Tag Archives: Netflix

The Circle: Social Media and the End of Privacy

The Circle, a Netflix original movie, will appeal to fans of the UK series Black Mirror. Each episode of that series was a dark, dystopian look at modern technology and how things that seem to be making life better also have truly sinister consequences. In the case of The Circle, the issues examined are privacy and the prospect of a completely transparent society where all of our actions can be viewed by the public at all times.

The Circle has a well-known and high-quality cast, especially for a movie without a theatrical release. Emma Watson stars as Mae, a young woman who gets an entry level job at a company that’s sort of a combination of Apple, Google, and Facebook. Tom Hanks is the charismatic and megalomaniacal Steve Jobs-type cult figure who runs the company known as The Circle. Also appearing are Bill Paxton and Karen Gillan, known for her role in Dr. Who.

At first, The Circle evokes familiar images of ultra-hip work environments such as the Google Campus. The setting is Sunnyvale, California, the heart of Silicon Valley. The campus has the kind of amenities normally associated with a cruise ship. At the same time, the atmosphere is eerily cultlike and employees are all but compelled to socialize constantly, weekends included, and report all of their doings on The Circe’s own social media site.

Mae, at first skeptical of the company’s all-pervasive technology (which includes a mini-camera that can take in entire scenes without being noticed, supposedly to help expose abuses of power) but who is gradually drawn into the mystique. For one thing, her father is suffering from MS and the company helps him with its cutting edge medical technology. Then, she impulsively goes out in a kayak late at night and almost drowns -thanks to The Circle’s cameras, however, she is observed and saved. Then she agrees to participate in an experiment where her life is broadcast 24/7 – sort of like a Truman Show, only in this case the star/victim knows she’s being filmed all the time.

We can question the realism of The Circle -especially the idea that someone like Mae could so quickly go from “guppy” (the company’s cutesy name for new employees) to one of its most powerful and influential spokespeople in a matter of weeks. There are also some actions taken by The Circle that would most likely have been prevented by the company’s legal team to avoid lawsuits and criminal prosecution.

As with Black Mirror, however, it’s best to view the movie as a kind of sci-fi thought experiment and parable rather than hold it to a strict standard of realism. The Circle raises fascinating questions about two opposing values: the right to privacy vs. the benefits of a completely transparent society. The ending is somewhat ambiguous and darkly ironic, which leaves the fundamental questions open-ended.

Do Movies Still Matter on Netflix?

A recent article on Yahoo Finance attempts to explain “why movies on Netflix just don’t matter anymore.”

As the article points out, Netflix is now becoming more popular for its original shows, namely House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, while its selection of streaming movies is sadly limited. The article goes on to allude to the “decreasing importance of film in pop culture.”

One thing that this analysis leaves out is that some people don’t seek out Hollywood blockbusters on Netflix. The site, for all its limitations, can be a good source for finding smaller, lesser known indie films. Granted, some of these are direct-to-video, low budget (and in many cases low quality) flicks.

There are, however, also quite a few good ones that deserve more attention than they receive. Just to name a few recent examples, while the average person may not have seen or heard of The Institute or Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus, some Netflix customers subscribe to the service mainly for the pleasure of finding such hidden gems.

There are also plenty of in-between films -not quite mainstream yet not obscure or art house. To give an example of such a recent release, check out Mr. Nobody, which was released in 2009 but only recently became available on Netflix Streaming.

It’s a little sad to see people equating movies with mainstream movies.