“Director Boyle and Screenwriter Sorkin are guilty of celebrity worship in their fanciful portrait of “tech guru” Jobs.”
Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin want it both ways in their portrait of Steve Jobs: they’re content to show him as an unlikable “control freak” but inexplicably conclude that Jobs was some kind of visionary.
Maybe Boyle and Sorkin’s approach wouldn’t be so reprehensible if they simply weren’t content to stick to the basic facts about Jobs’ life, but even Sorkin admits that his narrative is only very loosely based on true events and falls under the rubric of “dramatic license.”
All the drama is bunched up during the three key “product launches” overseen by Jobs: the 1984 introduction of the MacIntosh, his NeXT “Black Cube” in 1988 and the slightly more successful iMac in 1998.
Much of what when on during these launches is fabricated to emphasize Jobs’ intransigence or a prescient flip side. For example, the entire brouhaha about Jobs’ purported threat to humiliate his programmer, Danny Herztfeld, if he couldn’t get the computer to say “hello” within 40 minutes before the launch, never happened. Similarly, Joanna Hoffman’s shock that special tools were needed to open the computer since it was a closed system, also was a bogus invention (do you really think anyone on the Apple team wouldn’t have known about their own computer’s internal parameters?) Even Jobs’ daughter Lisa’s “abstract painting” which supposedly induced him to pay more child support for ex-girlfriend Chrisann, was purely fictional.
Boyle and Sorkin would like us to believe that Jobs was a master seer, prophesying that he would be hired back by Apple after sabotaging his NeXT computer by introducing it without an operating system. According to “steve-jobs-the-movie-11-things-that-arent-true-about-the-apple-co- founder” by Rick Tetzeli at thefastcompany.com, the purported plan was that Apple then would turn around and offer Jobs control of the company after he finally developed an operating system. But Tetzeli informs that in 1988, Jobs “had no reason to believe that this could—much less would— happen.” Eight years later Apple did buy the NeXT operating system but Jobs never predicted it.
The idea that Jobs became a big success at the time the iMac was introduced is another fiction designed to promulgate Jobs as some kind of visionary. The truth of the matter is that Apple didn’t get into the black until the introduction of the iPod, not back in 1998 when Jobs introduced the iMac.
Boyle attempts to humanize Jobs by showing his dark side. In addition to the contemptuous way in which he treats his employees, Jobs also did a long number on his daughter, Lisa, by continually denying paternity in his puerile obsession to get even with his ex-girlfriend, Chrisann, whom he regarded as a bad mother. Due to the three scene “product launch” narrative utilized here, Chrisann is never seen in her native habitat and hardly is fleshed out as a multi-faceted character. What we do learn about her is from Jobs’ biased diatribes.
More unforgivable is the simplicity in which Boyle handles the resolution of the father-daughter relationship. In the final scene, Jobs presents an “I wasn’t perfect” mea culpa to his daughter. Did the Grinch mellow after all this time? Maybe so, but there’s also the fact that Lisa spent time with Jobs’ OTHER family, his wife and children that were never mentioned during the entire film. Boyle’s format prevents us from understanding Lisa’s complex attitudes toward her father and how they evolved over time.
If Sorkin has found any success, it’s in his dramatizations of Jobs’ confrontations with programmer Steve Wozniak, his assistant Joanna Hoffman and Apple Chairman John Sculley. The confrontation with Wozniak over Jobs refusing to honor the Apple 2 programmers before they’re going to be fired at the iMac product launch, never happened according to Wozniak—but it’s fine theater. Similarly, Hoffman’s demand that Jobs apologize to Lisa for the years of abuse, tends to finally humanize the character played by Kate Winslet. Finally, perhaps the best scene, which alternates between past and present, is the clash between Sculley and Jobs, which fills us in why Sculley was forced to fire Jobs. The internal machinations at Apple prove to be fascinating, despite the stage play-like presentation.
What I believe has been lost here is Boyle and Sorkin’s failure to truly humanize their subject. Jobs had a dark side but also charisma—without it I see no reason why he would have become so successful in the corporate world. What’s missing is the sense of humor and perhaps the mellowing with age that some who knew Jobs have alluded to.
What’s so odd about Boyle and Sorkins’ treatment of Jobs is that they gingerly chronicle his bad points in his personal life and interpersonal relationships, but end up concluding that he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. They also twist his history at Apple and give him much more credit due for the company’s corporate success.
In the grand scheme of things, Boyle and Sorkin end up putting Jobs on a pedestal. In their eyes, he was some kind of visionary despite the bad boy outbursts–note their shot of the frenzied audience and thundering applause at the product launch, for the “guru” (Jobs thought of himself more as a music conductor like Seiji Ozawa).
In reality, Apple is just a company putting out products which may or may not serve humanity’s march forward (if there is such a thing). Much has been written about whether computers help or hinder us. But there was nothing special about Jobs—yeah, he made a lot of money and had a bit of an odd personality. But he was no visionary. A computer is just a computer. More important is the fact that Jobs always needed to be in control, often treated people poorly and was consumed by his goal of success. A final shot of a cancer-ridden Jobs would have been more appropriate than the beaming “guru” at a podium, cheered by adoring sycophants.