“This is not a photograph or a documentary. This is a portrait of him, and the portrait within the script was, this was a monster, and he’s made beautiful by two women.” – Danny Boyle
Man oh man. Steve Jobs| (yes I know I don’t have to write it like its logo but I never get to use that key) dropped recently, and since then all hell broke loose.
In classic Sorkin style, everyone is furious and dissatisfied. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO hates it. Steve Job’s wife, Laurene Powell Jobs objected so strongly she pressured two of the earlier choices of lead not to go through with it, one of the founders of Pixar, the animation studio which Jobs helped set up, was “appalled” by it. Steve Wozniak at least liked it more than Ashton Kutcher’s Jobs (2013), even if this new one still doesn’t sound like him, it did “capture the visceralness of being in a room with the man himself”, according to Seth Rogen on a Hollywood reporter video. Universal thought it was doing great, until it didn’t. Critics damn it with faint praise or pull the classic “Sorkin’s writing makes stupid people think they’re clever” which is the dead horse which seemingly must be beat by those suffering an inferiority complex.
Steve Jobs| has become one slippery bloody eel. It’s very stage-y, not very cinematic. It’s not really a biography, it’s an exploration. It’s seemingly impossible to divorce the writer from the performances, which means everyone is viewing this as “Sorkin presents: Sorkin’s version of Steve Jobs as written, acted and directed by Sorkin!” as if no one else had any control or autonomy in their roles, but rather just an examination on what Sorkin has to say about Mr. Jobs. It doesn’t chronicle his later life, with Pixar and iPod’s and Apple’s mass enslavement to staring at a smart phone screen, and instead looks at the time when the general focus was on his products, not him, but where the film focus on him, not his products.
I mean this story surrounding it is enough for a Sorkin script!
Steve Jobs|, whatever the critics say, is electrifying and controversial enough to start a debate with just about every one. So congratulations Boyle, Sorkin & co. for furthering the legacy of Sorkin making all the intellectuals pissed off because he “got it wrong”.
I must confess, I’m a big Aaron Sorkin fan. I’m a big Danny Boyle fan. I’m a big Michael Fassbender, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen and to a lesser extent, Kate Winslet fan. I love much of their previous work, and barring the cast for one minute, both Sorkin and Boyle present nothing short of brilliant work in everything they do. You may disagree, and then we may fight, but both of them have the evidence of a library of films whose merits can be discussed, but never entirely discredited.
But enough about their previous works, what about Steve Jobs| ? Well, a three act film following the bits behind the launch of three products in his life, the 1984 release of the Macintosh, the 1987 release of the NeXT, and the 1998 release of the iMac. It’s also about his ethos, identity, relationship with his co-workers and friends, and his delicate and absurd denial/mending of his much discussed relationship with his daughter.
But hey, hopefully if you’re reading this, you’ve seen it, rather than reading what is essentially another press release/review of it. So let’s try and talk about it instead.
Well, to start, the giant bauble dazzling us is the script. It’s an absolute whirlwind, it seems to consume everything in its sight, like an eloquent black hole. Acting, Directing, Production Design, Cinematography all seem to be the arms holding up just what these people are saying. Which is unfair to say the least, because everything else in this film is executed well and excellent.Michael Fassbender’s performance as Jobs is utterly enamouring and convincing, and every swirling conflict is so absorbing, that it’s really difficult to figure out where you might be in relation to how you feel about everyone. In fact, only Jobs knows, and the distance afforded by the direction and script never helps you. Which makes it oddly disaffecting and incredibly engaging at the same time, almost as if watching highly intelligent bugs through a glass cage. Or like reading about the gods arguing in Greek mythology.
That probably, is the most apt metaphor for this film. The reality distortion field seemingly possessed by Jobs, is also a filter which can only be described as “Sorkin-esque reality” or “Sork-reality” for sure. Sork-reality is a weird kind of hyper intelligent reality, where everybody converses in such hyper intelligent and verbose ways, that it automatically becomes both believable and slightly apart from our own reality.
Funnily enough then, that Sorkin doesn’t even want people to think about these facts (in an interview I link at the end) he states “The less that’s known about the writer, the better. I don’t want the audience thinking about me when they’re watching the movie”, but like a black hole, he draws everything in, though maybe that’s not entirely his fault.
I posit that people react so strongly to his style, because it’s so idiosyncratic and so far apart from the clipped minimal style of screen writing which makes the script serve the film as the raw material which must be converted, as opposed to the Sork Reality where the film must be made to suit the script. It’s such a refreshing alternative, from this singular homogenous writing style where multiple scripts could come from one singular writer, human or computer, due to how formalised and one-note they can be.
And yet, the characters of Steve Jobs| don’t seem to exist in the real world. They exist in a world of clashing ideals, of emotions and ideas rather than reality. Jobs must reconcile with his daughter, but he does it in the arena of words and thoughts. Battles are resolved with debate, not with action. Everybody walks and talks and talks and walks, but rarely much doing actually occurs. The doing, is left to us, the lesser minds to fill in.In this world, the pen isn’t mightier than the sword, the pen crushes the fucking sword and sprinkles it for season over its dinner.
In a different trick, he actually narrows us down to a single viewpoint, one which is so rare in the usual god’s eye view of the camera, and so we follow Jobs and only Jobs, only being let into his mind at a very particular point (where he flashes back in his mind to his daughter as he prepares for the iMac launch), so not only do we not become voyeurs, studying how other people react to Jobs when Jobs is not looking, but Jobs is so honest and in control, that he is genuinely what you see and nothing more. Jobs hides no great secrets, no dramatic or theatrical reveals which we have become so accustomed to. Instead, he goes through a relatively organic (if slightly forced to fit the conventions of the style of the three act structure) evolution, not a redemption but a maturation. Jobs isn’t even all that likeable by the end, but who cares about likeability, when he’s discovered far more meaningful truths?
I mean this is a spin on the traditional format of screen telling. Our very own mega-myth right now, HBO’s Game Of Thrones, largely benefits from this God’s eye view approach. The ability to see beyond one character’s actions. But in Steve Jobs|, seeing the actions of others doesn’t exist outside of Jobs himself, and we the viewer, don’t exist out of the brief slices of his life which we see through the film. In that way, the film severely limits itself, which is why its electric script is so crucial to keeping the film going. I’m pretty sure Jobs is in every scene in this, and so in this weird inverse, Jobs becomes a sort of god of the film, pervading its entirety while also never allowing us in, because everything is out there for all to see. His searing ambition, his authentic sense of justice, his hypocrisy and bullying, his traits and attributes are not just on his sleeve, they’re fighting for space on his turtleneck and sneakers.
Before I saw this film, I didn’t know much about Steve Jobs. After seeing it, I’m not sure how much I know about Steve Jobs. But I do know about the idea and the ideas behind Steve Jobs. The film is a rumination on human vision, on a man who mythologized himself, written by a myth-maker. Jobs wanted to make technology accessible to everyone, to give everyone access to a simple, but powerful tool. For Sorkin, his tool is the word, and he reconfigures it in an alternative context to the world we live in. Just like Jobs reconfigured the technology of computers. They have their differences, but they’re both striking iconoclasts. The difference is Jobs was less preachy. Funny then, that he’s the one who ended up with the massive cult.
However much power myths have, Sorkin clearly isn’t looking for it.
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