Steve Jobs: The Man in The Machine

| March 10, 2016

last year, I watched two films about Steve Jobs, the former head of Apple computers, who died in 2011 after a battle with cancer.  First, I saw the Danny Boyle directed and Aaron Sorkin written Steve Jobs, which is amazing and casts a fascinating look at Jobs’ life throughout his rise and fall and rise again within Apple.  After that, I noticed that Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher, was on Netflix and decided to check that out.  The latter was not very good.  Kutcher brings nothing to the role except looking shockingly similar to a young Steve Jobs.  What was surprising watching the two films back to back was certain inconsistencies in their telling of Jobs’ life.  So, when the opportunity to review this new documentary about Jobs came across my desk, I was happy to find out which of these films was the most accurate.  Honestly, I expected Sorkin’s script to be more stylized and sensationalized to make a good movie.  That’s largely what happened with his account of the creation of Facebook in The Social Network.  However, according to the documentary, Sorkin’s telling of the story is more or less accurate, just with that Sorkin flare for dialogue that doesn’t resemble anyone’s actual speech but is fun to listen to.

The documentary strives to look at aspects of Jobs’ life that were not covered in the previously mentioned docudramas.  Most notably, the film deals with his death and the technologies that made his death so felt around the world (iPhone, iPod, iPad, Macbook, Cloud).  The film also gets into Jobs’ becoming a buddhist, his tumultuous family relationships, and his general air of superiority and arrogance.  It’s one thing I also really liked about Boyle’s film about Jobs: it didn’t idealize the man just because he’s dead.  Yes, Jobs was a genius whose ideas changed the world.  He was also extremely eccentric at the best of times and absolutely monstrous at the worst of times.

Steve Jobs gets into the man’s estranged relationship with his daughter, Lisa, really effectively, and this documentary expands on that through interviews with Lisa’s mother.  Apparently the irony of turning his back on his daughter was lost on Jobs, who was given up for adoption by parents who didn’t want him.  His despicable acts as a parent is one thing, and something he later rectified by building a relationship with Lisa and claiming her as his own.  The more disturbing issues to me that the film deal with are his actions as CEO of Apple.  His company’s treatment of Chinese workers in their factories overseas is bad enough, even if he had no intimate knowledge of it as he claims.  Suicide attempts, exposure to deadly chemicals, horrendous work hours and conditions cast a very dark shadow over a company so many of us have come to rely on.

The documentary doesn’t pull any punches, but isn’t focused on criticizing Jobs or stripping away his hero worship.  It just aims to tell the whole truth about Jobs, his personal problems, and his unethical and illegal business practices along with the many many good things he did for the world we live in.  The documentary itself is fairly standard, composed of archival footage and interviews like you’d expect, but the filmmakers do try to inject some less common narrative devices into the movie.  The most notable of which is a story told by a Buddhist monk about Jobs visiting him wanting to become “enlightened.”  It’s a good story, but the interesting thing about it in the film is that it’s told through an extremely minimalist animation that somehow speaks volumes about the monk, Jobs himself, and the central concept of enlightenment.  It was pitch perfect and fantastic.

Available now on Blu-ray and DVD from Magnolia Home Entertainment.

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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