The idea of technology disconnecting society is a theme common among modern sci-fi films. It has become more apparent as society has become reliant on phone updates and the belief that any moment of life could go viral. For The Circle, it is baked into the mentality while reflecting the constraints that the proposed convenience has on everyone. The movie asks the tough questions not by exploring how technology is evil, but by how desperation for convenience can undermine humanity. It's an interesting move, and one that turns the conventional thriller into a more interesting parable for the digital era.
The Circle as a construct is essentially Facebook. It's a popular social networking site that has evolved past sharing candid moments. It asks its employees to attend social gatherings that will boost their score and improve their reputation with the company. For protagonist Mae (Emma Watson), it's a bit of a struggle. The Circle doesn't support secrecy. They prefer to drop golf ball sized cameras throughout the world to monitor every action. The good employees exploit their private lives for millions of viewers. As leader Bailey (Tom Hanks) claims "Knowing is good. Knowing everything is better."
There's not much that's exceptional about The Circle as a company. Their business center feels like any Silicon Valley upstart. However, there's a haunting reality hidden in the familiar. It's because this technology is so prevalent that director James Ponsoldt is allowed to explore the humanity in technology. There are moments when Mae has to contemplate the impact that constant supervision has on her family, and it's tragic. The addiction of acceptance may push her to reveal the most intimate details of her life. However, it comes at a cost that could isolate her from loved ones. The film expertly shows where that line is and posits the question "How important is transparency at the cost of personal security?" The answers may be vague and rushed, but serve as a fascinating motif through the film's later half.
While the film lacks tension as a thriller, it serves as a more dry analysis of the modern era. Falling somewhere between The Truman Show and The Social Network, its themes are more about the human element. The performances are calculated and stiff purposely, creating the sense of a cult. It's to help show intimidation of being a flawed human in an era where everyone is judging you. Watson gives one of her best performances as she goes from cautious outsider to complacent insider. Even the answer to the film's theme isn't convenient. In fact, nothing is convenient at The Circle, and that's the true irony of the film.
While the film at times lags, it does have a heady subject that will appeal to audiences more interested in the humanity instead of technology uprising. Its themes may be very familiar at this point, but Ponsoldt manages to give a clever spin on the subject. By focusing on the struggle to be genuine, he manages to explore a deeper human emotion that cannot be explained. Most of all, he leaves the viewers with questions on just how fictional this story actually is. Will society be constructed through its own version of The Circle someday? Will it be impossible to have genuine friendships ever again? As much as this film is a dry philosophical tale, its conclusions can be at times wonderful, contradictory, and horrifying.