I don’t think Dave Eggers ever heard of Justin.tv. Or, maybe he had and then decided to base his psycho-intrigue tech-thriller on a world where people would latch onto that idea. Course, we know in reality people don’t want to watch a 24/7 livestream of a real person’s boring life, they want to watch them playing videogames real time and throw money at them. Human desire is infinitely more absurd than we would all wish it to be. Course on Twitch.tv you can now stream yourself socially eating, so maybe we just all really really desperate.
It’s why The Circle don’t really work. It’s a precisely constructed little thing, like the antique typewriters that litter Tom Hank’s office in the movie (y’all just know he swiped those from the props cupboard as soon as filming wrapped) but it’s a coldly logical one. Eggers adapted the thing from his 2013 novel with the assistance of director James Ponsoldt and it feels it in this super unfortunate way, it feels loathe to cut anything out, so you get all these halting abbreviated half scenes between all these great actors and then huge, extended faux Ted Talks by the Steve Jobs looking Hanks or his young ingénue Emma Watson.
She gets hired to The Circle (it’s Google) as a customer service rep. A position she’s rapidly elevated from by a corporation that sees her ability to perform as a mouthpiece to spout all the disruption that they suggest. The film suggests, ‘Whoa, isn’t the most horrifying thing, not if our tech were to vanish, but if instead it were to outpace us?’ Classic cyberpunk. It’s failure is the failure to recognise stupidity. The failure to realise humanity. It’s twisting this potent threat into the greatest San Franciscan power fantasy. All this is possible.
It falls into this in almost every regard, it’s basically as guilty as that Owen Wilson Google vehicle. It’s convenient for the joint to construct this world that appears gleaming and perfect, because then it’s such a mindfuck when it turns out to be morphing into something uglier. In doing so then it co-ops the late-capitalist, neo-modernist aesthetic that it wants to be commenting on. It’s convenient for the film to create a version of the techbro lifestyle that is divorced from the realities of racism and sexism. It’s convenient for it to ignore the reality of gentrification and the San Francisco housing crisis.
The camera never leaves this shiny space. It contrasts its rarefied air with rural American life, one that’s being lived by people who look like Ellar Coltrane and the late Bill Paxton and Glenne Headly. The city people love technology and revel in it, the country folk are made its victims. Wut? There’s a moment where the flick approaches some sorta truth: the company has secured a live performance by Beck on this stage they’ve erected. It’s looks cheap and shoddy and nobody’s really enjoying themselves and they’re all getting tanked. Yeah, that’s more like life.
Life don’t have a customer service job that’s as wholesome and fulfilling as the one depicted here. If someone in real life suggested that people be registered to vote through their fucking google plus account they’d be laughed outta the room, here Karen Gillan calls her out on it, and Tom Hanks just shuts her down based on her supreme lack of vision.
The adaptation process I guess crushed any sense of nuance from the thing. It’s hard to carry a film based on Watson looking concerned at a computer. It’s hard to get a sense of her friendship with John Boyega when they meet only three times over the course of the whole film. I think at the end she’s supposed to be betraying him maybe, or double crossing someone else, or breaking a promise to another third party, too rushed, too unclear.
There this bit, during the chapter of the movie when she’s livestreaming everything, where comments pop up around her. I’m not sure how scripted they actually are, they might just have been mostly written by the visual artists working on the thing. There’s one that comes up when there’s a group of employees in some strategy meeting which says ‘Your privilege is showing.’ It’s like the only time that comes up in the entire movie. The only suggestion that the struggles and fears and self involvement of these people on their nice campus are not shared by those outside.
In the end, the movie questions that what is to be feared is the way that the human mind could be swayed by the tech it has access to. The real dread is not from the evil people manipulating the system but those who are genuine in their intent to make the world a better place. It’s a very 2013 opinion to be having, the baddies now seem to be a little more obvious in our eyes. And the good humans? Those with the good intentions? They’re way way sadder and stranger and goofier and grosser and unpredictable.
It’s all too straight and too sane.
Where’s our cyberpsychodelia?
The Circle is available to stream via Netflix