Observations On “The Circle” (2017)

The best thing about “The Circle,” the dystopian social media-on-steroids drama starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, is that you now can watch it as part of a double feature with Netflix’s new “The Social Dilemma,” and consider how much of the movie is coming horribly true. Without offering too many spoilers, the film is the story of a young woman (Watson) who believes she has found her dream job working for an Amazon/Facebook-like Big Tech company run by creepily a slick and charismatic Tom Hanks. He is the prophet of over-sharing, developing and peddling products that will feed every aspect of everyone’s life into Big Data-storing and manipulating computers and banish privacy forever, all for the Greater Good, of course. The young woman, Mae, is quickly corrupted, and soon a force within “The Circle,” as Tom’s creation calls itself, to expand and use the company’s power to facilitate universal, indeed mandatory voting, for example. Law enforcement! Social control!

Mae’s epiphany is that secrets are bad, the equivalent of lies. She decides to become the first person to share every waking moment—except three minutes to use the toilet—with Hanks’ ubiquitous social network.

The movie, which is basically a long “Dark Mirror” episode, was panned by critics for its predictability, lack of originality and unambiguous ethical issues. They were right. (The movie was a box office success anyway, because apparently fans of Harry Potter will watch anything with Emma Watson in it. Watson has even less screen presence as an adult actress than fellow ex-child star Natalie Portman, something I wouldn’t have believed possible.)

What I found annoying about the movie was how brain-dead Watson’s character was despite being portrayed as bright and perceptive, and how stunningly unable to see the fascist creep (both meanings are valid here) right in front of her. If I went to an interview, and as I left saw giant photos of me projected on  screens in the company’s lobby, that would be more than sufficient to trigger my RUN!!! instinct. Even more ominous was Mae’s conversation with two pushy, faux-cheery staffers who nicely insisted that Mae share more on social media, as well as making it clear that she was expected to participate in “voluntary” company gatherings after work and on weekends. I hope I would have quit the job before that conversation was over.

“The Circle” is a cult, of course, and in 2017 I would have doubted that enough young people would be so gullible and ignorant as to fall for Hanks’ sinister world view and self-aggrandizing plot. In 2020, after watching so many of my Facebook friends become drooling zombies after being bombarded with woke messaging, the complete acceptance of terrible ideas and flawed reasoning because that’s what the mob is cheering for and tweeting about seems much more plausible.

Mae finally wakes up and smells the swastikas, but even that development is hard to accept: her conversion from true believer to rebel/whistle-blower is too quick and unmotivated.

“The Social Dilemma” is better, but both films raise the same ethical issues about the abuse of power by Big Tech, and the corruption of society’s values such companies not only foster, but intend.

16 thoughts on “Observations On “The Circle” (2017)

  1. Surprise! The book by Dave Eggers fills in those holes. Mae’s sucked into the cult like atmosphere with its simultaneous positive reinforcement, benefits for her parents, and “caring” community. This is counter balanced by the ever increasing demands in her work life, pressure to make her life all about The Circle, and personal tragedies. Then there’s the weird sexual relationship that is not in the movie.

    After reading The Circle I was ready to unplug from all social media. Pair it with The Warehouse by Rob Hart and it could convince a person to go off the grid and only shop in brick and mortar stores. Oh wait! The Wuhan Virus fixed that.

    • Dr. Li-Meng Yang stated on Tucker Carlson Tonight that COVID-19 was created in the Wuhan lab at the instruction of the Chinese military and CCP. This is deeply disturbing and sinister if it is true.


    • I found this review on The Circle:

      “This is a really bad version of the book, which I loved. It was the first book in years where I tore through 300 pages in 24 hours, but this movie doesn’t do it justice. At. All. The script is so completely blah and watered down that the characters never become interesting or likable, and the big, pivotal moments feel almost out of place, because the timeline of the story has been chopped up, the characters have been drowned in a horrible script, they have no devlopment and feel two dimensional, and the screenwriters failed to convey the essence of the book effectively.

      “Emma Watson is fine as Mae, Karen Gillan is underwhelming as Annie (due in large part to the fact that a major plot point involving her character was completely ignored/discarded), Tom Hanks is barely present as Bailey… this movie, compared to the book, is a hot mess and not worth your time, especially if you read and liked the book. It misses on so many marks it’s not even funny.

      “That being said, the book would make a fantastic mini series, if a network were to pick it up. It’s not a story that can fit into two hours. It needs time to flesh out the characters and the story itself. The big screen was the wrong medium for this adaptation.”

      How interesting: Now, there will appear on our Screens the *insightful, trenchant drama* that delves into and reveals the very nature of the control-systems that have been established, in which we participate, and which in a large sense determine not only how we we see and interpret *reality* but function in it.

      The Televised Mini-Series has a rather large responsibility!

      If Marshal McLuhan was right — “the medium is the message” — I am going to have to devote some time to thinking this one through!

      After reading The Circle I was ready to unplug from all social media.

