This much-dissed movie is actually quite good. At first. The ending is not just improbable, it's impossible and laughable and as fantastically utopian as the utopia it sets out to fix. In fact, the movie actually portrays the manipulating, stats-driven, groupthinking, world-swallowing monolith that is "The Circle" as basically good. It just needs a little tweaking. Despite its incomplete third act and abrupt, premature, weak ending, you should still totally see this film for its thought-provokingness.
Mae (Emma Watson) is a new hire at her dream job, a Facebook-like social media company called "The Circle," which is run like a benign cult. The Circle and its corporate culture is not far-fetched at all. Its philosophy and goals are familiar to us: world domination through data collection and encroachment into every aspect of our lives (that we willingly sign up for 'cause it's free and we're wired to be social and dread being left behind), "Big Tech Knows What's Best For You," "Big Tech Knows What You Want Before You Do," etc. It's a sunny, smiling, uber-social (not anti-social) dystopia. What values are highly prized at The Circle for employees and users alike? Total 24/7 connectivity, total transparency. What's demonized? Privacy. A tiny spy-type camera--invented by the Circle's genius leader, Eamon (Tom Hanks)--is affixed everywhere: not just around the company, but is being planted in public places near The Circle's headquarters.
IS THIS HEAVEN...OR HELL ON EARTH?
Mae becomes a guinea pig for a completely open life where the world can follow every minute of her day (bathrooms are off limits) as she chats to her followers into the open air (the cameras also have mics). We've seen this kind of thing before in film, starting with "The Trueman Show," but this is the next level. The comments that people leave on her feed from all over the world are so typical and telling and run the gamut from trolls to stalkers to sages to fans to attention-seekers to idolizers to socmed addicts. I would love to just freeze frame all the comments and re-read them.
What's super scary is the realistic portrayal of how our young people today (devoid of being taught critical thinking) just fall for slogans and truly detrimental "sea changes" in human thinking/philosopy/ethos without even noticing a gross lack of logic, echoes of totalitarian systems past, or any other dangers. (The Circle is mostly made up of twentysomethings.) Our young people today are being led, Zvengali-like, to rally en masse behind any carefully machinated, framed, articulated cause--as long as it "sounds good" on the surface. They have no idea that these are PLANNED upheavals. They honestly believe they are springing up organically and are societal improvements (also because "evolution" is always on an upward swing and human beings are becoming more "enlightened" all the time--the myth of progress). What a crying, crying need we have to teach them just two subjects: philosophy and history!
JOIN THE RESISTANCE
"The Circle" just made me painfully aware (every so often I forget) of our ALREADY hellish use of media/communications/tech: incessantly, ubiquitously, distractedly, invasively and cacophonously. I shudder to think of the next phase (VR? augmented reality? embedded chips?) when ALREADY: WE CAN'T GO ON LIKE THIS. WE HAVE ALREADY SACRIFICED SO MUCH OF OUR HUMANITY. WE NEED TO REFLECT, RETURN, RESIST, REVOLT, REBEL AND USE MEDIA WELL, INTENTIONALLY AND HUMANLY, WHICH MEANS--FOR STARTERS--NOT USING IT 24/7.
Scariest of all is how the young people in "The Circle" fall into the current fad of turning everything into a "basic human right." In this case, everyone should have the RIGHT to access everyone else's experiences! (Me: Why not take that one step further: how about access to everyone's thoughts--when we have that ability?) As dear Msgr. William Smith of NYC used to say: "If they're handing out new human rights? Don't get in that line! It won't be good! We have all the rights we need in the Bill of Rights!"
It's all done in the name of a Grand Scheme for the Betterment of Humanity: better health through metrics, easy participation in politics, fighting crime, staying safe, etc., even if that means implanting chips in your children so you can keep track of them at all times.
"The Circle" could easily have been an episode of "Black Mirror," except "Black Mirror" doesn't have happy endings.