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'It Is Neither Nor, It Is Both': Tom Hanks Finds No Easy Answers In 'The Circle'

"The question of complete control and complete dominance of a marketplace means complete control and complete dominance of your daily life," Tom Hanks says. He plays the co-founder of a giant tech company in the new film <em>The Circle.</em>
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"The question of complete control and complete dominance of a marketplace means complete control and complete dominance of your daily life," Tom Hanks says. He plays the co-founder of a giant tech company in the new film The Circle.

In the new film adaptation of Dave Eggers' satirical novel The Circle, Tom Hanks says his character is "neither" and "both" a hero and a villain.

Hanks plays Eamon Bailey, co-founder of a giant social media and tech company. In a tech-obsessed culture, the company has a creepy mantra of "Sharing is caring."

Emma Watson stars as Mae Holland, a new hire at the Circle who quickly rises through the ranks and agrees to broadcast her every waking moment to millions of followers on social media.

Hanks was impressed by the prescience of Eggers' 2013 novel. "Here we are four years later and much of what he wrote about is, in fact, a fact," Hanks says.

Interview Highlights

On Eamon Bailey's vision

If you believe that complete openness will be the great guide for humanity ... that means that you would have to close off one basic need for the human condition which I think is anonymity and privacy. ...

There's something that is really quite malevolent about this concept that when everybody knows everybody's secrets, there will be no more secrets — no reason for shame, no reason for hiding, no need for lies. That almost strikes me as something Lenin and Marx would try to put forward which is counter to what human beings crave in the course of their life — which is some degree of total self-control as opposed to giving over to grand control.

On whether this is a conservative leaning or liberal leaning film

It is neither nor. It is both.

On opting into or out of The Circle's terms of service

Individually I would say that you make this decision of opting in or staying out, and if you opt in, you really have to accept the entire contract ... meaning that if I type something on my email it will stay there for a thousand years. Even if you type something in as mysterious as "Call me on my hardline so we can talk about this." ... You are leaving a trail. ...

Now, opt out? That means you can't send email to anybody and you're not going to be able to read any book online. I'm sorry, but it's 50-50. It's a coin toss as to whether it's good, and wonderful and leads to a better life, or if it's bad, and terrible, and leads to a loss of our freedom.

On how viewers are "supposed" to feel about the technology in the movie

I think it's an examination of the trade-off ... Safety and aid on one hand and a sense of security [versus] a complete and utter loss of anonymity. I don't know if popular culture can handle that kind of comme ci, comme ça aspect of it because you'd like to find out specifically: Is it good or bad? ... Are we supposed to love it or hate it? ... Exactly.

On the divided country

We have been at this place before. ... I grew up during Vietnam. I was 13. I was not threatened by Vietnam in any way, shape, or form. But at my dinner table, there were arguments and fistfights over Vietnam. In the city I lived in there were riots and gunfire and burning buildings because of Vietnam. There was civil unrest and there was the reaction to it ... There was "Your Country Love It or Leave It" at the same exact time there were people who were, in fact, leaving our country because they could not consciously go out and fight the war in Vietnam.

Now we went through that period of time ... we weathered it. We made decisions. People showed up. They got involved. Artists raised their voices and started screaming. Other people found their voice for the first time. ...

We are in that same exact place right now. ... Three years from now ... we will be a better nation, on both sides of the divide ... on both sides of whatever the aisle is that separates all of us. ... The force of our history proves it to be so, and has ever since everybody got the vote.

Radio producer Alexi Horowitz, radio editor Jennifer Liberto and Web producer Beth Novey contributed to this story.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.