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The Circle screams at social media

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Life ain't a box of chocolates anymore.
  • Life ain't a box of chocolates anymore.

The only reason the film adaptation of "The Circle" will be remembered is because it's the final screen appearance of the actor Bill Paxton after his untimely and shocking death. Not to be overly harsh, but the film is so forgettable that discussing it feels like time that could be better spent focusing on the ideas that it ignores or reading the book it's based on.

Dave Eggers is such a gifted writer that it's almost predictable at this point how distinct and varied his bibliography has become. Eggers began his career with a non-fiction memoir about his experiences raising his little brother after the untimely death of their parents, then attacked Hollywood with a powerful and perfect adaptation of the beloved children's book, "Where the Wild Things Are," and followed that up with a bleeding edge techno-thriller.

That's why it's so surprising that Eggers is listed as co-screenwriter (along with director James Ponsoldt) of the adaptation. It's almost like he missed the entire point of his own novel or at least strip mined it for its three-act structure without carrying out any of the ideas that made the novel an entertaining read. The book is nowhere near Eggers' best work, but it's still compelling and hard to put down.

One of the best things about the novel is the character of Mae Holland. Following her excitement and wonder as she gets hired by a tech giant known as The Circle (a thinly veiled hybrid of Facebook, Google and Apple) is intoxicating. We learn everything about the Circle as she does, which gives the book a page-turning quality found in the best summer reads. Sadly, Emma Watson doesn't find the heart of Mae. She imbues the character with emptiness, so the ideas of the people around her can bounce off of the hollow shell of her ever-shifting personality.

"The Circle" predicts a future where cameras monitor our every moment of life, all for the sake of being immersed even more heavily in social media. This concept is a great one and sounds like the perfect setup for an episode of "Black Mirror," but the direction and the script lose all sense of self-awareness, instead aiming to be a deadly serious drama. That complete failure of tone means the film accidentally plays as satire even as its makers want the audience to be chilled by its half-assed "prescient" ideas.

The film's central horrifying idea is that of "total transparency" and how society should beware the dangers of all forms of online and social media. Maybe one day all of humanity will be literally plugged into their own computers and can share Instagram photos straight from our own eyes, but this is an argument that's been going since the advent of Myspace.

To spin true fear out of the ideas that the film (and novel) trade in, it has to play as something different than an old man standing on his lawn yelling at the clouds. For "The Circle" to be as scary as it wants to be, it needed to prove that if the sky started falling we would capture pictures of it before saving ourselves. Instead, the ideas just sit there, hoping someone will project their own fears upon them and pretend like the movie actually had anything to say in the first place.

The Circle

Dir. James Ponsoldt

Grade: D+

Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX


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