Movie Review: The Circle

By: Caroline Newman, Editor-in-Chief

I first learned that The Circle, Dave Eggers’s inexplicably popular novel, was being adapted for the big screen in perhaps the most appropriate way: the trailer was advertised on my Twitter timeline. I was immediately horrified and excited. I read The Circle as part of an extra-credit project for a course on American culture, and delighted in ripping the book to shreds (figuratively) in my critique.

For those unfamiliar with the novel, here’s a brief summary of the plot: “When Mae (portrayed by Emma Watson)  is hired to work for the world’s largest and most powerful tech and social media company, she sees it as an opportunity of a lifetime. As she rises through the ranks, she is encouraged by the company’s founder, Eamon Bailey, to engage in a groundbreaking experiment that pushes the boundaries of privacy, ethics and ultimately her personal freedom. Her participation in the experiment, and every decision she makes begin to affect the lives and future of her friends, family and that of humanity.”

As an adaptation of the book, The Circle (the film) is very faithful. In fact, it’s so faithful that all of the flaws inherent in the novel are seen in the film. And the flaws are numerous. Eggers has proudly boasted that he did no research into Silicon Valley culture while writing his novel, and it really showed. As a critique of tech culture, it might work. The Circle (the company) campus was obviously inspired by the Google and Apple campuses, which serve to foster a “work hard, play hard” sense of community among team members. But as a critique of social media culture, it fails spectacularly.

From a pure film critique standpoint, it is difficult to say kind things about this movie. The dialogue is stilted and unmemorable (I was unsurprised to learn that the script was co-written by Eggers). The cinematography is bland. The film’s saving grace is Karen Gillan’s performance. Gillan, who plays Mae’s best friend Annie, delivers by far the most human performance in the film, both in terms of character development and in terms of line delivery.

The weakest point of The Circle (the book) was that it tried to ask a lot of pseudo-deep questions about societal reliance on technology and social media. Ultimately, these questions were baseless and went unanswered. The Circle (the film) doesn’t even attempt to ask questions. It doesn’t actually do anything. It starts, depicts the events of the novel, and then just…ends. As a zealous critic of the book, it was everything I expected. Audiences with no knowledge of the book, however, may walk into a theater expecting a much better film.