There’s a moment in the last scene of “Steve Jobs” that summarises the reason for the movie’s existence. With a look of deep regret and confusion, Jobs tells his daughter Lisa, “I’m poorly made.”
It’s screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s attempt to boil down Jobs’ tragic flaw into one concise moment of introspection. Jobs is obsessed with designing the most perfect products the world has ever seen, and yet he is irreparably broken as a man.
Depending how much you like “The Social Network” scribe’s writing, the line will hit you in the chest or make you scoff at its cheesiness.
Much has been written about “Steve Jobs,” which is directed by Danny Boyle and has a star-studded cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, and Jeff Daniels. Apple doesn’t want you to watch it. Former employees of the company that are portrayed in the movie think it’s fantastic. Critics love it
and are already hinting at the possibility of Academy Awards in its future.
I’ve seen the movie twice already and heard from Sorkin and Boyle about why they tackled such a potentially disastrous idea — choosing to stage the film like a play centered around three product launches with lots of talking between actors who don’t look anything like the real world characters they’re portraying.
In short, the movie is less a dramatized record of events and much more of a character study.
Or as Sorkin has put it, it’s a “painting rather than a photograph.”
I think it’s important to review a dramatic movie based on its merits as a work of art and entertainment, and through that lens, “Steve Jobs” is excellent.
The acting is top notch (if Kate Winslet as Apple marketing chief Joanna Hoffman isn’t nominated for supporting actress at the Oscars she will have been robbed). Michael Fassbender effectively manages to slip into Jobs’ skin without doing a cookie-cutter impersonation, although he does capture the vocal cadence and physical quirks of Jobs quite well.
Boyle’s directing is engaging, and the script is chock full of the snappy, colourful, Sorkin-esque dialogue that’s made him perhaps the most famous screenwriter in Hollywood today. (There are some great one-liners — Jobs’ daughter Lisa tells him that the first iMac “looks like the inside of a Judy Jetson’s Easy-Bake oven”).
There is much about the movie that is either factually stretched or completely made up, including pivotal scenes between Jobs and other characters that never took place in real life. To say that it’s based on Walter Isaacson’s authorised biography of Jobs — which the filmmakers do — is like saying “The Social Network” is based on the encyclopedic history of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg.
Watching “Steve Jobs” requires you to set your expectations appropriately. People who go into the theatre expecting to see a historical, factually accurate look at the late Apple co-founder will be severely disappointed. For that, I recommend watching Alex Gibney’s “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” documentary.
It’s pretty clear from the beginning of the first act, which takes backstage minutes before the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, that Sorkin isn’t trying to paint Jobs as he was in full, but rather capture the spirit of what drove him to create and lead Apple while leaving many, many relationship causalities along the way.
The biggest casualty in the movie is Steve Jobs’ daughter Lisa, who he initially denied as his daughter despite passing a DNA paternity test and being ordered to pay child support (that actually happened). There is no way to watch how Jobs interacts with Lisa, her mother Chrisann Brennan, and his colleagues and not think he was at best an jerk, and at worst a complete sociopath.
But Sorkin’s Jobs eventually warms up to Lisa (as he did in real life) and claims her as his own. He’s far from a perfect father after that, but you see him trying to grapple with the affection he feels for her and his inability to actually connect on an emotional level with the people around him. In the end, it feels like he redeems himself with Lisa, whether he deserves to have a better relationship with her or not.
It’s unlikely that you’ll leave the theatre thinking that the real Steve Jobs was either the devil or a saint. The movie, as good art is supposed to do, makes you ask why he behaved the way he did. It doesn’t answer the question for you.
In the last act of the movie, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (depticted well by Seth Rogen) frustratingly tells Jobs that “you can be decent and gifted at the same time.” It’s a statement that gets to the heart of who Jobs was and his legacy.
Steve Jobs was undeniably a genius who saw into the future of personal computing when no one else did, and Sorkin asks if that genius came at the cost of his human decency. Whether you believe it did or not, it’s difficult to ignore the question.
“Steve Jobs” opens in select New York and Los Angeles theatres October 9 and will be followed by a nationwide release October 23.
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