MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by James Ponsoldt. Starring Emma Watson, Tom Hanks Rated PG-13
If there’s one thing that I’m learning about technology, it’s that it changes things really, really fast. If you’re reading my reviews on a regular basis, you are probably also using the internet as your primary source of information (and don’t get me started about the hundreds of film critics online!). And many new films are routinely streamed digitally on the same day that they are released to theaters, with some appearing as Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime films exclusively.
That’s my way of saying that if you want to make a techno-thriller film, you’d best get cracking before your concept becomes yesterday’s jam.
Case in point: The Circle, based on David Eggers bestselling 2013 novel, introduces us to the fictional Circle company: an amalgam of Apple, Facebook, Google, and the NSA. It’s a great place to work (and live, if you choose) in which employees are rewarded and praised according to the number of people that they link into the world’s largest social network.
The heroine of the story is Mae Holland (Watson), who starts at an entry level job at The Circle and slowly (and all too naively) rises to celebrity status. Her advancement provides better health care for her father (the late Bill Paxton, in an unfortunate two-dimensional role as someone suffering with advanced multiple sclerosis) and fame that makes her feel special while it simultaneously destroys former friendships.
This could have been turned into a creepy 1984 clone (some of The Circle’s brand of doublespeak catchphrases include “Sharing Is Caring”, “Secrets Are Lies”, and “Knowing Is Good; Knowing Everything Is Better”), but since the film for the most part wants to keep us seeing things through Mae’s perspective inside the company’s four walls, there is never any sense of the world outside of The Circle. Tom Hanks plays Eamon Bailey, the founder of the company, in his typical Everyman Good Guy filtered through vintage Steve Jobs. But we see him only speaking to his company minions who laugh uproariously at every one of his cheesy jokes (and – trust me – they’re not very funny).
And boy, are these concepts dated! The Circle’s idea of planting little cameras all over the place has been active in London for years (and security cameras and cellphone videos are how we view the world), and our own government (and many others) culls data as standard operating procedure. Sure, you can control how much you want to participate, but technology is already one step ahead of all of us.
There’s enough electronics inside the church these days to warrant a magazine called Technology and Worship, delivered unsolicited and free of charge to thousands of pastors. My copy used to go into the wastebasket. Ha! How retro! I know now to toss it into the Recycling Bin. I suggest that you do the same with The Circle.
Three halos: An obvious polemic about the double-edged sword of technology.
Two pitchfork: A brief scene of discrete sexual activity, brief swearing, invasion of privacy, insidious behavior.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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