Let’s start with me freely admitting that I really like Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. They star in the new film, The Circle, that opens April 28. They are both ridiculously likeable actors and often play likeable characters. Not so in this film.
This is not a film review; it’s a preview. I have seen some trailers and clips. The actors are doing some interviews. I read the book.
Watch the first trailer that was released for the film at the start of 2017 before we continue.
The Circle is the novel by Dave Eggers that the film is based on. In the book, the main character is Mae. She interviews for the dream job at the Circle. It is the world’s most powerful internet company. It is Google + Apple + Facebook + Amazon + whatever other giants come to mind. It is more than any one of these real companies. They are located, of course, on a huge California campus. They connect everything: emails, social media, banking, your purchasing and more.
As with those companies, Circle wants to be your One Platform, your universal operating system, your online home. They appear to want to do good, not evil.
Mae is happy and feels very lucky to be there. What’s not to like? Open-plan office spaces, great dining, clubs, activities, nice dorms if you want to spend nights at work, sports, exercise, parties with famous musicians.
One of their technologies is SeeChange, a very portable camera for easy real-time video that are worn 24/7 by some people, like politicians who want to be transparent. (Think police body cams.)
I’m not sure how many of the sub-plots survived adaptation. One important one is her romantic connection with a colleague who is mysterious enough that she’s not even sure he is an employee.
Another subplot is about Mae’s father who has multiple sclerosis. She gets him on her health plan which also gets their home wired with SeeChange cameras. Mae even ends up “going transparent.” That is their expression for wearing the camera. It echoes for me with the Scientology term of going “Clear” which is what they call the state of being free of subconscious memories of past trauma (engrams). I don’t know if Eggers intended that connection.
Mae drinks deeply from the company Kool-Aid and gives tours of the corporate campus praising their products and vision. She starts to preach that “secrets are lies,” “sharing is caring,” and “privacy is theft.” Remind you of any real companies?
Will Mae’s ambition and idealism be crushed by the Circle, or will she fight the “good fight” for our privacy, democracy, and maintaining our personal memories, history and knowledge? Buy a ticket. Or read the book. (No guarantee the answer will be the same.)
Yes, Internet companies are the bad guys here. How much of our lives do we still own?
I was thinking it was a contemporary Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four when I read the novel. I don’t think this novel will be a “classic” but it was an enjoyable read.
Dave Eggers is an author I discovered at the turn of the century with A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. That is a novel about a college senior who loses both of his parents to cancer and then is left to care for his eight-year-old brother.
Eggers is the author of ten books, including A Hologram for the King, which was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. He is also the founder of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing company that produces books, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern and a monthly magazine, The Believer.
I’ll give Eggers credit for doing some good: McSweeney’s publishes Voice of Witness, a nonprofit book series that uses oral history to increase awareness of human rights crises around the world; he co-founded 826 National, a network of tutoring centers around the country and ScholarMatch, a nonprofit organization that connects students with resources, schools and donors to make college possible.
I see that Tom Hanks is doing a benefit for Scholarmatch this month, so I know some good came out of him meeting Eggers and making The Circle.