Movie Mixtape: 6 Movies With Connections To 'The Circle'

(Welcome to Movie Mixtape, where we find cinematic relatives and seek out interesting connections between new releases and older movies that allow us to rethink and enjoy what's in our theaters as well as the favorites on our shelf. In this edition: James Ponsoldt's The Circle.)

So far on Movie Mixtape, we've danced with a beast and tangoed with Scarlett Johansson's ghost, and now we're dipping our toes in a dystopia that feels a bit closer to our home screens.

Based on the Dave Eggers novel, The Circle sees entry-level tech employee Mae Holland (Emma Watson) swimming through the hipster-bait open office of a Hooli-esque search engine company. Her life perks up as she rises through the ranks of the company, but success is a matter of compromising. Mae has to trade away something that most of us trade away everyday by using Facebook and Twitter and Instagram: her private life. At the heart of the company is its rock star founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) who wants to help society by making it more open and free.

Yes, the whole thing is one big trigger for introverts. It's also a case of too-good-to-be-true revealing its price tag.

The Devil's Advocate

Always remember to read the fine print. The Devil's Advocate is the perfect message movie about winning everything in life while losing your soul. A real Matthew 16:26 type situation.

As Kevin Lomax, Keanu Reeves smooth-talks his way through Floridian court rooms and Manhattan murder cases by twisting the letter of the law and his own moral compass. The American Dream is handed to him and his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) on a silver platter. The gorgeous apartment. The massive salary. The high life. The only catch is that they're working for Satan (played by Al Pacino, doing some of the best scream-acting of his career). Like The Circle, it presents a corporate reality where being a team player in a deeply flawed, unethical system, is the key to success, and the whole world is on the line.

the circle movie connections tomorrow never dies

Tomorrow Never Dies

Speaking of which, there's an unmistakable Bond villain quality to Tom Hanks' Eamon, who exudes evil as benevolence. A mad genius who sees beyond society as it is to what it could be if "perfected." Like a fictional Elon Musk.

Bond's nemeses have been toying with tech for a half-century, but the grandest (dumbest?) experiment with global social tools came from Tomorrow Never Dies' Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), a Rupert Murdoch figure who angled to start a major war in order to boost profits for his media empire. It turns out that unchecked power over the informational flow isn't a good idea. Neither is getting lax on missile security.

Hackers

Travel with me now, 22 years into the past, to a magical time when floppy disks were king, hacking into the FBI only took typing super fast, and modems were laughably slow. It's fascinating to get a double-feature view of Zero Cool (Johnny Miller), Acid Burn (Angelina Jolie), and the gang matching wits with the skateboarding corporate hacker The Plague (Fisher Stevens) as the latter attempts to extort millions by threatening the ballast programs on oil tankers.

Hackers is a perfect example of how films of the time treated the emergent internet, giving us a mystical view of game-changing technology that many people didn't have access to. Ridiculous as it was even then, there's something quaint about the film's targets: telephone networks, street lights, banks. The internet's nefarious intrusion is on physical spaces while everything in the era of the social network shows how far the internet has come (with us as willing conspirators) to invade our very personalities and behaviors.

the circle movie connections spectacular now

The Spectacular Now

Also directed by James Ponsoldt and also adapted from a book and also engaged with the social lives of youth! As with all of Ponsoldt's films (Off the BlackSmashedThe End of the Tour), The Spectacular Now and The Circle deal with unexpected connections in the midst of characters seeking greater meaning for their place in the world.

Watching the empathetic way Ponsoldt dealt with the alcoholic-in-training Sutter (Miles Teller) and the geeky Aimee (Shailene Woodley) as they navigated an unlikely friendship/romance gives us some perspective on how he treats Emma Watson's Mae in The Circle, whose unlikely friendship is with an entire company roster hungry for the apotheosis of an average worker bee into model employee celebrity. On an ironic note about real life, Sutter is lost on his way out of high school while Mae is lost on her way out of college.

the circle movie connections the money pit

The Money Pit

In a billion performances, Tom Hanks hasn't ever really been involved in a film that questions (let alone sends up) our relationship to technology, unless you count You've Got Mail. However, he has been in several films where heaven slowly reveals itself to be hell. The Money Pit – essentially a remake of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House – features Hanks and Shelley Long as a couple who are swindled into buying a mansion for what seems to be a rock bottom price until they realize more and more severe problems with the place. There are zoning restrictions to battle, an unstable staircase, a highly flammable electrical system, an ever-increasing pile of bills, and a genial raccoon who lives in their dumbwaiter. The only thing that doesn't show up in their trashed mansion is a screaming Al Pacino.

Like all satires of the American Dream, it points out that having a real connection to another person is far more valuable than attaining meaningless, beautiful stuff. Wonder what The Circle will have to say about that.

the circle movie connections existenz

Existenz

It's difficult to talk about humankind's relationship to the technology around us without drawing David Cronenberg to center stage. What he did for television with Videodrome, he does for video games with Existenz, a film about a technophobe (played by Jude Law) who helps out a game researcher (Jennifer Jason Leigh) on the run by having a bio-port added to his body so that he can download a virtual reality game into his consciousness. After that, reality gets squishy.

While movies like The Circle speak in terms of social currency, Cronenberg is fluent in the language of viscera, disease, mutation, and grotesque bodily wonderment. He's happy to show us the invisible ways technology is altering us by giving them flesh and blood and orifices.

The Mix

We've been addressing the way technology changes us in film since at least A Trip to the Moon. That's over a century of figuring out how rockets and robots and virtual reality shape our worlds. Our exploration of social media is just ramping up, and The Circle gives us a view into a new society that's either paradise or punishment depending on whether you'd be willing to pay its personal cost of admission. It's The Social Network by way of Charlie Brooker. It's also another addition to a long line of cinematic entries that demand our connection to technology not be a casual, unthinking one.

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