The Circle arrived in theaters Friday, clearly hoping to start a conversation. Set at a fictional social network, it seeks to address the deep-seated anxieties we have about social media and a shifting culture where privacy seems to be receding like an endlessly ebbing tide. It’s a well-meaning attempt to be serious, hamstrung by the fact that it’s not equipped to deal with the issues it raises.
The basic plot follows Mae Holland (Emma Watson), a PR representative of sorts who joins the social media company of the title and quickly agrees to be followed around by its drones and tracked by the company 24/7. The Circle believes that “privacy is theft” and “secrets are lies,” among other ominous pronouncements, and its ultimate goal is to have everyone monitored by The Circle all the time. The corp argues that this is all for the betterment of society. After all, sunlight is the best disinfectant, right?
Mae is quickly drawn deep into the Circle’s cult-like atmosphere, and entangles her parents; her ex, Mercer (Ellar Coltrane); and others in its web. The Circle is shown to be so powerful it can find a fugitive in minutes, a tool that Mae uses to hunt down Mercer (and which winds up killing him as he drives off a bridge to avoid the many watching eyes of the Circle’s inescapable drones). Soon, of course, Mae is faced with a choice: Destroy the Circle for the greater good, or surrender to the pleasures it offers and let the world be pulled along with her.
As a thriller, it’s serviceable enough, though more than a little predictable. But in its larger goal — creating conversation about the issues of social media and modern technology — it misses the mark, for reasons, albeit for reasons that aren’t really its fault.