I would bet that nearly all of my readers use one or more Apple products, are generally familiar with Steve Jobs’ career or may have read one of the several dozen books about him. Nevertheless readers, I hope that you have enough appetite left for the full-length fascinating documentary, “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.”
Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney, the creator of such riveting films as “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” (2006), “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” (2013) and “The Armstrong Lie” (2014), has captured the complex Steve Jobs using a chronological approach with extensive interviews with Jobs’ colleagues (only those who no longer work at Apple) and his former lover. The film’s visual experience largely consists of video clips and photos of Jobs, from his youthful Beatles haircut and pudgy face, to his grey-haired, gaunt visage near the end of his life. Gibney acts as the off-camera narrator tying together the threads of his subject’s life.
Gibney said that he originally envisioned the film “as a kind of ‘Citizen Jobs,’ borrowing the meandering structure of Orson Welles’ masterpiece, in which an inquiring reporter moves from witness to witness, trying to piece together the meaning of Kane’s Rosebud. The resulting film is a journey of visits to people – some central, some tangential – to help the audience better understand him and his legacy.”
And Gibney’s method works well. “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” is a bit more even-handed than many of Jobs’ biographies, which range from pure idolatry to malevolent hatchet jobs. Yet, even attempts at even-handedness result in a pretty damning biography. One of the features of the film is how it examines Jobs’ emotional and inner life to a greater extent than the books, and that makes it all the more interesting.
The documentary explores why Jobs was adored by the public, yet respected but loathed by colleagues. We see not only the power-driven, vengeful Jobs, but also the renegade, Zen-like Jobs. With a brilliant intellect, Jobs insisted on perfection, drove his employees to debilitation and divorce, and yet conceived of beloved products that are indispensable to hundreds of millions around the world.
Particularly telling are clips from Jobs’ deposition by the SEC in connection with back-dating stock options. He appears self-confident, knowledgeable and smart, but also arrogant and greedy. I loved the interlude where he complains that no one on the Apple Board appreciated him adequately and thought to offer him additional stock in the company.
I would have liked to have seen a fuller exploration of Jobs’ biological parents, his adoption by the Jobs and the impact of those events on him, particularly in light of Jobs’ initial belligerent and cruel denial of his own daughter, Lisa. When a court-ordered DNA test confirmed his paternity, he reluctantly agreed to pay $500 a month in child support, when he was worth $200 Million. The similarity between his rejection by his biological parents and his refutation of his infant daughter is only one of the many significant paradoxes in Jobs’ personality. In later years, however, Jobs became close with Lisa, acting more like his adoptive parents, rather than his biological ones.
Soon another film about Jobs will be released. This “Steve Jobs,” based on Walter Isaacson’s biography of the same name, is a fictionalized bio-pic directed by Danny Boyle, written by Aaron Sorkin and starring Michael Fassbender as Jobs. I haven’t seen it yet, but, to me, truth is always more dramatic than artifice. So I am heartily recommending “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” as a thoughtful and compelling examination of one of the most famous, most complex people of our time.