Internet Thriller 'The Circle' Is Here, And We Talk To Director James Ponsoldt

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There is something absolutely chilling about The Circle, and its extrapolation on our relationship with technology.

Emma Watson is Mae, the latest employee of the Internet giant whose name just happens to be the film's. Moving up the ranks and proving herself to be a model worker, she agrees to have her life be completely transparent.

Mae is on view to the world 24/7, the ramifications of which deal with issues of privacy, surveillance and freedom. And which ultimately poses a threat to all of humanity (as pointed out by the film's official description).

Director James Ponsoldt, who wrote the script along with the author of the novel from which it's based, David Eggers, muses, "Hopefully the film, like the book, asks questions of us about how we're living our lives now and where we want to go. I realize that sounds generic, but I think in the history of speculative or science fiction, or plain old '70s conspiracy films, we always assumed that we would be monitored by men in black suits jumping out of vans, helicopters following us and the government stealing our information, which in some cases wasn't too far off.

"I think the irony of modern life is that our data, our highly personal information, has been taken from us, but in many cases it was given away freely by us. We willfully, consciously or unconsciously, acquiesced and gave it away for a new app, you know? For the products that we have. We didn't read the fine print, or don't even really care and didn't really check to see if we could opt out. No one had to steal it from us."

 

One of the challenges he faced was capturing the sense of unease and angst that Mae feels that's a creeping, psychic sadness and a sense of loneliness as she interacts with the rest of the world or, more accurately, fails to interact with it enough.

"Feeling that she's letting everyone down by not, in some cases, just replying to their emails soon enough," he says. "By not making herself as available as she should be. Wondering if she's closed off. That feeling, that mind-numbingly crazy-making feeling that I think we've all felt, if we just realize that for whatever reason at this moment in time, it's not possible for us to not check email all day or not reply to phone calls. That feeling that you're a bit of a slave to it, which can make one feel powerless. That was a feeling that I wanted to evoke in the film. To get there, I think, was the hardest, most ephemeral thing to try to hone in on."

An additional challenge was the look that he and cinematographer Matthew Libatique went for. Early on, before joining The Circle, Mae lives in a small California town with her parents, offering up what can be described as a fairly classic, formal and quiet approach.

"But once she went into the world of The Circle," Ponsoldt offers, "we hardly ever stopped moving the camera. We wanted the world to have a kinetic flowing energy and also one where it felt like one can be watched from any and every angle. And as far as the design of the world, we wanted to have a poppyness and a colorful palette and a brightness that feels more youthful and idealistic and perhaps aiming towards Utopianism. If not pushy Utopianism, then just purely dystopic black and white where the creeping invasiveness comes with a smiling face and dimples."

The Circle, which also stars Tom Hanks, Patton Oswalt and John Boyega, is currently playing in theaters.

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