Dave Eggers is an “Oh, that guy!” kind of author. The kind you might have read in that insouciant vacuum between high school and college, whether it consisted of an all-too-brief summer or an all-too-vainglorious ‘gap year,’ likely while lounging on a deck chair or crammed between two sweaty commuters on the first train into the city on a Tuesday because you were 17 and could afford to do things like go to art museums all day on a Tuesday. God, I’d punch me in the face five years ago.
Anyway, I don’t think I ever read Dave Eggers. But that’s the problem. I don’t even know.
I wish I could say as much about The Circle. It is undeserving even of the non-compliment; “Oh, it was okay, but sorta’ forgettable.” Even though I’m sure I will eventually ‘forget’ having seen The Circle, it won’t be before expressing my astonishment at how out-of-touch and poorly structured a film supposedly about digital anthropology ended up being.
The Circle isn’t a satire, but if they ever release The Making of ‘The Circle’, it ought to be directed by Christopher Guest. Only at the end of the first act did I realize this film not only takes itself seriously, but asks me, a person only several years younger than its baby-faced protagonist, to treat it as an honest-to-God ‘prologue-to-dystopia’ anti-futurist critique. There is so much rabid fear-mongering on display in The Circle that it’s hard not to imagine it would have worked better as satire; not only lambasting the abhorrent tech-bro culture of Google and Apple and cetera, but also the scores of paranoid pundits and Luddites who love to wax philosophical about how interconnectivity is destroying humanity. Instead, The Circle bastardizes a Shakespearean tragedy, sets it in Silicon Valley, and asks you to buy it hand-over-fist.
I want you to close your eyes for a moment and imagine you are the head of a major Hollywood distribution house. More accurately, I want you to imagine you are the head of Europa Corp., the Hollywood equivalent of the star player on the high school’s badminton team. I want you to imagine that an entire battalion of production company heads (The Circle is produced by I-shit-you-not FIVE DIFFERENT PRODUCTION COMPANIES and THREE DISTRIBUTION COMPANIES in the U.S. alone) rides into your office single-file-to-hide-their-numbers and asks you to finance their film. Go ahead. Close your eyes. Pull every stereotype you can think of. Imagine a three-piece tweed suit with a pocket-chain and monocle. Pretend you’re the Monopoly man munching on a stogie after a three-week carbo-load. You got the picture? Oh, yeah. You’re Jack Warner resurrected. Now I want you to sit there, puffing on your cigar, and listen to this pitch:
Picture this: A young woman struggling to make ends meet for her ailing family and trying to work things out with her jilted ex lands a sweet gig at a Google-type Silicon Valley tech-giant. But after her major promotion gets her ex-boyfriend killed by a drone and sends her best friend into a nervous breakdown, she decides to destroy the world.
Sounds great, right?! (FYI: The Circle is $9 million in the hole after only one weekend at the box office).
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the director who brought you the uninspired The Spectacular Now (2013) and that God-help-us-they-really-fucking-did-it David Foster Wallace biopic The End of the Tour (2015) harangued the mid-spring blockbuster drought with this piece of garbage. The Circle is everything writers for WIRED make fun of around the water cooler because even in their alpha-tech-bro nirvana can normal people understand a level of nuance beyond, “Social media is LITERALLY KILLING US.” This is what happens when you let 40-somethings write books about the digital age.
Mercifully, The Circle features a solid cast of typecast actors exploring refreshing new range:
John Boyega (renegade Stormtrooper Finn in the new Star Wars films) brings inspired gravitas to the screen as disaffected former-employee of The Circle Ty Lafitte, who eventually decides that his conscience won’t allow him to continue serving the nefarious goals of The Circle and defects, secretly sabotaging the company and befriending a plucky young heroine in the process…
Oh, wait. Shit. Okay, hold up, let’s try this again.
Emma Watson, beloved by Harry Potter fans around the world for her decade-long role as Hermoine Granger, shows off a fresh new side as Mae Holland, a brilliant young girl born to ordinary parents in the ordinary world. Convenient circumstances provide her with a rare invitation to join the world’s most prestigious company, The Circle, thrusting her into a magical world of mysterious new technologies and arcane cultural vocabularies. Despite being totally unfamiliar with these new surroundings, Mae quickly finds a place for herself on the campus, earning a reputation as brilliant, resourceful, and fiercely loyal to her close friends and the head of Hogwar – er – The Circle.
Fuck. Alright, last try, we got this.
Tom “Tom Hanks” Hanks is here, showing us an entirely new side as – you’ll never believe this! – a villain! That’s right, America’s golden boy is finally showing us his sinister side, playing the beloved but hypocritical head of The Circle Eamon Bailey, a Willy Wonka-type showman who treats his company like progeny. He commands the adoration and worship of all his employees, stands tall as a ubiquitous public figure across the country, and can seemingly do no wrong. But a quick peek under the boyish facade and good-humoured brilliance reveals a domineering old man on an endless quest for power and immortality…
Hang on. Dammit! I forgot about Saving Mr. Banks (2013).
Alright, well the kid from Boyhood (2014) shows up too, playing a crafty woodsman-type who makes art and rejects the status quo and only speaks in mouthpiece soliloquies about the vapidity of the modern world and still looks like Ethan Hawke.
Fuck it, I give up.
The Circle owes its existence to a long-gestating and misguided move away from thoughtful satire towards melodrama. From a medium that once gave us well-structured and enduring screeds against the monopolies-of-the-moment in our history – television news in Network (1976), The Great Dictator (1940) for authoritarianism, modern spin-politics in Wag the Dog (1997) – comes a continued affirmation of Hollywood’s inability to create a meaningful film about Silicon Valley culture. Our over-dependence on high-stakes drama and rejection of subtle entendres have created a cyclical market of tripe like The Circle. Sure, much of the fault rests on Eggers’ impotent source material, but regardless of the fault in our scripts, blame cannot be withheld from the narrow-sighted fools who cobbled together this self-contradictory diatribe about the technologies that bind us.