Netflix proves that they are completely tuned into the complex nature of today’s generation, as well as their relationship with technology and how it is ruling the lives of the everyday person.
Emma Watson stars as Mae Holland, a woman who feels she is wasting away in her current job. She is then contacted by her friend Annie Allerton (Karen Gillan) who offers her a job at The Circle, an incredibly influential and powerful technology company, an obvious reference to the current position that Apple holds in the real world. After accepting this position, we see Mae go about her everyday life in The Circle, it seems inviting, relaxed, almost like a university campus. In a full company-wide meeting we meet Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), the head of The Circle who goes on to introduce a new camera technology called SeeChange; pinball sized cameras that can be placed/hidden anywhere in the world. This introduces us to the ongoing mission of The Circle, to make the world more “transparent”. At a company party, Mae meets Ty (John Boyega), who reveals himself to be Ty Lafitte, the creator of True You; a massively popular product produced by The Circle. Along with his introduction, Ty takes Mae to an underground, restricted area of The Circle and warns her of the potentially dark direction that The Circle is taking, hence why someone as famous as he is decided to work in from shadows. After a traumatic experience whilst out kayaking displays Mae’s face to the world through SeeChange, Mae decides to become the first person to become “Fully transparent”; she will wear a webcam at all available times, giving the world access to her life. She goes on to praise transparency as the way forward for the world. Whilst she views The Circle and “Transparency” as an overall good, Mae makes strides with the company, eventually resulting in her being pushed away by her parents, her friends and Annie. A new project, headed up by Mae, is presented at another company meeting; She says that through the SeeChange cameras, The Circle can find anyone in under 20 minutes, which she then tests on an escaped criminal. After the criminal is caught in just 10 minutes and 21 seconds, the crowds demand that Mae uses it to find Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), a childhood friend who earlier in the film was ridiculed and threatened for making chandeliers from Antlers, despite having defended himself. The hunt for Mercer ends in him driving off a bridge after a drone blocks his view of the road. Mae then secludes herself from the world after witnessing this, using the time to reconnect with her parents and Annie. Mae then returns to The Circle but now she has a mission, she contacts Ty and tricks Eamon and Tom Stenton (Patton Oswald) another company head, into letting her go out on stage in front of the entire company. Mae then proceeds to invite Eamon and Tom to go fully transparent with her, which leads to secret accounts and information being distributed to the world, exactly what Mae had planned. At the end of the film, we see Mae embracing transparency, openly welcoming some drones that are following her kayaking.
As soon as I was introduced to The Circle, I found my views on cyber-privacy being constantly questioned. My moral and ethical views about sharing my personal life online were repeatedly flipping back and forth from “I’d be perfectly comfortable with this” to “I’d never expose myself like that”. Any film that can make me re-evaluate my own views is obviously a powerful piece of cinema.
With technology companies like Apple being as influential as they are in the current generation, The Circle provides a completely transparent view of how the average person’s life can be controlled and monitored through a misguided dedication to the latest technology trends. I believe it also touches on the leaking of information by Edward Snowden in 2013, with characters like Eamon and Tom representing what a spying government could look like if they’d combined themselves with the popularity of a technology company, thus fooling the masses into abandoning privacy for the sake of being part of a hive-mind demographic. Also, the character of Ty Lafitte being quite a close draw from Snowden himself, but this time deciding to reveal the truth through the Mae due to his position in the company.
The performances greatly benefit this controversial story, with Emma Watson leading the pack with an easily relatable Mae, who provides a perfect window for the audience whilst also posing a position that is the perfect debate point. Tom Hanks once again knocks it out of the park with the loveable company head, constantly making jokes and being a lovable father figure for the whole company but he perfectly incorporates the smallest amount of mistrust that feeds that all important “little voice in the back of your head” that we hear about so much
No matter how many people may fear that Netflix is taking over from the world of the cinema-goer, I thoroughly believe that they’ve tapped into the same appeal that Black Mirror had in 2011; the dark realism that the audience know is real but never want to admit it, it almost borders on a guilty pleasure. The proof? Black mirror series 3 & 4, Okja and now The Circle
To summarise, The Circle is yet another powerful step that Netflix has taken towards being the visual medium to represent a whole new phase in political, technological and social evolution.