Starring Emma Watson, Karen Gillan, Tom Hanks and John Boyega, The Circle is a dystopian techno-thriller. Based on the best-selling book by Thomas Eggers (adapted for the silver screen by director James Pondsolt) and set in the not-to-distant future, the film explores the ethical complications of living in a surveillance society in which your every move is monitored by a higher authority.
When Mae (Emma Watson) lands her dream job at the world’s largest, most powerful technology and social media company, The Circle, she sees it as the opportunity of a lifetime. As she rises through the ranks, she is encouraged by the company’s founder, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), to engage in a groundbreaking experiment that pushes the boundaries of privacy, ethics and her personal freedom. Her participation in the experiment begins to affect the lives and future of her friends, family and humanity itself.
Does being put under surveillance change our behavior for better or worse? Egger’s original novel portrayed The Circle as an internet monopoly. Users’ personal emails, social media, banking and purchasing are linked via their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity per person, which is trackable and fully observable by the powers that be, supposedly ushering in a new age of civility and transparency. Basically a world in which Apple is an evil, all-seeing Don Quixote, tilting at virtual windmills.
This is the point where the novel becomes a contemporary thriller, exploring the perils of a digital life where personal data is collected, sifted, monetized and used for surveillance, rendering privacy completely obsolete. The scariest part is that it’s not at all unlike the way that Google, the NSA and GCHQ operate right now. It’s hard to say whether being constantly watched would alter our behavior for better or worse. Debates about privacy are nothing new but the advent of the digital age has posed new challenges, questions and concerns which take the conversation to a whole new level.
Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are famously possessed with the notion that through technological innovation and disruption, they can create a utopian society in which crime is low and government is more transparent, simply because everything would be public and nothing would be hidden.
The Circle, however, puts forward an alternate version of the theory, a dystopia in which our lives are controlled by an all-seeing eye that stifles creativity – because creativity often rises out of rebellion and freedom. It remains to be seen whether the movie will improve on Egger’s original work, which arguably did little to move beyond its dystopian mandate to consider the potential positives of a surveillance society, but judging from the trailer, all signs suggest that it will.
One to watch will be Boyega’s performance; he’s everywhere at the moment, including a stint in London’s West End, starring in Jack Thorne’s adaptation of Woyzeck, one of the “most extraordinary plays ever written”. Since exploding onto the international scene in Star Wars: the Force Awakens as everyone’s favorite ex-Stormtrooper, Boyega’s career has gone from strength to strength and his performances are always a real pleasure to enjoy.