      Well, then what happened? 🙂

    • “A parable about the perils of life in a digital age in which our personal data is increasingly collected, sifted and monetized, an age of surveillance and Big Data, in which privacy is obsolete, and Maoist collectivism is the order of the day. Using his fluent prose and instinctive storytelling gifts, Mr. Eggers does a nimble, and sometimes very funny, job of sending up technophiles’ naïveté, self-interest and misguided idealism. As the artist and computer scientist Jaron Lanier has done in several groundbreaking nonfiction books, Mr. Eggers reminds us how digital utopianism can lead to the datafication of our daily lives, how a belief in the wisdom of the crowd can lead to mob rule, how the embrace of ‘the hive mind’ can lead to a diminution of the individual. The adventures of Mr. Eggers’s heroine, Mae Holland, an ambitious new hire at the company, provide an object lesson in the dangers of drinking the Silicon Valley Kool-Aid and becoming a full-time digital ninja . . . Never less than entertaining . . . Eggers is such an engaging, tactile writer that the reader happily follows him wherever he’s going . . . A fun and inventive read.”

      —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

      Wait, a ‘belief in the wisdom of the crowd can lead to mob rule’? What comes after mob-rule may I ask?

      I right now and from this day forward refuse to drink the kool-aid! I went through the pantry and all the drawers and have removed all evidence of anything Kool-Aid like. But don’t think I do not capture the metaphor: I have purged my mind of all kool-aid-like thinking. Now, I see *reality* exactly for what it is. When I gaze out at the mediated world, I see the world, not the mediation. I am free, FREE!

      And now I will turn my furious attention to unmasking the Democrats . . . Those purveyors of the kool-aid of the mind. If we can just expose them then we can get rid of them. We’re right on the verge of this people! We’re that close. Just a bit effort more . . . and we will all bask in freedom’s warm glow. I’m so excited.

      BTW anything good on TeeVee tonight? 😉

  2. >In 2020, after watching so many of my Facebook friends become drooling zombies after being bombarded with woke messaging, the complete acceptance of terrible ideas and flawed reasoning because that’s what the mob is cheering for and tweeting about seems much more plausible.

    I had an earlier conversation on social media today. Someone brought up that the latest American Girl companion book brings up the Challenger mishap. Being a space geek I commented that it was a decent way to introduce the event to a generation for whom this is ancient history. I got called names (mysoginist! mansplaining!), there was one “serious” response to my question (“it will retraumatize the parents” – what the actual f*ck!? Having kids will traumatize you worse before 9 AM.), and then was followed by mass blocking, including self-righteous responses *proud* of blocking me. I seriously can’t understand the thought process behind that.

    It’s not that I live in an echo chamber: I live on the outside, but all my detractors have retreated to their safe rooms.

  3. “The Circle” sounds sort of like a reworking of “1984” but much less well done. Steve Jobs was a megalomanic although to his credit he saw through Obama and probably would have disliked the echo chamber that Facebook became. I wonder if anybody will be reading books in the next 20 years.

  4. I saw the movie, too. It supported my unease with social media, and my basic refusal to participate in it. I am still “friends” with a number of people, tho I rarely read their stuff and never reply. Most of them are “progressives” of various types, and most of the posts are in fact links to others — people who actually think — however incorrectly — about issues of the day. Most of my “friends” have (1) clearly little to do; (2) are beyond thinking for themselves because there doesn’t seem to be one original opinion in their posts, just links to others; and (3) honestly believe they are having an impact on those who believe differently than they do. They have also, clearly, (4) become narcissists of the first order. I have a book I haven’t dared read yet, but think I will now: “Who’s Afraid of A.I.?” More on this later.

    • ”Most of them are “progressives” of various types, and most of the posts are in fact links to others — people who actually think — however incorrectly — about issues of the day.”

      I had this similar problem. I would get the cloying emails from people trying to draw me away from my turn the Dissident Right. Then I devised this devilish trick: I sent them all a copy of Julius Evola’s Fascism Viewed from the Right AND a copy of Gramsci’s The Modern Prince.

      Not only was I *unfriended* I have not gotten any emails since that date! Not even Valentines and Christmas notes.

      Free at least, free at least, thank God Almighty I am free at last!

  5. Jack, you should do more theater and movie reviews. I get such a kick out of your assessments of things directorial things but I really enjoy your takes on actors and actresses and their work.

    In your spare time, of course.

  6. 10 years ago I applied for a job with a very large search / advertising internet behemoth to work at a facility in Texas. As I progressed through the process it became more and more like an initiation into a cult instead of a company. I was told I would have to “unlearn every thing I knew and learn the correct way of thinking.” I would have to spend 6 weeks at the company HQ “learning and absorbing the culture.” They talked about becoming a cheerleader for everything the company did. At that point, I quickly removed myself from consideration.

    While this isn’t directly social media related, it does speak to a mindset running Silicon Valley. One of a cult-like following for the company and little tolerance for wrongthink. Ethics take a backseat to the “good of the company.”

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