THE CIRCLE by Dave Eggers: Which is better, the book or the movie?

They say the book is always better than the movie. In the case of The Circle, based on the book by Dave Eggers, I would venture to say that I enjoyed the Lionsgate movie more, which is rare for me. In full disclosure, I watched the movie first, then read the book directly after, so both were fresh in my mind during the comparison.

The movie follows the book pretty faithfully, pulling exact sentences and scenarios and bringing them to life. Both mediums are centered around Mae Holland, a young woman who gets a job in Customer Experience at The Circle, an incredibly successful newer company on the cusp of innovation and cutting edge technology. It is The Circle's goal to make life easier, better, more fulfilling. They create tools to help a person know how they're succeeding at work, ones that let them monitor their health, ones that help them search for people around the globe as well as save kids from kidnappers. They hold people accountable and keep them on their best behavior, knowing their are small hidden cameras watching their every move. Mae has a less-than-smooth transition as she familiarizes herself with her new job. She works hard to stay in the top percentile, but often goes home for the weekend instead of staying on The Circle's campus to engage in activities with her co-workers. Her "optional participation" scores are low. After Mae does something she doesn't when she thinks nobody is watching, the company asks her to be the first member to "go transparent" and have her every word and movement broadcast for the world to see. Mae believes in The Circle and its beliefs that privacy is theft because you can't share your experiences with others, so she's willing to do this, even if it means broadcasting absolutely everything, even embarrassing moments, because only then can she become the best version of herself...

First, I want to talk about Mae. I had a hard time connecting with her in the book. She's very malleable and doesn't ever think for herself. Whatever BS The Cicle feeds her, she buys it, even as she sees her family rejecting it. When she gets pulled into the office for lectures when she doesn't attend "optional" events at work or stay past 5, she makes up her mind to change that so she can get a higher participation score. She'll show up to events and make sure her supervisors see her. She does all these things because she feels she HAS to, because she wants everyone to LIKE her. And that is Mae's inherent flaw. I actually wish the book had been in third person so I could have gotten into her head more and seen what she was really thinking, see if she ever had any doubts. She would just agree with a "Sure" and the conversation would move on. There was no thought connected to it.

The movie version of Mae, played by Emma Watson, is much more vulnerable and accessible, so I connected with her more. She's still putty like Book Mae and too willing to go along with The Circle as her every freedom is stolen "for the better good." But viewers can see her hesitate. They can almost hear her question things. The movie is built a little more like a thriller, giving Movie Mae a chance to explore what goes on at The Circle that may be less than savory.

Interestingly, the movie and book end in different directions, and each finalizes its version of Mae in very different ways. This is perhaps another reason I prefer the movie to the book this time around. I just like Mae as a human being more. Book Mae is way too judgey and mean. She would absolutely had sat with Regina George at the Mean Girls table and been her ultimate lackey. The Circle shapes her in every way and she never, ever questions it. She never even questions if she's happy, if giving up so much is worth it. She finds herself hating her former life and even stops communicating so much with her family despite her dad's issues with MS. Movie Mae doesn't have nearly as many of the negative characteristics, and is played in a way that gives us a glimpse into her head just a fraction more--but it's enough to make a difference.

The only other big change from page to screen was merging two of Book Mae's love interests into one for Movie Mae. In the interest of time, it would have been hard to have Movie Mae attached to two different guys and have the viewers feel the relationships to be meaningful. By narrowing it down to one potential interest, more chemistry was built and movie viewers root for something to happen between the two and don't feel that Mae is wishy-washy. Book Mae is harder to like after the way she treats Francis. She doesn't particularly care for him, but doesn't want to be alone, so she pretends--and lies to him about things such as how satisfied she is in the relationship. I can see why the movie dropped Francis because his presence makes Mae so much less likable. I actually like the movie character of Ty the best of the various suitors we've seen for Mae.

The movie also brings all the tech of The Circle to life in a way that's harder to visualize in the book. Then again, having seen the movie first, I was envisioning the stage with its projections during meetings, etc. The book seemed to have more TELL and not as much SHOW, and that's where the movie really shines. It takes all the tech we're told about in the book and brings it to life. I wanted to watch the movie again after finishing the book because there was some tech we saw that was never quite explained, but its existence made sense after reading the book and made me appreciate its inclusion in the movie all the more. It also fleshes out everything the book talked about, but glossed over describing and brought the world to life. I really like the world-building of the movie and the way it brought The Circle together and added a splash of danger to the mix. Viewers could really see both the good and the bad of the tech as it was introduced to Mae. My favorite moment was seeing all the comments from viewers across the world when Movie Mae went transparent, which felt more immediate and really brought the impact of the technology home. I also really like Movie Mae's reaction to the SoulSearch technology and felt this was a pivotal moment that made me like her better than Book Mae, who experiences the technology much differently.

The heart of the book is its social commentary on privacy and fear for the future. George Orwell's 1984 has taught us that Big Brother is always watching. Social media sites such as Facebook have created a generation that relies too much on being "liked" and having their every thought and experience shared amongst friends and families. Social media takes up too much of our lives, and The Circle--especially in book form--showcases what happens when we've been drinking the Kool-Aid for so long that we WANT to give up our privacy because it makes us feel more connected. In this way, the book shines more than the movie because it gives us so many extra details and shines the light onto more of The Circle's tech. We see Book Mae's day-to-day life and experience life on campus that was cut from the movie for time's sake. The movie also does a good job about portraying this social commentary, however, and outwardly questions it more and brings tensions to more of a boil. Both mediums explore the topic in ways that work, and both paint the picture of a world that could very well be ours in the future, a world full of transparency where privacy is no longer an option.

The Circle, starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, debuted on blu-ray, DVD, and digital last week, and the book was published by Knopf in 2013, so you can get your hands on both mediums right now and see which you like better for yourself!

O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Dave Eggers
Release Date: Oct. 8, 2013 / April 28, 2017
Publisher: Knopf / Lionsgate
Received: Movie For Review;
Book Borrowed


When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. 

As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. 

Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America - even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.