#Film Review: Netflix’s The Circle

Rating: 4/5

The Circle is a new film directed by James Ponsoldt starring Emma Watson, who keeps proving she is much more than a little witch from Harry Potter film series.

In this film, Emma Watson plays Mae Holland who gets a job in a tech company The Circle through the mediation of her friend Annie Allerton (Karen Gillan) who is one of the 40 most influential employees in the company at the time.

The film seems to be a description of the current technology, and the power companies such as Google and Facebook have over our privacy. The scenes in the film remind of Facebook and Google quite a lot. For example, big company meetings on the stage with one of the CEOs passionately announcing new product while employees scream and cheer inevitably reminds the viewer of Steve Jobbs and his speeches announcing new products while employees were screaming and cheering. On the other hand, the name of the company The Circle and the way the company operates (e.g. all possible services available to employees, social media circles, drones and apps that monitor everything, etc.) inevitably reminds of Google.

The director is clearly telling us to think about implications of an ever increasingly connected world, however, unlikely for vast majority of other films he is not trying to force an opinion on us. Rather, he gives us food for thought by showing bad and positive implications of a connected world, i.e. from one point capturing criminals and increased safety but on the other hand decreased privacy (or none at all). We are then left to decide what we would like most and whether we want to side with technological enthusiasts or technological sceptics.

Thus in the film we see both sceptics and enthusiasts. Mae, at first, works in the customer experience centre and is faced with user ratings, which are making her constantly strive towards improving her performance to keep scores high. However, this obsession with user ratings is not all when it comes to connectedness. Two employees come to Mae and ask her why she has not updated her profile on The Circle and explain to her that the use of social networking tools is expected in the company as a form of social engagement with the organisation. Mae is determined to rise in the company and she engages more with the social networking.

The Company then also implements SeeChange app, a new initiative meant to bring transparency and accountability and the app gets its first use by a political candidate who wanted to confirm her transparency and accountability by making all of her communication visible to anyone. The company also argues that this has an implication for human rights and safety. After a nasty argument with her friend for violating his privacy when she shared his photos on The Circle’s (which caused him abuse from the Circlers accusing him of being animal killer because the photo showed a chandelier he made) social networking and being saved from drowning by the SeeChange, Mae decides to go ‘completely transparent’ and this actually means carrying a camera whenever she is awake and exposing all of her life and communication to the world.

Mae becomes a celebrity not just in the company but also globally, however, this lack of privacy (or full transparency as she calls it) hurts her family and parents because their privacy gets violated every time they talk to her, and this includes Mae calling them when they were having sex. Her parents cut the contact off because they were unable to cope with the lack of privacy and they also assert that Mae is too dedicated to the company and has nearly no life at all.

Mae however remains a believer in full transparency and at the company meeting she demonstrates this by using SeeChange to find criminals within 10 minutes. However, someone from the audience then asks her to find her friend Mercer who previously had an argument with her for posting his photos online and violating his privacy. Mae tries to refuse but the audience insists and she is forced to give in and look for him.  Users of the The Circle find him within minutes but they angrily surround his cabin where he was hiding after facing the abuse for being an animal killer the first time Mae posted his photos online, and as he is trying to escape the abuse of Circlers he droves off the bridge and dies.

After the tragic incident, Mae takes some time off but then still returns to the company and publicly makes all communication of her bosses globally available shaming them while also arguing that transparency is good. This serves as a warning to corporations pushing for sharing everything. In other words, those who advocate digital connectedness are perhaps forgetting that if the world gets too connected they will no longer be able to keep their secrets either.

All in all, this film is a refreshing portrayal of advanced technology and implications of interconnectedness, but as opposed to many other movies the director here is impartial and letting us decide what we want. With very convincing acting and some good lighting and appropriate music, I do recommend watching this film. Netflix once again got it right with me.

Thank you for reading.



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