Steve Jobs Asks Us, Was He a Misunderstood Asshole, or just an Asshole?

We begin with the voice of Arthur C. Clarke, author of the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cast in black-and-white, he gestures to rows of whirring computers, presciently murmuring about their growing roles in the modern era. It’s a fitting prologue for a film documenting the ascent of the modern computer, but in a 2015 film simply called Steve Jobs, reeks of a pervading sense of obviousness that occasionally mars the script.

Instead of beginning ab ovo, or from the very beginning, the storyline centers on the preparation periods before Steve Jobs’ three different launches for the Macintosh, the NeXT cube, and the iMac, respectively. Throughout it all, Jobs (Michael Fassbender) weathers the failures of some of his inventions and being ousted from his own company. He always seems to be the smartest person in the room and knows it, begrudgingly explaining the fast-paced inner workings of his mind to people who don’t seem to get it (in turn, explaining things to the audience).

The film ultimately – and consistently – creates mounting anticipation during the preparation of each launch, and crescendos with a confrontation between Jobs and one of his co-workers or family members. The rhythm builds on this cycle of anticipation and climax as Jobs inspires rage and annoyance in the characters around him. Eventually, we’re able to predict the beats of the drama as easily as if it followed a traditional structure, which, if its purpose was to do away with familiarity, is a tad disappointing. Nevertheless it’s refreshing to witness the real problems and events Jobs dealt with. Some films focused on particular individuals begin the story from their childhood or early adulthood, which usually run too long and lose steam near the middle (take for example, Malcolm X – a great movie, but at over three hours, tiresome at some points). Steve Jobs smartly avoids this, powering through segments of Jobs’ critical moments rather than traipsing through his birth and death.

The main point of the movie is: the man may be a genius, but he’s an asshole. It’s a deconstruction of the mythos of Steve Jobs, saying he’s more complex than the serene, turtle-necked image we’ve been presented throughout the years. In fact, it’s almost jarring to see his transgressions play out on-screen, from the way he berates those “below” him to his complete refusal to accept the paternity of his daughter. But for all its eye-opening portrayals of his indecency, he is redeemed at the end, seemingly grown wiser and gentler with no apparent effort. Taking its cues from Walter Isaacson’s biography of the same name, the film takes an almost psychoanalytical approach in explaining away Jobs’ faults, by citing the insecurity that accompanies being an adopted child and his ensuing desire for absolute control. It traces his caustic behavior to the wounds inflicted upon him almost from birth, including the way his adoptive mother made herself not love him for a year, out of fear of him being taken away.

That approach is all well and good, but what does he do to earn the easy forgiveness of the other characters in the end (excluding Steve Wozniak [Seth Rogen], and rightfully so, considering the number of times Jobs humiliates him)? With his dynamic personality, it’s easy to see why people love, admire, and follow Jobs, but not why they put up with him, considering the repetition and intensity of his behavior. The entire third and final passage of the movie is devoted to proving that Jobs is a changed man from his earlier, insolent self, and the only explanation for this change seems to be age. The last scene depicts the seeming reconciliation with his daughter Lisa, in which he insinuates that all his efforts in the tech field were subtly dedicated to her. It just doesn’t quite feel merited, especially the last part since a few scenes before he had refused to pay for his daughter’s tuition to Harvard.

Despite these leveled criticisms of its plot and believability, this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the movie. I loved the rhythmic dialogue, the smart and witty repartees, lines like Jobs’ “God sent his only son on a suicide mission, but people like him anyway because he made trees.” (In other words, people are willing to overlook an inventor’s flaws if his product is good enough). Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin excels at writing characters whose minds work like the technology they create. Like Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, Sorkin’s incarnation of Steve Jobs thinks at a pace far faster than his contemporaries. He is—or believes himself to be—for most of the film the smartest person in the room, much in the way I imagine Sorkin views himself. Even though Sorkin is in love with his own voice (see: long, verbose monologues that show off his deft vocabulary) it works because, well, Jobs is also in love with his own voice.

Meanwhile, director Danny Boyle adds his own stylistic flairs, making Steve Jobs a kind of mash-up between Slumdog Millionaire and The West Wing. As always, he does a great job of making things lively and cinematic, matching Sorkin’s tendency to have his characters stand around and talk. There are jump cuts galore and tilted camera angles and historical stock footage to lend the film a certain authenticity, all coalescing to form something as manic as the mind of Steve Jobs himself.

One thought on “Steve Jobs Asks Us, Was He a Misunderstood Asshole, or just an Asshole?

  • February 2, 2016 at 2:31 pm
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