Steve Jobs  – A Brainy, Engaging and Impressionistic Biopic
“It’s like five minutes before every launch; everyone goes to a bar, gets drunk and tells me what they really think of me”, says Michael Fassbender’s Jobs in Danny Boyle’s highly ambitious and captivating “Steve Jobs” (2015). That dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin cleverly and self-consciously nods at the film’s strict, clean and (literally) behind-the-scenes structure, which totally throws out the biopic rules. Although the movie has the trademark panache of Danny Boyle, it is wholly owned by screenwriter Sorkin. And, enjoying the experience of watching “Steve Jobs” is directly proportional to one’s liking of Sorkin’s unnaturally agile and unconventional adapted scripts.
Aaron Sorkin, who had written scripts for “A Few Good Men”, “Social Network”, “Charlie Wilson’s War”, “Money Ball”, likes to concoct a behind-the-scenes environment, through which he tries to explore the genius and dispiriting side of his characters. The problem many has is that, those real-life characters, Sorkin writes about (Wilson, Mark Zuckerberg, Billy Beane) are expected to reflect the facts, whereas Sorkin doesn’t care much about facts than getting into the emotional truths. We don’t read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to get to know the historical facts about the Roman Emperor (and of course Sorkin isn’t a Shakespeare). In that same vein, its better to read a Wikipedia page or Walter Isaacson’s superlative book for learning the cradle-to-grave story of Jobs. “Steve Jobs”, is more or less, a multi-faceted portrait of an iconoclast rather than a series of photo albums.
The film centers on three key product launches in Steve Jobs’ life – the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT in 1988 and iMac in 1998. At each product launch, we witness series of blistering, insightful and entertaining conversations between Jobs and his family & frenemies. In the first act, Jobs faces numerous conflicts with his dependable aide & ‘work-wife’ Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet). His ex-girlfriend Crisann (Katherine Waterston) is with their daughter Lisa (played by three different actress in the three acts), and she is furious about the interview Jobs gave to Time Magazine, contesting paternity. Mac tech-head Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) is threatened with indelible embarrassment by Jobs, over the failure of voice demo. Friend and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) tries hard to make Jobs acknowledge the Apple II team, and fails. And, finally Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) talks to Jobs about the danger of being a ‘father-figure’ to him (John was later known only as the ‘man who fired Jobs’). The same set of characters return in the other two product launches too and they all take a dig at Job’s megalomaniac and messianic side.
There’s a central paradox to Steve Jobs’ near-mythologized stature: He is stated as a deplorable boss, a man who does not take ‘no’ for an answer, man who is indifferent to others’ emotions; yet, there’s also something in him that makes people to follow him with the kind of devotion that’s only reserved for few in the history. Sorkin’s script tries to taps into this polarizing spectrum to pose questions to viewers for which there are no definite answers. Can a man be a genius and decent at the same time? What did Jobs do that made him such an idolized figure? Why can’t he at least tell a lie to a 5 year old kid about the name ‘Lisa’? Even Jobs, towards the end of the film says “I honestly don’t know”, when a ‘why?’ is asked. Of course, Sorkin’s approach to Jobs’ characteristics could have easily turned as a portrait of stubborn and self-absorbed guy, but Fassbender’s magnetic presence (although many complain about the lack of physical resemblance) and the razor-sharp, witty dialogues impart enough charisma and vitality to Jobs.
Those who are not familiar with Jobs’ life or proclivities as much as his achievements would certainly have a hard time in connecting the dots and understanding the references which Sorkin keeps on throwing at the viewers (like the scene where Jobs soaks his feet in the toilet – the ‘why’ is in the book). The central narrative arc of the movie hinges upon Jobs’ relationship with his daughter Lisa. Towards the end, the arc becomes a full circle and may be that’s the only familiar and overly sentimental element of the narrative. Sorkin and Boyle are intent on delivering the emotional catharsis in the final father-daughter sequence, which isn’t as nuanced as other exchanges. Nevertheless, it doesn’t outweigh the electrifying & entertaining aspects of the script.
There would be ample comparisons between directorial attributes of David Fincher (“Social Network”) and Danny Boyle on who impeccably brought life to Sorkin’s script. Boyle’s trademark perpetual roving shots combined with a strong editing and a pulsating score imbues great energy to richly layered words. And, of course all the supporting actors offer striking performances, where for the most part we don’t get the play-like vibe. More than listening and reacting to Jobs’ eccentricities and verbal attacks, these actors (Winslet, Rogen, Daniels and Stuhlbarg) holds the screen on their own too.
When Lisa asks Jobs on why he wasn’t a good father, he says “I’m poorly made”. Therein lays the central irony of this genius’, who only designed the most perfect computers & gadgets in the planet. And, fortunately “Steve Jobs” (122 minutes) was exceptionally crafted.