just not much that’s new here. And anyone who’s familiar with the BBC television series ‘Black Mirror’ will know that The Circle just doesn’t go far enough. The worst thing that happens is a very bad thing, yes, but it’s telegraphed from a thousand miles away, which lessons the emotional impact dramatically. And the end of the movie, which I guess is supposed to be a rousing rebuke of the surveillance state, is just extraordinarily convenient, made possible by a character who’s essentially a human deus ex machina.
It’s not that The Circle is bad—it’s got some slick sequences, especially as we see the reactions of the world to Mae’s decisions in real time, and it does take our current willingness to give up our privacy to what might be an unfortunately logical end. But it’s missing that something that makes it feel new, urgent, or necessary, treading the same ground so many other movies have already passed by.