Steve Jobs was not Emperor Palpatine. Lightning did not shoot from his fingertips when he got angry. Even so, there was a parody video on YouTube that cast him in the role of Darth Vader’s boss and, watching Michael Fassbender’s performance, you can understand how someone might want to portray him that way. Even if lightning doesn’t shoot from Fassbender’s fingers.
The price of Job’s genius was total control amidst a culture of fear. That’s basically the pitch of Steve Jobs, the latest biopic of the Apple titan, but this is nothing new. It was well known within his lifetime what kind of man Jobs was. Instead this film is far more interesting for the way it portrays those, who by design, or by fate, found themselves cast into orbiting Planet Jobs. This was a world where the guiding mantra was ‘in Jobs we trust’ and twice we see his acolytes packing halls as his unveils the latest revolution he’s about to brighten their lives with. Feted as a god, Jobs acts like one, and woe betide the person who committed heresy, or worse, apostasy, by contradicting or crossing him.
Then there’s Steve Wozniak, portrayed here by Seth Rogen, the man who actually built a good number of these wonder computers, including the Apple 2, a computer he spends the next two decades trying to get recognition for from Jobs. Except he can’t. Because Steve Jobs as portrayed here is both God and Iconoclast of the Macintosh religion. What’s gone before is obsolete by definition. All that it matters is what’s new.
So Wozniak never gets his recognition and Jobs goes from being a friend to, in several people’s words, an “asshole”. Furthermore, there’s Jobs’s daughter, Lisa, whom he doesn’t acknowledge until someone else pays for her to go to Harvard. He also alleges she can’t be his daughter, because her trippy-dippy-hippy mother has slept with 28% of American men; words that later come back to haunt him when Lisa asks two Harvard statisticians to try and work out the algorithm her father used to underpin this sensational claim. They can’t.
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We also have John Scully (Jeff Daniels), who Jobs hired back when the Apple 2 was just circuit boards because he needed an advertising executive, but who is later castigated as ‘the man who fired Steve Jobs’ and so ends up in self-imposed exile. Add to this Andy Hertzveld, who spends most of his life in fear of Jobs and the demands for perfectionism imposed on him, and Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), the ‘work wife’, who wins an award every year for having the courage to stand up to Jobs and tell him when he’s being an idiot, and the result is a flurry of emotion on-screen.
So that’s why you go and watch this film. Not because it tells you anything new about Steve Jobs. It doesn’t. If you wanted to find out about Steve Jobs, just watch The Big Bang Theory episode where Sheldon meets Steve Wozniak. Nor should you watch this film for the acting, though it is superb, and might possibly allow Seth Rogen to make the same transition into serious drama that Steve Carrell is making with Foxcatcher and The Big Short.
No, you should go and watch this film for two reasons. One; because you won’t be able to believe just how primitive the computers of thirty years ago look compared to today’s super terabyte ram beasties, and that in iteslf is entertaining. And secondly, because it provides an insight into the destructive nature of creative genius; Steve Jobs had to have everything his own way, to the point where the people around him hated him. To the point where everything had to be new, had to be better than what was already available and the only way to go was forward. To the point where Fassbender’s Jobs isn’t capable of recognising that, while he might be liberating the world by giving everyone a computer, he’s doing it, ironically enough, by terrorising anyone who gets near him.
So, is this a great film? Yes and no. Yes, because there is no denying that it is riveting drama. No, because a good biopic tells you something you didn’t know. This film is more a tabloid expose which dishes the dirt on Jobs much the same way The Program did on Lance Armstrong. Both films make for great drama, and good showcases for the actors involved, but neither delivers new pieces to the puzzle. A great film could have radically changed public perception, whereas Steve Jobs seems to simply offer more of the same, even though it excels at doing this.
By Gareth Wood