THE TAKE AWAY  



Movie Review

The Circle


By Kersley Fitzgerald





Warning: Many, many spoilers. Procede at your own risk.



You know when you see previews for a movie and you're so excited because it looks just up your alley and the plot's interesting and the actors are awesome and you drag your husband to see it after church because who needs groceries! and you watch it and come out of the theater saying, "Huh?"

That was The Circle.

The movie looked so cool! Like Google/Facebook mixed with Scientology. What could be more creepy and interesting? Plus Tom Hanks as the CEO and Emma Watson as the heroine. And Amy Pond!

Yeah, no.

It starts out well enough. Emma is Mae Holland, a temp looking for meaning. Karen Gillan's Annie (Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy) gets her an interview at the Circle, a tech company founded and run by Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks). She nails the interview by spouting the company line, and works hard to measure up to company standards. Then she finds there are a whole slew of social standards, as well, and dives into that. At her first company party (which includes a concert by Beck), she trades jokes about drinking the Kool-Aid with John Boyega's (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) mysterious Ty. In her first company-wide meeting, Bailey reveals their new miniature, wireless cameras that will go all over the world, recording everything from surfing conditions to tourist attractions in France to midnight shipping lanes. Soon after, the senator who was investigating the Circle is charged with a crime while another senator agrees to go "totally transparent," including livestreaming her meetings and making all her emails public. And Ty shows Mae the abandoned subway tunnels that will contain the data for everyone else who follows her lead.

Overwhelmed by it all, Mae slips away at night to her favorite kayak rental shack, steals a boat, and goes paddling in the fog. She's almost taken out by an invisible freighter, but is saved because the buoy she passed has Circle cameras stuck to it, and the Fitbit-like device the company gave her sensed she was in danger. She returns to work, pours herself an extra-large bucket of Kool-Aid, and dives in, agreeing to wear a livestream camera whenever she isn't in the bathroom or sleeping because "Secrets are lies. Sharing is caring. Privacy is theft," and, "Knowing is good. Knowing everything is better."

Here's where the movie itself became disappointing. Mae's face shows doubt, but her actions show she's deluded. Even though the Circle's programs destroy her relationship with her loving parents and cause the death of her childhood friend, she believes that more technology can fix things. More cameras, more transparency, less privacy, and government-mandated registration into the Circle's social network.

Instead of pulling back and contemplating the ramifications, she goes all the way--All the way to revealing the secrets of Bailey and his COO (Patton Oswald before the tragic loss of his wife).

I guess I should be intrigued that The Circle didn't go the regular route of young woman takes down the evil giant (see: The Hunger Games, etc.). But, man, was the plot messed up. Her best friend had to leave because developing the technology was destroying her health. Her oldest friend was killed by Circle-equipped amateur paparazzi. Her parents were humiliated in front of the world, and cut off contact. And Mae's response was to push for more. It really didn't make sense. The movie didn't even go into the dangers of cyberstalking. Mae's motivation as given was insufficient. She wasn't an airhead. She never tried to be cruel or unkind. She cared about her friends and family. She seemed content to livestream her life, and she appreciated the kind comments her followers posted, but she didn't seem to pathologically need it all.
The Circle brings up more uncertainty about the plot than about cyber security. tweet
A lot of this is conjecture, because although we see what the main characters do, we're not told why. Their motivations are a mystery. So the movie was pretty disappointing. It had so much potential, and could have gone several different ways. Instead, it felt like it was just chasing its tail.

It did make me wonder. One of Mae's justifications for going totally transparent was that she realized if she had known she was on camera, she wouldn't have stolen the kayak. Her thought was that transparency makes a person act better. We're seeing that now with more and more police departments requiring their officers to wear cameras. But does God give us the right to privacy?

Consider the first "secret": Adam and Eve. And the second "secret": Cain and Abel. Nothing is hidden from God. James 5:16 says to confess our sins to one another and Luke 8:17 talks about secrets coming to light.

On the other hand, there were several occasions when God kept the whole truth from entire nations or told His prophets to only reveal some of the truth (Exodus 3:18-22). In Matthew 6:1-4, He says to pray and practice giving in secret. He certainly didn't want Joseph and Mary to announce to Herod that they were pulling up stakes and high-tailing it to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15). And the first thing God did after Adam and Eve's secrets were revealed was to cover their bodies (Genesis 3:21).

In Jesus' time, people mostly lived in small villages where everyone knew what everyone else was doing. That doesn't mean God designed us to be completely transparent with the world. Besides the very real threats of cyberstalking and identity theft, there's the fact that He didn't make us telepathic. Being authentic and open is a good policy for friends and the church; livestreaming your life online is just messed up.

Like the (paraphrased) meme says, "If thought bubbles appeared above my head, I'd be in trouble."



For real information on cyber security, see:
Vice's TV show Cyberwar
Manoush Zomorodi's podcast Note to Self
Or even the cancelled TV shows Person of Interest and CSI: Cyber



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Published 8-27-12