Since its announcement, press interest surrounding the latest film about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has been dominated by its writer Aaron Sorkin, who has dutifully offers a rich and textured screenplay. Contrastingly, its director Danny Boyle provides only the lightest of touches, with this refreshing biopic largely absent of his typical stylistic devices. There’s little in the story that hasn’t already been well-documented. In the past few years there has already been a lacklustre biopic, 2013’s Jobs, and a so-so Alex Gibney documentary.
Jobs is part of modern mythology, with his tyrannical behaviour fertile territory for exploration. While Sorkin’s script does little to reveal anything new about the man, it does manage a nuanced approach to his life, with Michael Fassbender offering up a charismatic portrayal of a both tyrant and genius. Steve Jobs (2015) is divided into three distinct acts, each taking place before three key product launches: the Macintosh, the NeXT and iMac. We open in 1984, behind the scenes of the former’s unveiling. Instantly we’re infected by Jobs’ personality, witnessing his megalomaniacal behaviour towards his staff, including his “work wife” and head of marketing Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet). We only see him soften when he’s interacting with CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) or his founding partner Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), both of whom later become challengers to Jobs’ authoritarian rule.
It’s both comic and terrifying to witness Jobs and his stream of derogatory statements and threats. Sorkin’s script walks a fine line between humour and tragedy, making for a riveting, entertaining watch. At this first launch we’re also introduced to Jobs’ complex relationship with Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Watertson) and his ‘daughter’ Lisa. The familial bonds that tie is a theme that run as a bass note throughout the film yet Sorkin is more interested in Jobs’ sole obsession with changing the world via technology.
This is a potent portrait for our time, transfixed as we are with the marketing ploys that Jobs first gave birth to; namely, that by buying Apple products, you weren’t just purchasing a consumer good but also buying into a lifestyle – an attitude that persists among die-hard Apple fans. Throughout, Apple’s iconic advertising is fully on display: the 1984 ad, the bright colour palette of the launch of the first iMac etc. The use of aforementioned marketing material and gimmicks makes Sorkin seem less interested in the historical ‘Steve Jobs’ and more in exploring the pop culture myth of this enigmatic figure. We also dwell on Jobs’ infamous controlling nature, constantly referencing his desire to create closed-system devices that couldn’t be tampered with by its users. This attitude infects his personal relationships too, from his perceived betrayal by Sculley to his ongoing pitched battle with Lisa. In essence, Sorkin (and Boyle) portray Jobs as a man who would do anything in order to have total command.
Surprisingly, Jobs comes off rather well throughout, despite the numerous scenes of him verbally eviscerating everyone in sight. Sorkin isn’t interested in providing us with a template biopic, instead giving birth to something far more intriguing – a concise distillation of Jobs schemata that’s been aggregated over the years. The film cuts through the whispered stories of employees, journalists and the image Jobs himself projected, demonstrating an incredibly complex – if almost entirely fictionalised – figure that may have lurked in some form beneath the public façade. Whilst comparisons to David Fincher’s The Social Network (2010) – also written by Sorkin – are obvious ones to make, the two films are quite different. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg -at least at the time – was not as iconic a figure as the Apple magnate. With Steve Jobs, Sorkin – with Boyle somewhat in tow – once again demonstrates his remarkable ability to capture incredibly divisive 21st century figures with stunning finesse.
Joe Walsh | @JosephDAWalsh