Released 2015. Director: Danny Boyle
LEGEND TO SOME, VILLAIN TO OTHERS. LOVE HIM OR LOATHE HIM, Steve Jobs was one of the most influential men to come out of Silicon Valley. His name is forever remembered as one who revolutionised personal computing, and digital music, and smart phones. There’s never been anyone quite like Jobs, even his dissenters and critics would concede. His authorised biography by Walter Isaacson runs nearly 600 pages. How would one tell his story in a two-hour movie?
Leave it to master scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin to condense the essence of Jobs’s life into three acts, each taking place moments before a product launch. The first is the introduction of the Apple Macintosh in 1984, just as the popularity of home computers begins to rise. The second act takes on the ill-fated NeXT computer, Jobs’s venture after he was unceremoniously forced out of the company he helped create. The final act takes place before Jobs unveils the iconic iMac in 1998, a crucial step in revitalising the Apple brand
In these three acts of Jobs’s life, we see Jobs the man, the entrepreneur, the control freak and perhaps more importantly, we see Jobs the father, or rather, the reluctant and absent father, and how this side of him shapes the rest of him.
To describe Jobs as obsessed and driven would be wildly inadequate. Working with him is a tense experience, even intimidating, if the depictions here are close to the truth. Jobs is so single-minded if you’re not in agreement, the best of luck to you. He is demanding to a cruel degree and impossible to persuade or win over because his mind is set in only one way, which is his way. Everyone else is wrong, inferior and simply wasting his time.
As his one-time collaborator Steve Wozniak points out the obvious: Steve Jobs doesn’t design any of the products; he doesn’t write any of the coding; he doesn’t make things. But Jobs has a knack, a brilliant intuition to find the next shiny object that will mesmerise the world. He tells you what you think you need, before you even know you needed this thing. The people he hires are like the individual musicians playing a different instrument, and Jobs is the conductor that makes the orchestra come together in perfect harmony.
At the Apple Macintosh launch, his ex-girlfriend Chrisann and five-year-old daughter Lisa sit in stony silence waiting for an audience with the man of the hour while Jobs puts maximum pressure on his engineers to rectify why the Apple Macintosh suddenly refuses to say “Hello” in its voice demo.
The man with a colossal ambition to change the world through computing is adamant that the machine must project a warm, human personality with an audio greeting. The irony is clear as day he’s neglecting his child and her mother, testing their patience and perhaps hoping they’ll simply give up and leave him alone. Who’s not saying hello?
The movie doesn’t want us to like the protagonist, that’s for sure. With a net worth of $441 million at the time, Jobs pays $385 child support a month, which leaves Chrisann struggling to even pay heating bills. Jobs also strongly and publicly denies he’s Lisa’s father.
The script is quintessential Sorkin. Consistently engrossing and riveting every so often, the dialogue rushes forth from intelligent, articulate people with strong views whether it’s personal, business or technical.
Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Jobs encapsulates the man’s steely exterior, combative, persistent, eloquent in his superiority, and every now and then, gives us a hint of the person on the other side, a wounded titan, a hesitant father, a perfectionist fallen short.
The thorny, symbiotic relationships between the characters are superbly captured and delivered by the cast, which includes Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg and Jeff Daniels. There’s symmetry to the way Danny Boyle stages the three acts, which is almost in a theatrical fashion. As the clock counts down to showtime, as crew run around frantically resolving last-minute crisis of one kind or another, all these moments backstage give us an insight into the relationships around Jobs, the questions, disagreements, conflicts and difference of opinions unresolved over the years.
What the story leads to in the end is really about an imperfect man who, in his fierce pursuit to create perfect machines, has blinded himself to nurturing his other creation – his daughter. In a crucial scene, Jobs tells Lisa “I’m poorly made.” Is that an admission of his flaws, or an excuse for being a lousy father? Whilst audience may not find it easy to sympathise with Steve Jobs the stubborn man, Steve Jobs the movie is far from poorly made.
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