The Circle is a haunting, disturbing film that will forever change the way you see Tom Hanks. On its surface, the movie follows in the footsteps of movies like The Social Network and Jobs, offering a stylistically slick take on the role of tech companies in our daily lives. But underneath all of that is something much darker. Every minute of The Circle pulses with the torment of sexual obsession, erotic torture, and the far limits of the human capacity for psychological and physical abuse. This movie makes Fifty Shades of Gray look like Disney’s Frozen.
The story begins with Mae Holland (Emma Watson), a young upwardly mobile professional recently graduated from Harvard, starting her dream job at the biggest Internet corporation in the world: The Circle. Mae quickly rises up the The Circle’s ranks and meets Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), the company’s CEO and cofounder.
Eamon Bailey is praised endlessly in the media for his genius and commitment to philanthropy. As Eamon takes Mae under his wing and becomes her mentor, she feels roused and flattered by his attention. Being singled out by a tech visionary everyone adores makes Mae feel special and very horny.
Soon, Mae and Eamon are sleeping together (despite him being 33 years older than her). The sex is hot, wet, and athletic. Trust me, you’ve never seen Tom Hanks’ muscles glisten with sweat like this. The Circle spends a good 10 minutes depicting Eamon’s animalistic behavior in the bedroom. At one point, they’re fucking inside a gland of video screens streaming live video from The Circle’s users. It’s pretty wild.
But the honeymoon of love between Mae and Eamon doesn’t last long. Mae becomes disturbed by Eamon’s demanding and aggressive sexual appetites. And it gives her the creeps whenever he delivers long monologues about his plans to achieve total information awareness using a system of surveillance cameras floating around everywhere in the world.
The turning point arrives when Mae visits Eamon’s house to have a nice brunch. A work-related conversation turns dark when Eamon becomes frustrated and aroused by Mae gently mocking one of his more outlandish ideas to build secret islands off the coast of Oregon. The scene ends with Eamon forcing Mae to drink a carton of orange juice while he watches. He tells her, “I’d like to watch you mow my lawn.” In the next breath, he says that her belt looks awful and she should buy a new one. He slips a $20 bill into her pocket. Then he takes down his pants, and openly masturbates in front of her. She tries to escape the room, but the door is locked.
In short order, their relationship grows more toxic. Soon, Eamon won’t let Mae go to the bathroom by herself. Sometimes, he makes Mae go with him to the bathroom. Eamon calls her names, locks her in a closet, and cuts her with glass. In one scene, Eamon hits Mae so hard he leaves a bruise in the shape of his hand on her. Throughout these acts of harassment, Eamon repeatedly tells Mae that whenever in her life she hears the sound of her own breath, that’s just Eamon whispering to her.
Mae tries to escape this abusive relationship over and over again. But Eamon uses every bit of his enormous power as a billionaire to prevent her from leaving. He has his bodyguards block the exits. When she does manage to escape they drag her back kicking and screaming. He threatens her with lawsuits, public shaming and a vicious campaign of character assassination.
When all else fails, and Mae still attempts to leave, Eamon breaks down crying and begs her to stay. He tells her he loves her and that he can’t live without her. He threatens to kill himself if she leaves. He chokes and his whole body quakes. In a series of gasped hyperventilations, he promises to change and treat her better. When she relents and hugs him, he promises to marry her. She stays.
At the movie’s climax, Eamon’s plans for an enormous fleet of drones armed with surveillance cameras come to fruition. The surveillance drones come online and encircle the globe. Eamon laughs with maniacal joy, as Mae looks on in horror.
Mae dares to speak up to say that the surveillance drone fleet is a bad idea, Eamon turns on her instantly and screams, “I’m going to snap your neck and kill your entire family slowly and painfully. I feel nothing for your life. You are garbage to me. Do you hear me? Garbage.” Then he grabs Mae by the arms and says “You’re going to get more bruises.” But she slips out of his grasp and runs away.
Eamon chases Mae across The Circle’s parking lot, but she gets in her car and locks the door just in time. Even as she drives away, she’s sure the drones are going to trace her location and his goons will come pick her up. But they don’t. She sleeps in her car in an abandoned field.
And then in the morning, Mae goes back. She finds that Eamon left his front door unlocked for her.
Needless to say, I will never again be able to see that charming manchild dancing on a big keyboard in FAO Schwarz when I look at Tom Hanks. Nor will I see the courageous Captain Phillips, or the heroic Captain Sully. I will see only Eamon. And I will shudder.
TL;DR – Do not go see The Circle if you are triggered by sexual violence, psychological harassment, or the sight of Tom Hanks’ entire penis onscreen for many dozens of frames.
What the rest of the critics are saying:
“If you knew in advance that Tom Hanks was going to openly masturbate before your very eyes you may think, ‘Oh, well maybe I’m just okay with it. It feels good that he’s so open about it for this role.’ But I had no advance warning. No warning at all. Don’t make my same mistake.” – Ascenet Garza, indieWIRE
“The movie shatters the fantasies of sexual desire and sexual pleasure constructed within the novel on which it is based.” – Rafi Fathonifahri, The New Republic
“Ultimately, The Circle spends nearly three hours depicting a relationship that is bound to fail and doesn’t even seem all that fun while it’s occurring. I would never get into something crazy like that. Never.” – Phen Willet, NPR
“You’ve never seen Tom Hanks like this, and I’m not sure you’re gonna like it!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com
“The Circle is an absolutely revolting, absolutely necessary portrait of patriarchy.” – Nathaneal However, Guernica Magazine
“A monumentally frightening motion picture.” – Rick Wormeli, New York Post
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