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Steve Jobs (2015): Man as a [Flawed] Machine

There’s no doubt that Steve Jobs influenced the society we live in today. I’m typing this review on my iPhone, a device I take with me everywhere and heavily dependent on, like a friend, exactly the way Jobs wanted it to be. In this film, Boyle and Sorkin explore the mind and function of a man with a groundbreaking vision, and an obsessive personality that would drive his success and alienate those who coexist around him. It is a slick, dynamic and ultimately insightful biopic that doesn’t hesitate to dig deep into the complex hardware that formed Jobs’ attitude towards work, life, family, and the future.

In this almost symmetrically aligned 3 act structure, not dissimilar to the dimensions of Jobs’ NeXT cube, we are taken through a quintessentially Sorkin-esque series of conversations and confrontations before three different launches. This is where the product is finally in the spotlight, the decisive moment where Jobs and his team wait to see whether or not their product has the potential to change the societal status-quo as they know it. Often it doesn’t, but Jobs’ mind is hardwired like a computer and always knows how to regain ultimate control. After all, the launch is Jobs’ central playing ground, instead of working with the fundamental mechanics of each computer, he makes sure it’s presented perfectly, he wants people to know about it, see it, and know that he was part of it. The trope of the misanthropic, narcissistic tech entrepreneur is fully thrown around and explored by Fassbender, yet both writer and actor don’t hesitate to explore what’s below the surface, which is what really makes this film stand out.

The greatest irony is that of a man who is hell-bent on branding his company as one that is dependably friendly, easy and accessible, yet completely alienates his coworkers with his domineering stubbornness and frosty paternity conflict with his ex-girlfriend, resulting in a life-long complex relationship with his daughter. Steve “The Computer” codes his capacity for warmth straight into the development of each product, leaving only coldness left for Steve “The Person” who has to battle through the people in his life on the way to launching his next big thing. The only person who has it in them to empathise with Steve is his marketing executive, Joanna, who sticks close to his side as a mother figure and moral advisor through all three acts. Her astounding capacity for empathy, which contrasts directly with Steve’s lack of it, is also our key as a spectator to understanding him, but also seems to have a long-term, agonising effect on her: “i should have hit you with something heavy a long time ago.”

It’s very interesting to see the two different planes of existence – of performative and genuine – explored in a very integrated way. In the first two acts, we’re led to believe that the products are his performance – specifically his fastidious fixation on having the mackintosh say “hello” in the first act – and that his antisocial relationships in real life are in his genuine nature. But of course there is so much more beneath the surface, as in any of us. Sorkin writes Jobs like a computer, and there’s even a shot of him lying on a couch with the Mackintosh blocking his head, fortifying this idea of his coded and emotionless life. Yet it would be foolish to assume that a human brain can be hardwired like a computer, even neurodiverse minds. We all have a core, even Steve Jobs.

The idea of “reality distortion” is thrown around in the dialogue, which makes sense in relation to the static state of Steve’s being, convinced of being one thing, but actually being another. Before he goes on stage to launch the iMac in the final act, a shot of him reciting tech jargon to himself is intercut with split-second shots of his daughter; the computer is glitching, revealing a vulnerable core that is very much present, but rarely acknowledged. He reveals his turbulent childhood, of feeling powerlessness in being an unwanted adopted child, and the resulting need to be in control of everything from that point onward. In the final scene he says “I’m poorly made” – a flawed computer, a human that cannot feasibly be perfect, and the film ends with Jobs’ acknowledgement of the flaws in his psychological makeup that makes him human, not machine. I feel this significance especially at a point in my life where I’m having to realise all dimensions of my personality and allow them to coexist. The dominance of one shouldn’t eliminate the purpose of another – the mind is more complex than that, and that’s completely ok.

What truly astounds me with Sorkin is his ability to construct dialogue that is concise without being vague, explicit without being obvious, dynamic without being poetic and functional to the narrative without losing any style or wit. As someone who is constantly trying to figure out the language of conversation, Sorkin demonstrates an impressively wise knowledge of how people talk, how people choose to share or withhold information, and how talking inspires action. In this sense, I can’t think of anyone who could have written this film better, as the narrative heavily relies on exploring the professional and emotional relationships between characters, and personal barriers that are enforced and broken accordingly. The argument between Jobs and Scully is particularly brilliant as it intercuts with various flashback scenes which all follow along with the same strand of dialogue, demonstrating the sheer gravity of the conversation and it’s implication on the lives of both of the men.

As walk-and-talk films go, Steve Jobs never fails to be exciting, powerful and gorgeous to look at. With stunning cinematography and use of 16mm, 35mm and 70mm film in each act respectively, it emphasises potential for growth and possibility, in technology and perhaps also within ourselves. It is made very intelligently and honestly, and has an unexpected undertone of hope running throughout, a beautiful touch to a film essentially about computers. The main thought I have taken from Steve Jobs is the idea that performance doesn’t always equal survival – it forms who you are, but doesn’t take away the core of vulnerability that we all have, and sometimes it doesn’t hurt to show it. In fact, it might help us get along a little better with people.

Score: 8/10