I know movie reviews are not usually in my wheelhouse, but I just watched a movie so bad, so viciously irredeemable, that I feel it’s my duty to make sure nobody else puts themselves through the misery of watching it.
So this is your warning. If you have not yet watched ‘The Circle‘, do future-you a favour and wipe its very existence from your memory.
I knew nothing about this movie going in except that the cast included Tom Hanks (the Good Guy of modern cinema and celebrities in general), Hermione, Patton Oswalt, the Stormtrooper from The Force Awakens and that red-haired companion from Dr. Who. I mean, that is not a bad cast! I have seen both John Boyega and Karen Gillan be immensely charming. In fact, I think that is their default setting. Emma Watson can be a likeable, eloquent human being. Tom Hanks is a cult of personality all of his own, and Patton Oswalt is funny. These are all good people. They have very evident talents.
These talents – this likeability – has been utterly erased for the entire duration of this film. The entire cast fight tooth and nail against these natural tendencies. All five of their characters are joyless, wooden, unlikeable, stilted creatures that act with the sort of two-dimensional reasoning that gives us such guff as “Knowing is good. Knowing everything is better!”
In case you know nothing about this movie, let me give you a brief synopsis.
***I am going to spoiler the heck out of it, because I hope you never watch it, and so I am not really spoiling it as much as I am saving you from wasting an hour and fifty minutes of your life you will never get back.***
First, a quick word on everything we know about these characters.
Mae: Mae is the main character. She is a lazy, unfulfilled-millennial stereotype given human form. She likes to kayak by herself. She is friends with Annie (we don’t know how or why), even though they rarely see each other. She is friends with Mercer (from childhood; thanks, conveniently placed photograph on the sideboard), even though she’s not that nice to him and they have zero chemistry. Her motivations are a mystery. She has either dismally low intelligence or a pathological lack of imagination. If the former, she is potentially the dumbest human being on the planet. If the latter, it is not explained in any way that makes me the slightest bit sympathetic.
Annie: She works for the Circle. She is Scottish. She travels a lot. She is glam and bouncy and fun, and then suddenly she is greasy-haired, dull-eyed and clad in loungewear; this is the subtle shift in characterisation to let us know that she is Not Doing Well. We don’t know exactly what she does. We don’t know what she likes to do in her spare time. We don’t really know if she has any personality outside of getting Mae the job interview. She finally leaves The Circle (why?) to live in Scotland again, far from the stress of technology! Except… there’s still technology in Scotland. Do the makers of this movie think people in Scotland live in huts with dial-up and sheep?
Mercer: Mercer likes Mae for unexplained reasons. Maybe fancies her, although it’s hard to see why anyone would. Makes hanging decorations out of antlers, which he presumably sells to Gaston*. Doesn’t actually kill the deer so I’m not sure where the antlers come from. Can fix cars if need be. Lives in a log cabin in the woods. Drives a pick-up truck. He is deeply (and rightly) suspicious of The Circle.
Ty: Ty is John Boyega stripped of any charisma whatsoever. He plays the shadowy creater of TrueYou, something that is not fully explained but is important to The Circle. He broods in a dark corner, and trusts Mae with company secrets before getting to know anything about her because he just knows, from looking at her gormless face, that she “doesn’t have a cynical bone in her body.” Apparently this makes someone deeply trustworthy.
Now that I’ve explained all there is to these characters (not much), here is the brief and relatively painless synopsis of the story:
Mae gets a job at The Circle. She buys into the company ethos of getting rid of privacy for the betterment of humanity. She goes “fully transparent,” which involves broadcasting her entire life 24/7 except for bathroom breaks of 3 minutes. She accidentally broadcasts her parents having an intimate moment. She accidentally brings a community of trolls down on Mercer’s head for being a “deer-killer.” She accidentally alienates Annie. All of these people pull away or break contact with her, because they don’t feel like being regulars on The Mae Show. So far, so Black Mirror.
Her life falling apart at the seams, Mae switches from drinking the Kool Aid to injecting it intravenously and talks about how joining The Circle should be mandatory. The enormous amount of users means it shouldn’t be hard to track anyone down, even those who are not yet signed up, or those who don’t want to be found. She helps to create a program that gets users to track down any person on the planet in under twenty minutes. She tests it on her friend Mercer – the one who cut contact because he didn’t want a part of any of this – and in so doing has him hounded off a bridge. He plummets to his death in his pick-up truck.
You would think at this point that the movie has a predictable ending. You might think that Mae disconnects herself, moves into Mercer’s log cabin and retreats into a life of celibate hermitage for the rest of her days, feeling endless guilt for having essentially murdered her friend and having learned difficult but important lessons about respecting the wishes of other people and the value of privacy.
Our heroine cries in bed for three days and then connects herself up again. She’s clearly plotting something with Ty, and so you allow yourself to hope that she has some truly bombastic plan up her sleeve. Will she blow The Circle up into smithereens of painfully cool plastic furniture? Will she destroy the chamber housing all the company’s data? Will she unmask Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt as secret NSA villains selling data to evil governments for GLOBAL DESTRUCTION?
What she will do #IMOM (In Memory Of Mercer) is put all their private e-mails online (even “the ones their wives don’t know about”!) and then triumphantly talk about how privacy is now a thing of the past. Then she’ll walk out the door with a smug smile on her face, not a single lesson learned, into the drone-filled brightness of a new day.
Yes. You have that right. She destroys the privacy of all around her, cutting her off from her parents and the one remaining friend she has that she didn’t murder, and her takeaway is that privacy should not be a thing. She’s FINE with drones flying in her face at all times. She’s FINE with being a willing Truman. She’s fine with all of it, because the plot holes in this film go deeper than the Mariana Trench and Mae has the intelligence of a brain-damaged kakapo.
After the film was over I was so hyped up from indignation that I stormed in to the room where Scrubs was peacefully relaxing, my hands balled into fists, and said, “ASK ME WHAT HAPPENS AT THE END OF THAT CRAP MOVIE! GO ON, ASK ME!”
“No thank you,” he said, casually turning the page of his book.
“ASK ME! OR GUESS! GUESS WHAT HAPPENED AT THE END OF A MOVIE WHERE THE MAIN CHARACTER KILLS HER BEST FRIEND AND THERE ARE LITERALLY NO CONSEQUENCES!”
He sighed, looked at me and said, with absolutely no upward inflection, “What happened.”
“SHE FREAKING TAKES OVER THE COMPANY BASICALLY! BECAUSE THE CIRCLE ISN’T BAD, BUT TOM HANKS IS! FOR REASONS UNKNOWN! IT DOESN’T EVEN TELL YOU WHY HE’S SUCH SUPPOSEDLY BAD! SHE DOESN’T LEARN A SINGLE LESSON! THE MORAL IS THAT A LACK OF PRIVACY IS TOTALLY FINE AS LONG AS TOM HANKS ISN’T INVOLVED! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!”
“I can,” he says dryly. “That’s why I left halfway through the movie. It was a terrible movie. Why did you expect anything at all from the ending?”
I flopped onto the bed face first with a defeated sigh.
“Tom Hanks was in it!” I groaned.
“And Patton Oswalt!”
“There, there.” He patted my shoulder.
“I can’t believe I spent almost two hours of my life slowly building up to incoherent rage watching that disjointed, incomprehensible, badly-acted, badly-directed, badly-cast, badly-edited, badly-written piece of crap.”
“But now you know to never watch it again.”
This is true.
And now so do you.
*”I USE ANTLERS IN ALL OF MY DEEEEEEEEEEEEECORAAAAAATING” is literally all I could think of any time those antler chandeliers came up on the screen.