by Geoffrey Jones

Sometimes the most simple motif can contain the most stark and terrifying truths. 

It was my pleasure, as a youngster, to live near and see several times the remarkable writer Shirley Jackson. Shirley lived in North Bennington Vermont, (not far from the North Bennington Post Office).

Shirley is well known for having written  the original for “The Haunting of Hill House.” Her award winning novel spawned at least two feature films. It is considered by some to be the greatest ghost story ever written.

Her short story “the Lottery” created a sensation when it was first published in the New Yorker magazine. It depicts a small New England town where an ancient ceremony is carried out every year. The plain folks narrative of a Norman Rockwell kind of place is dispelled in the last scenes where it is revealed that the ceremonial lottery simply chooses a member of the community to be stoned to death.

The horror in the film “Circle” starts at once. A group of 50 people awake from a sort of trance and find themselves on a strange electronic circle facing inward. (The circle resembles those Simon games we bought for our kids some years back.) Every couple of minutes someone in the circle is executed as if by a lightning bolt. Rather quickly the people in the circle begin arguing about how to control the executions, thinking they can help direct the fatal results toward the elderly, minorities, the poor and other’s deemed less desirable or deserving than those judging.

A pregnant woman and a young child give them momentary pause, but only momentary. The device however, plays no favorites, despite the group’s increasingly selfish efforts, person after person of all types and beliefs are zapped away. The executions, very Democratically, include all.

Some folks reviewing this film think it is about the pointlessness of modern politics. I can see that in part but I’m afraid I hark back, once again, to Dr Zimbardo and his “Lucifer Effect.” We contain these selfish and evil qualities and do not have to look outward to “The enemy” to find them. Dr Zimbardo, Shirley Jackson and the writers of “the Circle” all keep the same problem in the forefront. We have to take hold of ourselves and not allow the trivial and mean to rule our psyches. We must fan the flame of good not of evil. Only then can  we truly “Overcome.”                       

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