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'The Circle' just doesn't line up

Actor Tom Hanks
Getty Images
Actor Tom Hanks

With the obsession over data collection and analytics, we've become an open book for technology companies. And, "The Circle" wants to be a cautionary tale of what life could be like if we voluntarily sign away our rights.

But although it is somewhat rooted in reality, you'll have to suspend disbelief to take this film seriously.

The movie — which is loosely based on the 2013 David Eggers novel — follows the story of Mae (Emma Watson), a wide-eyed millennial protagonist with an art history degree. A friend named Annie lines up a job interview with her employer, The Circle, that turns cringeworthy and borders on sexual harassment. It seems to be a social network meets cloud services meets online wallet meets every single buzzworthy media company you can think of.

Soon, our heroine is working client customer service at the company, enjoying free concerts from Beck, swanky dorm-style housing in the Bay Area and a generous health insurance plan that extends to cover family members with pre-exisisting conditions. It's the new American dream.

When she leaves work, she never gets stuck in traffic.The weather is eerily sunny and perfect. One random benevolent executive that only Mae seems to communicate with conjures white wine from the bushes. The Circle has even managed to solve tech's diversity problem, with about as many women working at the company as men and a balance of people from all backgrounds. Oh, and there are also no children around, but that part may not be far from the truth.

Despite seeming to work at a tech utopia, not everything is perfect for Mae. She's forced to party and stay on campus with her colleagues so she can share enviable pictures on her social feeds. The executive shows her an empty abandoned tunnel and tries to strike fear in her with talk of an impending server installation.

Mae grows more distant from her family and loved ones, especially when she boasts about her ex-boyfriend Mercer's bespoke deer antler chandelier business, which causes him to be ridiculed by animal lovers. It's a bit strange how easily online critics find Mercer, especially since he's made an emphatic point that he's off the social grid. Hey, maybe The Circle really can do everything.

Then, in an effort to get people and politicians to be more transparent, Mae's manipulating boss — played by Tom Hanks, who no one could believe is evil — gets her to wear a 24/7 camera. The "novel" idea ignores the entire lifecasting trend where social media stars like iJustine got their start. Mae embarrasses her family by broadcasting one of her parents' jaunts in bed, and still her feed isn't shut down.

Mae even pitches a ludicrous idea to tie voting to The Circle for the sake of convenience. Governments could, of course, just take Australia's lead and fine citizens, or they could ask a third-party to handle the solemn civic duty.

Eventually The Circle's actions turn into a drone-induced public relations nightmare, causing Mae to snap out of her love for her company. What's the first thing she does? Reconnects with Annie using The Circle's video chat, apparently forgetting her cult-like employer's ability to access all data is what caused this mess in the first place. We get an uncharacteristic Hollywood ending, which to be fair differs from the more satirical book. She presumably leaves her plush job to pursue whatever art history majors do with their degrees.

In the end, the audience is stuck wondering if they should fear the tech world being run by people like Mae, or fear that people seem to be working for companies where people have little understanding of what they do.

Actually, both may not be as far from reality as we think.