Danny Boyle’s new film, Steve Jobs, reflects on the Apple founder’s fascinating legacy
It’s hardly a matter of debate that Steve Jobs managed to change the world. This text is being written on an Apple device. It will be edited and laid out on other Apple devices. I could take it on a walk and keep it in my pocket. I could have Siri read it to me. So could you.
Steve Jobs changed the world, but he may have been a bit of a jerk in the process, which made him a fitting subject for screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who previously turned his attention to Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. Zuckerberg and Jobs have both had an enormous impact on the way our generation relates to technology. They were both supremely self-confident men consumed by an idea—perfect candidates for Sorkin’s character studies.
The tumultuous production history of Sorkin’s new film, soberly titled Steve Jobs, is well-documented—as reported by The Guardian, David Fincher, who directed The Social Network, dropped out over a salary dispute, Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale both turned down the lead role and Sony Pictures ultimately shelved the project. It was then revived by Universal and Danny Boyle came on board to direct, with Michael Fassbender as Jobs.
The result may not be the masterpiece many were expecting, but it’s a superbly acted and written treat. Sorkin went out of his way to make it unlike any biopic, especially unlike Jobs, the critical failure which starred Ashton Kutcher. Instead, it is structured like a play in three acts, each one covering 40 minutes of real-time interactions between Steve Jobs and a group of recurring characters just before a product launch.
Sorkin draws a very human portrait of Jobs—Time famously named him “Machine of the year” in 1982—who is caught here in all of his vain, perfectionistic and genial glory. There is no doubt that he is an artist on a grander scale—“Musicians play their instruments; I play the orchestra,” he says in the film. When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) complains to him about the Macintosh’s lack of customization, Jobs explains that he sees it not only as a commercial product but also as a personal work of art—the public, he tells Wozniak, should have no say in it.
Just like with The Social Network, Sorkin finds a balance between reality and fiction, condensing events and amplifying characters’ roles in them for the sake of a self-encompassing and subtly circular story. Jobs, for all of his troublesome personality traits, is given a redemptive character arc. Certainly, technology is an important theme in the film, but so is parenthood—Jobs’ adoption is brought up, as well as his unwillingness to acknowledge his own biological daughter.
What ultimately hurts Steve Jobs is that the film does not have enough of a director’s touch. Boyle, who is known for his energetic editing and visual style, is not given much room to express himself, with Sorkin’s trademark dialogue-heavy scriptwriting stretching the viewer’s listening skills to their limit. The script could eventually make a great play, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that film is first and foremost a visual medium.
Regardless, Steve Jobs is a fine companion piece to The Social Network in terms of mythicizing the advent of the digital age while giving it a human face.