Movie Review: Steve Jobs (2015)
Our collective fascination with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is a relatively new phenomenon. It coincides with the turn-of-the-century Silicon Valley boom and the emergence of Startup culture. Working became suddenly cool for young people and being your own boss a gateway to ultimate freedom. Jobs played a key part in that paradigm shift by playing cool cat at product launches and basically starting a second technological revolution with the iPod. The Steve Jobs we worship is a an idea, though. A symbol of empowerment for young-middle class men.
So, it's tough to understand the character because we're collectively not interesting in knowing him. 2013's Jobs certainly prefers to celebrate the legacy of the man who brought us iPhones, rather than say anything substantial about his life. It's something we can't accuse Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs of. This movie was a complete flop, but it raised questions we should be more interested in.
Steve Jobs is structured around three product launched: the MacIntosh (1984), the NeXt (1988) and the iMac (1998). Two of these miserably failed and the other is still used today despite the massive shift to mobile computing, which Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is somewhat responsible for. The movie depicts the beloved innovator as a tyrant with revolutionary ideas it took people fourteen years to merely accept. He had ideas that were before their time, which explain the commercial failures of the first two projects. So yeah, Steve Jobs is a grueling series of arguments and confrontations that don't paint a nice portrait of him at all.
I loved the structure of Steve Jobs. His life obviously revolved around work, so using product launches as catalysts for character revelations was not only fitting, but also clever. I haven't read the Walter Isaacson biography the movie is based on, but it portrays Jobs in a problematic way that reflects on us all. Steve Jobs shows many product design arguments, notably with Apple's other co-founder Steve Wozniak, where there are no right or wrong answers. Where Jobs just had his way with a more collaborative and compliant person than him. His vision for personal computing wasn't necessarily right, he just convinced us that it was.
And that opens one hell of a Pandora's Box if you ask me. Steve Wozniak was a programmer and an engineer. He wanted to design products that would force people to learn the basics of information technology. And his vision prevailed in the mainstream computing market for years. That's not what Steve Jobs believed. He believe people should not have a say in technology outside of their choice of model. That they didn't have any interest in understanding how it works. Jobs won that argument. He won it convincingly and that reflects on us, a generation of people who prefer buying new instead of troubleshooting.
Steve Jobs is a legit thought-provoking movie. It casts a new light on the character and on the changes he brought to society. Because Steve Jobs did change the world. What Danny Boyle movie argues with graceful nuance is that he might've not changed it for the better. That is an idea people are not ready to accept, like they weren't ready to accept Jobs' ideas in the first place. Steve Jobs might've been a complete flop at the box office (it barely made half of its budget back), but it's a movie that's bound to stick and grow in the upcoming decade. We're not ready to break from the myth of Steve Jobs yet, we now have the tools to do it.