Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs:

A Respectful Portrait of a Flawed Man

This is Aaron Sorkin’s second film written about a bold innovator in the tech industry. This time around he is tackling the titanic figure Steve Jobs, a man who was complicated to say the least. The film is even more experimental with its narrative format than The Social Network, as it adopts a structure of three real-time episodes that are only loosely connected. The three episodes all follow Steve Jobs as he prepares for a product launch. Familiar beats and running gags pepper the film but this is certainly not a conventionally told story. Aaron Sorkin said he wanted to avoid a conventional biopic, and opted for a storytelling structure that has not been seen since 2001: A Space Odyssey. This type of storytelling is both the strongest and weakest part of the film. While each episode is engrossing the film does not allow someone to truly feel a deep connection to the protagonist.

Perhaps, the filmmakers wanted to admit they could only explore Jobs so much before admitting that they “could not understand him”. The film itself lampshades the paradoxes in Steve Jobs. He is incredibly demanding and cold to those around him, yet he always seems to strive for the best and genuinely revolutionize the world. The film does not seem to hold Jobs in contempt for his nigh-tyrannical demands and expectations. Indeed the comparison of Jobs to that of a great conductor seems to be the general argument. Jobs in this fictionalized account is a genius for seeing the big picture. He cannot be bothered with the naysayers and the people who want to focus on the technical limitations to his demands. The film does not fault him for wanting the best.

The anger and contempt all is focused on Jobs the man rather than Jobs the creator. The central focus is Steve Jobs cruel and unfair treatment of his daughter Lisa. A child that Jobs publically denied was his for years. In both the 1984 and 1988 episodes his ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan comes to Jobs begging for money to support their child, while incensed that he refuses to acknowledge paternity. All the while Jobs seems to openly deny Lisa as his one moment only to spend some personal time with her the next. In fact, in 1988 although not explicitly stated, Jobs has switched from denying Lisa to becoming a covert helicopter parent, even angrily threatening Chrisann with violence for supposed abusive behavior. The relationship is contradictory and is never total affection or hostility. Though it is through Lisa that the film implies a redemption for Steve Jobs as he ultimately seems to choose her over his work.

Much comparison will be made between Steve Jobs and The Social Network. The Social Network is first and foremost an engrossing legal thriller. The Social Network also is structured as a tragedy with the film holding Mark Zuckerberg in utter contempt for his numerous betrayals in his rise to becoming a billionaire. In contrast Steve Jobs seems to be critical, yet respectful to Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs is acknowledged as having few friends, but the film does not hate him for that. Heartbreaking scenes of Steve Jobs and his mixed relationship to Steve Wozniak help paint a picture of Jobs’ notorious harsh attitude to his peers. The actual arguments between Wozniak and Jobs mix between a genuine difference of opinion on business matters and personal issues. Jobs expresses caring for Wozniak too much to ultimately hurt by any criticisms public or private by Wozniak. Wozniak, however, recognizes the subtle condescension by Jobs as well as a genuinely unjust lack of credit. By Wozniak’s own words “[he] is tired of being Ringo while [Jobs] is John.” Neither is shown to be inherently right or wrong, but the hostility is never really resolved. Comic fans can see parallels of Wozniak and Jobs to the quarrels to the complex relationship between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. One is unfairly given an incredibly inflated credit while the other is an unsung genius. The final lines by Wozniak perhaps best sum up the unavoidable flaw in this version of Steve Jobs, “you can be gifted without being an asshole.” Other colleagues admit their dislike of Jobs and their frustration with him. Only Joanna Hoffman genuinely likes Jobs, but she admits exasperation at having to “explain” Jobs to other people. Yet by the end of the film, there seems to be the aforementioned reconciliation with Lisa, and perhaps a new beginning for the figure. Jobs admits that he is not perfect and perhaps that is why he is given a sympathetic and respectful depiction. Whereas The Social Network condemns Mark Zuckerberg for willingly isolating himself from people, the film applauds Jobs for making the genuine effort to be a part of his daughter’s life. Unfortunately, one never gets to truly understand why Jobs is the way he is, but the film is still offering the final moment of hope and possible redemption. That for all one’s pride in creation, one should never shy from the personal connections in life.

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James Kelly has been obsessed with comics and superheroes since he saw Batman: The Animated Series on TV. His father also got him hooked on Star Wars when he took him to the 1997 re-release of the magnificent Saga. Kelly graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in English Literature, and a concentration in Fiction Writing. He hopes to be able to one day produce his many comics and other writing projects to mass audiences.

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