The Circle tells the story of an aspiring young woman named Mae Holland from her first day at the very successful Silicon Valley company ‘The Circle’ and then… well… depends if you are watching the film or reading the book. There are characters with the same names in the book and in the film, and both stories are about the company ‘The Circle’ led by three very different and also a slight caricatures – The Wise Men – and our main character Mae has a very rural background, but this is the point where the similarities end.
To be fully accepting of the plot is difficult, too: you have to believe that the brightest, most intelligent people of a generation are working at the Circle, but also that almost nobody has ever heard of totalitarianism or attended a history class on the history of the 20th century. But if you accept this, you can find a story in which good people with good intentions becoming so ideologically involved in their world view that they fail to notice how close they get to pure evil. If you only watch the film The Circle, you get a kind of grotesque teen movie where there are even odder character developments: the best friend of our main character goes from a very poor workaholic version of Ellie Kemper’s Kimmy Schmidt to our main character before going on some “back to nature” trip. Why? One can only guess…
In the film, the characters Mae originally has an intimate relationship with are rewritten in just one character, and this one character hasn’t the importance or depth of either one of those that exist in the book. He just tells Mae – more or less out of the blue – that he, as one of the founders of “The Circle”, thinks that it is terrible what the company has become and that this totalitarian madness has to end immediately. There exist some good scenes in the film: Tom Hanks plays a very believable Silicon Valley icon named Eamon Bailey which – on the other hand – doesn’t really surprise anyone, as is there any bigger everybody’s darling in Hollywood than Tom Hanks? But even if you consider Hanks’s charm, the scenes in which he and Emma Watson discuss why privacy is bad and why there should be no secrets because they’re evil, let you – in likeness to the same scenes in the book – for moments believe that they right: That, yes, every problem lies in privacy and the limited knowledge that the average human being has.
You have to really visualise what full transparency would lead to; that people, due to limited time and too much information, would still make false interpretations about each other and even if you could still do as much as you can do now, even if no laws really change, you would have not feel any liberty anymore. And what is liberty really else than a feeling?The third Wise Man – Tom Stenton – is such a caricature of evil in the film that the fact that he’s played by Patton Oswalt – a comedian – does at least make it better, in that at least a satirical undercurrent is given to the role. But the worst part of the film is where the book did its best: The end. While the end of the book – not to give too much away – is so bitter that you continue thinking about it for days, the ending of the film is instead the most clichéd, happy-teen-movie-ending that one could imagine. Here in Paris, the book costs less than a ticket for the film. Just a thought.