One of my favorite shows, maybe ever, is The Twilight Zone. It used science-fiction and fantasy trappings to put on what ostensibly could be considered morality plays. In my opinion, it’s the perfect use of those genre conventions. Need to talk about racism? Tell a story about aliens living amongst us, and how we engage with beings that look different than us, that have different cultural norms than us(I pretty much just described Alien Nation, you should watch it!). Yeah, it’s a little bit of a cop out, in a way, we should be able to just discuss these things on their face, but that’s not the world we live in, and if putting a little distance between ourselves and a subject to facilitate a genuine conversation, how can that be a bad thing?
It feels like we’re living in a little bit of a renaissance of the “morality play” style of story telling in low-budget genre and tv fair, especially in the past decade or so. A really great example would be Black Mirror, a BBC show, that Netflix has picked up, and is producing new episodes of(You should be as excited as I am about this! Seriously, stop being a dick!). I really love this kind of stuff, and seeing this tradition coming back into vogue is kinda nice, and maybe something that could actually do some good. We live in incredibly absurd times, maybe it’s time to start finding ways to have sincere conversations about it.
All that good stuff considered, enter Circle, a micro-budget, dialogue heavy, nothing but a concept, science fiction film. And, just like a classic episode of The Twilight Zone, the movie is singular in it’s conceit. It’s not about good characters, or a complex narrative.
Every two minutes, a group of forty or so people have to vote on which one of them dies, until only one of them is left standing. It’s all concept and no frills, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but, even at just ninety minutes, the film does kind of struggle because of it’s length.
Everything that Circle has to say is said within the first forty minutes of the film. It’s about our prejudices, how we judge one another based on superficial readings, about what we put value in regarding our fellow human beings. How do you quantify a life? By what litmus do we determine who should live and die? Is it age? Is it social status? Is it our social mores, and our sense of morality? If someone breaks those “contracts” do we have a right to take their life? And what about race? Oh, don’t worry, Circle has got you covered! Race is definitely discussed. Actually, pretty much anything obvious is brought up, but just because something is obvious doesn’t mean that it’s not of intellectual value. In fact, the idea that we take the “obvious” for granted as much as we do is part of the reason why there is so much confusion in this world. Just because I have an understanding of something, often a subjective one at that, doesn’t mean you share in it(Even though you probably should, because I’m always right.). Basically, even the obvious needs to be proven to be accepted as legitimate, in a broader sense.
The movie can come off a little cold, a little clinical at times. We don’t really learn anything about the characters, well, nothing of value anyways. They are little more than affectation, which is part of the point, I suppose. The film is having a conversation with the audience, and not the characters, and that works for a little while, but, like I said before, once the movie makes it’s point, and it makes it really, really clearly, there’s not much else for it to do. It’s like if you kept your lawn mower running after you’ve mowed the yard. The only thing you’re achieving is burning gas.
The problem is that the concept never really evolves, or changes. There’s no new quagmires introduced after the first few minutes, and the only thing that doesn’t stay static is the level of desperation that the characters experience. Their reasoning begins to become more trite as their numbers dwindle. I know that may seem like an “evolution,” and that’s partially true and part of the broader conversation, but it doesn’t stop it from becoming a little boring.
It’s almost as if there is too many characters, too many little stories that are paid attention to. In my opinion, if there were fewer characters and a shorter running time, the various points that the film is trying to make would be much more cogent. Honestly, with a little tightening, this would have been a pretty decent episode of the aforementioned Black Mirror.
The script is a little on the nose, but I suppose you could say that comes with the territory, to a certain extent. It’s a problem that’s exacerbated by the amount of characters, some of which are never named, others that only speak and become important in the last twenty minutes or so. If we knew some of these people better, it would make room for some nuance.
Having said all that, the flick isn’t without things that work. The performances are pretty good across the board. I mean, nothing is going to blow your mind, but everything is above serviceable, and most of the actors deliver their monologues pretty well, even considering the overwritten script.
Also, it makes good use of the mostly black space, and manages to keep things visually interesting. It sets up the rules of the event pretty well, and is able to build tension by people flicking their wrists, so that’s saying something.
I don’t think Circle is a complete waste of time, or anything like that. It’s on Netflix, which isn’t a ringing endorsement; there’s a lot of stuff on Netflix, but even given all of it’s problems, it’s still a neat idea that has some prescient things to say about how we interact with one another, and our litmus for value, both of ourselves and others. If you’re a fan of the shows I mentioned, I’d say give it a go.