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America Gets the Dystopic Treatment in New Animated Indie 'Silver Circle'

Photo of Jacob Combs By Jacob Combs | Thompson on Hollywood March 18, 2013 at 4:07PM

It's 2019, and runaway inflation has sunk the American economy into a cesspool of sky-high prices and rampant unemployment. A loaf of bread costs $50; bars advertise bargain deals on $90 beer Tuesdays.
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'Silver Circle'
'Silver Circle'

But there is some good moviemaking in here as well, like a car chase scene that leads to a good cat-and-mouse sequence as Zoe and Nelson evade Brandt's henchmen.  In general, sets and backgrounds come across better than characters, so the film's broader, less dialogue-focused scenes play more naturally.

The real problem, though, is "Silver Circle"'s omnipresent, black-and-white argument about monetary policy and political economy.  The website for "Silver Circle" asserts that the movie is not politically partisan and "does not represent any certain political party."  The keyword there is 'party,' not 'political'--while one could reasonably make the case that the film's rebels (and its villains, for that matter) can't be classified as Democrats or Republicans, the political message of "Silver Circle" is clear.  When your film includes a guy in a Ron Paul shirt playing guitar on the street singing lyrics like "I will not submit to authority," it's not too hard to tell which way the wind is blowing.

This heavy-handedness of message ends up robbing "Silver Circle" of any real power to elicit a change of mind or even self-questioning in its viewers.  The film's argument itself comes across as an almost authoritarian fiat (silver and gold: good, paper money: bad), and is enough to make anyone with an ounce of iconoclasm in his or her bones want to run to the ATM to grab a fistful of dollars, just to mess with the system-that-isn't-a-system.

"Silver Circle" could be a more successful film if it had taken its anti-paper money, pro-individual message and expressed it in a setting that was less recognizable than the DC-area suburbs through which Jay Nelson and Zoe romp.  One of the most powerful aspects of the best politically dystopic works of art is the combination of the personal and the political.  We rarely see the political machinations of George Orwell's Airstrip One in "1984"; instead, we experience the effect that such a society has on the novel's protagonist, Winston Smith.  It's only through Winston's eyes that we come to truly understand the horrors of Airstrip One.

It's hard to find any character as relatable--or even as humanly frail--as Winston Smith in "Silver Circle."  Jay Nelson is introduced as a paragon of honesty, and he throws his lot in with the rebels after a surprisingly quick change of heart and mind.  He never seems to undergo any sort of fundamental change; because he doesn't, neither do we.  This right-or-wrong infallibility makes it hard to see Nelson--or "Silver Circle" itself--as more than a political cartoon, an image of hyperbole that makes its point but doesn't engender much further discussion.

"Silver Circle" opens in New York City on March 22 for a week-long engagement at Cinema Village.

This article is related to: Independents, Animation, Politics


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.