When I first saw the trailer for The Circle, I was intrigued. I didn’t necessarily think it was going to be an Oscar-worthy film, but I thought it could end up being a fun way to kill a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon.
It didn’t take long for me to become disappointed with the movie. Not only was The Circle chock full of themes and buzzwords intended to lure in millennial viewers, as I sat through all of the poorly acted character interactions and painfully obvious opinions about millennial lifestyles, I started to feel like I’d had this experience before.
It felt like a grouchy, skeptic, and right-wing uncle was trying to lecture me about how kids these days are ruining their lives with social media.
Gen Xers and Baby-Boomers have a lot to say about my generation and how lazy, entitled, and sensitive we are.
Nearly every important (and poorly disguised) message in this movie was an example of one of them.
“You young people are all glued to your phones!”
The movie is, at its core, about how social media addiction can ruin someone’s life.
The Circle is an organization that has consolidated all forms of social media into one platform. So, imagine if Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and LinkedIn were all in one app.
Rather than highlighting how this technology could actually benefit people, it’s portrayed as a bad thing. I kept hoping for a resolution at the end that could reconcile the benefits of social media with the fact that it can be addicting, but, no. The movie stays pretty firm on the idea that social media is bad.
Mae starts out not being terribly invested in her Circle account. She updates it very rarely, and prefers to spend time alone. But soon, after she is guilted by a couple of coworkers into investing more time into it (in what has to be the year’s most poorly acted character exchange, mind you), she slowly starts her descent into madness. She takes photos of everything she does, updates her status, and basically keeps her eyes glued to her phone. Eventually, she is manipulated into agreeing to put a camera on her person and recording every waking moment of her life for the entire world to watch.
“Stop sharing everything online!”
When Mae goes “totally transparent,” she basically becomes a YouTube vlogger. People leave comments on her live-stream and grow to feel like she is their friend.
Eventually, as can be expected, this total transparency ends up destroying her. Duh.
One morning, after parents agree to this madness as well, she checks in on them to say hi, and accidentally catches them in the act of getting it on. The entire world sees this, and Mae is mortified. Her parents stop talking to her for a portion of the film as a result. But that’s nothing compared to what happens to her friend, Mercer.
“You millennials are just a bunch of PC hippies!”
Mae’s childhood friend Mercer is an old-fashioned outdoorsman who hates social media and repurposes deer antlers to make furniture and chandeliers.
Mercer is sort of a hard-working guy-next-door, who ends up getting harassed by the public.
When Mae posts a picture of his antler art to The Circle, he starts to get death threats for being a “deer killer.”
Calm down, The Circle.
That’s definitely something you’d expect from a radical group like PETA, but Mae’s coworkers join in the hate. Eventually, Mae accidentally inadvertently kills him when she’s forced to demonstrate a new program made to locate criminals in hiding.
Basically, a bunch of people track Mercer down, and start a really disturbing manhunt, that results in him literally driving off a three-hundred-foot bridge to his death. All because he made a deer antler chandelier.
I couldn’t stop laughing.
They Could Have Toned It Down by a Lot
Everything this movie is trying to lecture the viewers on, it basically screams in your face with absolutely no subtlety. The dialogue sounded so much like a script, and so little like actual dialogue that my face started to hurt from all my cringing.
There are, oddly enough, some extremely subtle messages in this movie.
They actually do a decent job of throwing in some subtle exposition throughout the story. I even found myself really relating to Mae in a couple of moments.
For example, Mae starts off the movie working in a call center. She hates it. It’s boring, stressful, and, you later find out, has nothing to do with her degree.
After she goes totally transparent, there’s one 30-second scene where she’s analyzing a piece of modern art on the Circle campus for her millions of followers. She makes a joke about how she’ll finally get to use some of her art history degree.
This was actually a little poignant and resonant for me. Countless millennials studied something they dearly loved in college, and later struggled to find work in that field.
At first, it seems like Mae’s relationship with Mercer is a typical friend-zone relationship.
In one of the very first scenes of the movie, he shows up to help fix her car, and asks when they’re going to hang out. Mae makes an excuse and leaves. I was annoyed with this interaction at first, but later on, the real dynamic between them becomes clear.
Eventually, you learn that Mae has just kind of grown apart from Mercer. They were childhood friends, but they don’t have much in common anymore.
Mercer, understandably hurt, ends up putting a lot of blame on Mae for their lost friendship. I got the impression that Mae was just staying in contact with him because she felt guilty. It’s not that she didn’t care about him, they just went down very different paths.
Surprisingly Self-Aware? Or Maybe Just Extremely Oblivious
Though the Circle seems like a fun, hip place to work, the movie doesn’t allow any room to deny that this place is evil.
Unexpectedly, this movie ends up being a commentary on the ways corporations take advantage of millennials.
Tom Hanks plays The Circle’s owner, who gathers up the entire company into one big auditorium to regularly lecture them about how the company is going. He’s not a millennial Mark Zuckerberg type. He actually makes me feel like this every time he’s on screen:
To my unending disappointment, however, the millennial employees all buy into it
While that part was a little ridiculous, what interested me is the notion that, beneath the surface, this guy is taking advantage of young people.
The Circle lures young adults in with fancy job perks, actual living wages, and the promise that they’re doing something to aid in the greater good of humanity, which people in my generation actually do care about when it comes to their careers. The Circle then uses them to create an evil corporate empire that pretty much just wants to control the world.
It’s almost as if this movie is aware of the ways in which large corporations use millennial buzzwords to try and draw them in and get their money–which makes my brain spin a little, since I’m 90% sure this movie was the result of a bunch of 50-year-old executives saying “what will make millennials like this movie?”
What Message Were They Trying to Send Here?
When the credits started to roll, I was pretty firmly decided that this was a bad movie.
That being said, as I walked out of the theater, I couldn’t decide if I’d liked it or not.
This movie really does feel like a lecture your indelicate and conservative uncle would force you to sit through during Thanksgiving. But, like an old person, it did manage to sneak in some wisdom. And that’s kind of what made me continue to think about it long after it was over.
What about you? Did you see The Circle? Did you feel like you were getting a lecture?