Film Reviews — 29 September 2017

Navyo reviews the recently released techno-thriller starring Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, directed by James Ponsoldt and based on Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel.

The Circle posterTransparency, openness, honesty, community, cooperation, human rights – these are the altruistic themes of The Circle, an adaptation of Dave Eggers’ futuristic novel of the perils of social media and its corporate monopolization.

Clearly modeled on Apple with a hint of Google, the Circle is a tech giant whose products – smartphones, tablets, computers, browser and social media platform TrueYou – have become part of the fabric of global society. Its logo is everywhere. Its headquarters are built in a circle, the same shape as Apple’s new campus, Apple Park.

When a rookie customer service member, Mae (Emma Watson), known internally as ‘guppies’, doesn’t fill out her social profile, she is approached by two of her staff in a scene that demonstrates the lack of privacy, truly maximizing the creep factor.

It’s this lack of privacy that is turned into a key attribute of the company. Transparency is the new normal. If you wish for privacy, your motives, values and morals are questioned. What are you hiding?

Privacy is equated with secrecy which is equated with lies and a whole string of indictments. The Circle is creating a world where the need for privacy is against the law.

Its charismatic, laid-back founder, Eamon (Tom Hanks) espouses this concept in a way that makes it not only palatable, but cool and desirable. In a product launch, he announces the end of human rights violations with the aid of miniature hidden cameras that expose abuses and help catch perpetrators. A noble intention that slowly unwinds during the film.

Mae is taken under his wing and given the first opportunity to ‘go transparent’ by wearing a camera at all times and having her home fitted with cameras in every room, with the footage broadcast live on her TrueYou profile. There’s a continual stream of real-time interaction from all over the world.

But even though Mae takes this on in earnest, there are dark undercurrents that pervade the hype and the hope of a better world. It’s these undercurrents that give the film its tension and dramatic arc and take the form of another protagonist, Ty (John Boyega), the inventor of TrueYou.

Mae and Ty join forces to provide the film with its plot twist and show us the lesson beneath the Circle.

The film made me want to turn off all my devices and turn to pen and paper. Its one failing was a weak ending, which could have been so much stronger. That didn’t stop the film from making a lasting impression and bringing into question the way we use our technology and how, and how much, we share our private lives at the hands of corporate controlled social media.

Are we presenting a manicured version of ourselves on our social profiles for our friends and public as a form of validation based on how many Likes we get? How much of that information is used by advertisers, by the companies that own what we post, by government agencies that scan our data for ‘national security’? And what data is being consumed by researchers to build sentient AI?

Is the very notion of privacy a basic human right? Or is it fast becoming extinct in our age of endemic digital surveillance?

Facial recognition, biometric tracking, constant surveillance, loss of privacy, corporate control – it’s not so much in the future. It’s happening now.

Yet it brings a deeper, more philosophical inquiry: Who’s watching who?

NavyoReview by Navyo, a regular contributor to this magazine

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