By Shelby Fielding (Lubbock, Texas)
When watching James Ponsoldt’s The Circle I began pondering upon a quote by the mesmerizing writer known as Stephen King who said, “The most important things to remember about the back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.” Backstory and character depth are two qualities that are buried from the screen during The Circle. Along with the outright concealment of the narrative in general, which focuses upon a youthful woman being granted this dream job at this futuristic and dominant technological company that hold a heinous agenda that revolves around the misuse and annihilation of the concept of privacy.
These perceptions serve as intriguing premises for the narrative that are never implemented into the plot’s development or climax or resolution. A protagonist is realized, but not entirely written in her entirety. The antagonist is never introduced or presented, not to mention a goal or conflict that is at no time instituted to our narrative until the film reaches its ninety-six-minute point of it’s one hundred and ten minutes run time. James Ponsoldt fails to present a compelling as well as a visually enticing film in general.
After his marvelous romance story called The Spectacular Now, James Ponsoldt had built some anticipation for me around this new release. I began to ponder at the trailers and started to become allured by the notions it’s constructed upon. With its provoking opinions on the idea of technology overrunning are privacy and if limits should be placed upon it to prevent conceptions of over-sharing and the realism of the extinction of secrecy when technology begins to invade our lives to a point where we are starting to lose individuality. These premises are intelligent and built upon a sense of relatability, yet they are never realized or implemented. Instead, they are glanced at or passed over by and begin to become obsolete and dearly missed for their captivation. We are left with nothing other than this bland and monotonous attempt at an illuminating narrative.
This film never reaches a point of interest in its overdrawn runtime. Beginning with a gradual look at our heroin known as Mae, portrayed by Emma Watson, whose purpose is unknown. A guess could be made that it is her intention to make a better her life for her parents, who have entered a rough patch with her father developing MS. This subtext is realized and concluded within the first act of the film. So our protagonist carries on becoming this dull character with no intentions or goals that can create concern for this character and her journey. Emma’s portrayal is tiresome as well due to her poorly written character. The plot of the film begins diverting into the importance and the capabilities of technology and the implications they can have on the ideas of privacy and secrecy. Our heroin aids in this initiative which causes no affliction to be felt for this character and her traits that make her an individual.
This film acts as a building block with its narrative as if it’s generating a conflict, except the conflict never arrives we are instead saddled with this closed perspective following of Mae. It is not until the final fifteen minutes till some character interaction begins in a way that resembles a protagonist taking a stand against something, which feels as if it arrives from a general area that seems out of place, and at this point and time unnecessary. The marketing of this film is also cruel in how it pinpoints the importance of Tom Hanks in his role as Bailey and John Boyega in his portrayal of, both of whom play minuscule parts in the film with very limited time on screen. Patton Oswalt is also in the movie, and he’s underutilized as well, not to mention the late great Bill Paxton’s last on-screen performance is showcased in this film. It’s heartwarming to see him once again, and also tragically disheartening that this humdrum of a movie is used as his final resting place in his astonishing career. The direction itself is very peculiar in his choices for shot structure and shot composition. He continuously moves the camera as if to input the tone of intensity subconsciously, yet there is nothing to be intensified or viewed as exciting in any way.
The composition revolved around these visual effect designed screen of showing chat rooms in real time if you will. That feels like an added attempt to achieve a captivating film of some kind. The editing is jumpy and rough with its transitions, in which during a scene in which our protagonist is trying to have a private conversation in the women’s restroom with her best friend who’s been absent from Mae’s life for quite a while. Since she’s been overworked and driven to near madness while Mae has become this superstar of The Circle. During this scene, we jump from stall to stall with each shot being composed as a close-up. This editing presents itself as if Mae is dropping from stall to stall to get closer to her friend due to these rapid jump cuts which usually infer movement. This editorial choice is just another example of the mundane aspects that this film presents.
The Circle is the antithesis of James Ponsoldt’s past film The Spectacular Now, in which his recent film is compiled of vibrancy and enchantment. The Circle is stale and mundane in its entirety. With its lackadaisical filmmaking, atrocious screenwriting, and flat out boring performances, The Circle not only serves as an adequate snoozefest for the theater but a simple reminder as to the importance of creating interest in a character and their backstory. Proving the remarkable author correct in his assertion as to why the reasoning for a character or an event taking place is of the highest significance to a successful screenplay, which is one crucial role that The Circle can play in our mastering of what makes a film’s narrative influencing or at least alluring, just another tool for us to learn the facets of quality filmmaking in this era of technological engagement. Something that The Circle wishes to speak to but never does. A premise we can all take notice of which might be the matter at hand when discussing this slumber of a film.
Dan: How would you describe what The Circle is to say your grandmother?
Mae Holland: It’s the chaos of the web made elegant.
Dan: Speed round. Paul or John?
Mae Holland: Early Paul, late John.
Dan: Mario or Sonic?
Mae Holland: Early Sonic, late Mario.
Dan: Needs of the society or needs of the individual?
Mae Holland: It should be the same.
Dan: You’re most scare of?
Mae Holland: Unfulfilled potential.