UPDATED 07:27 EDT / FEBRUARY 01 2016


Who the hell is Steve Jobs?

“I actually wanted him to die,” was the response I heard from the only person I could find who had also watched the film Steve Jobs. I can’t say I shared the sentiment; in view of my own understanding of the man behind Apple Inc.’s great ascent, concocted out of all the mostly negative data I’d received via gossip pervading the internet, I thought Jobs came out alright in his, at times, blistering biopic.

Regardless of the opinion you have formed of Steve Jobs, or if, like me, you were never really that sold on his genius, you can’t help but be carried away by the spirited, sometimes heartrending dialogue of Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, Moneyball), and colorful direction of Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) – a man that always gives us a pitch-perfect soundtrack. If I was ambivalent towards Jobs the dad, Jobs the genius, or even Jobs the incorrigible quasi-sociopathic sexist boss, as the film fades into the credits to the sound of the Maccabees’ mellifluous Grew Up At Midnight, I ashamedly found myself, like millions of others, slightly besotted with the bespectacled billionaire who apparently changed the world.

No sooner than I had watched the final credits roll I recounted all the ‘real’ things I’d read about Steve Jobs; all the real things people had said he had done, all the real accolades his name is festooned with, as well as all the gritty aspersions that act as a counterweight to the good stuff.

Jobs’ final words were apparently, “Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow,” but there’s a fictional version (famous on Facebook) of his parting words to the world which involves him decrying his own immutable aspirations and intractable desire for wealth, praise and fame. The moving essay says things like, “Non-stop pursuit of wealth will only turn a person into a twisted being, just like me,” and ends with, “Treasure love for your family, love for your spouse, love for your friends.” It’s a nice not-true tract of literary goodness, a fiction worthy of the film Steve Jobs wherein behind the sometimes coldblooded, domineering, insanely meticulous man lies a glowing sweetness seldom ever seen. There are a lot of versions of Steve Jobs out there, and it seems the movie went with the Facebook version… to great effect.

Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is portrayed as being detestable at times, but his detestability is always likable; it feels as if Sorkin wanted to drag him through the proverbial mud a little way, but always really had his back. “Why do you want people to dislike you?” asks unappreciated engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), who like most other characters can never seem to get on the right side of Jobs. The only person who does accrue some love from Jobs is “his witness”, marketing manager Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), who not only believes in his far-fetched visions of Apple hegemony but also encourages his often severely unemployed fatherly instincts. She’s the loadstone that fuses the selfish megalomaniac with the guy that is proud because his daughter drew a picture on his dear Apple Macintosh.

Jobs the incompatible

In real-life, Hertzfeld talked about the many biographies of Steve Jobs, and concluded in one story, “Steve was a complicated man, full of contradictions, so there’s plenty of room for many different takes on his life and legacy.”

But the film is mostly binary; there’s the good Jobs and bad Jobs, and not much in between. The bad Jobs never quite comes across as the, “rude, dismissive, hostile, spiteful” bully we might have heard about elsewhere. When he’s good he says things such as, “computers are paintings” – perpetually disgruntled co-genius Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) responds to this by saying “Fuck off” – and when he’s bad he won’t spare an iota of his many millions to support the daughter he once denied any part in creating. Wozniak is not keen on the idea of making a computer that is a, “closed system, completely incompatible with anything”, while Jobs the father, colleague, lover and friend comes across as the humanization of this technological dream.

Jobs, we learn, did not have much technological prowess, rather he was the conductor behind the orchestra of which the likes of Wozniac formed. Some of the punchy dialogue in which Jobs single-mindedly admonishes his colleagues – especially the aggressive run-ins with CEO John Scully (Jeff Daniels) – are so compelling it’s hard not to get behind Jobs and believe in his God-like vision of a future in which his not very gregarious products have changed the world and prevented evil IBM from taking it over.

“I bled that night, and I don’t bleed,” says Jobs to Scully concerning a rather serious meeting when the board of Apple directors made it clear that they didn’t believe that Jobs was “inventing the future” when he created the Macintosh. They were all wrong, of course, and when Jobs returns to Apple in 1998 and creates the iMac the headlines read, ‘Silicon Valley’s original dream machine is no longer somnambulant.’

Jobs the Legend

Aaron Sorkin said in an interview about his conversation with daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs, “She was able to tell stories about her father that weren’t necessarily flattering stories, but she would tell the story and then show me how you could see he really did love her.” You can’t help but wonder if Steve Jobs, the good and the bad, has been overplayed somewhat. The binary Jobs makes for a moving movie, just as the false Facebook essay on the meaning of happiness suffuses us with hope as we scroll through hundreds of posts telling us that the world is a dark place. But it also leaves out pretty much the entirety of his life. We are watching a hero, one that doesn’t have a quotidian life; someone who talks in sound bites and thinks in miracles. Herein lies the problem: heroes are never merely heroes.

However, I admit, I fell for Steve Jobs the film, even though at heart it didn’t really tell us much about the man. Steve Jobs is a brilliantly made two hour piece of advertising for Apple and for the man that was instrumental in making that company what it is. It would be hard not to get carried away watching the film, but it’s also overblown; a depiction of the hype, a retelling of the myth. Did Steve Jobs change the world, or did he just put iStuff in it? That should be open to interpretation, but instead we are given Superman for Silicon Valley. What interests the public is the dichotomy of Steve Jobs, and it’s why we might never see a biopic of Tim Berners-Lee. Was Jobs trying to make the world a better place as the film might have us believe, or would he have been content knowing that a good proportion of the planet’s population has used up countless hours playing Candy Crush on one of his devices?

What was Steve Jobs doing when he wasn’t being nasty to co-workers, having amazing cathartic arguments with CEOs, enshrouding his own divinity back stage minutes before launching an aesthetically catchy computer, or just being a regular shitty dad? History at the Box office doesn’t much deal with nuance, and so what we have with Steve Jobs the movie is often great non-fiction fiction less about a man than a product of a man. And if, like the viewer in the first paragraph of this article, you actually wanted him dead, just remember that he didn’t say this:

God gave us the senses to let us feel the love in everyone’s heart, not the illusions brought about by wealth. The wealth I have won in my life I cannot bring with me. What I can bring is only the memories precipitated by love.”

Who the hell is Steve Jobs? Well, likely a lot more than the flawed hero, misunderstood villain that we’ve come to know. But in the words of John Ford, when you have to choose between the truth and the legend, print the legend. That’s exactly what happened, and you won’t be disappointed.

Photo credit: Steve Jobs the movie

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