Danny Boyle’s movie proposes another version of SF come true—a tale of warfare as stardom. Steve Jobs dramatizes the true visionary era of the advent of the personal computer and the rise of its “oracle”, as one protagonist labels the eponymous hero. The early words and prophecies sound like history now, yet the magic remains. The film stops short of the recent developments to focus on the beginning pages of this modern Odyssey and groundbreaking steps of its undaunted Ulysses. We share in the enthusiasm of the early chapters of a true “poem”—the making of a wonderful machine (little did we know, then, that the tool would claim unexpected prerogatives as a quasi extension of the human body).
The script sifts through the personal and the professional to track down the man behind the persona and reconcile the ruthless entrepreneur with the desperate person in search of recognition. It tells of the genesis of “Jobs” against “Steve” as it proposes a narrative to solve the puzzle articulated by the man himself: “What did I do wrong?” referring to his early abandonment. Nothing, of course. His stormy son/surrogate father relationship with John Sculley, and his cruel father/illegitimate daughter relationship with Lisa are only tips to the iceberg of submerged feelings of rejection and longings for approval. Another dimension in the family saga is the dismissal of the good brother-like figure Steve Wozniak—the Abel slain by Cain when convenient and discarded, like an obsolete product, along with myriads of other outmoded cogs, by the well-oiled machinery of the Napoleonic Seer who has gone over to the other side: corporate profit and self-seeking gain.
The movie spares us the reenactment of the staged events that accompanied the different steps to fame as new revolutionary products were launched, dei ex machina outperforming one other. Instead, we see what happens in the wings, literally and symbolically: doubts, delusions, hopes. Creators and creatures are relegated to oblivion except for the Master Mind whose sense of self-aggrandizement gradually severs him from the reality and responsibility of friendship, loyalty and love.
The movie also anatomizes a quest for perfection and originality that has made the products unique: novelties, survivors, luxuries and, recently, ways of life. Each item fits within an alternative history book recording the story of humans conquering and taming technology (which reminds us that today, it has become the other way around)—a master narrative the heroic entrepreneur tries so hard to tell, enact and embody. The film presents stunning performances from all actors engaged in staccato-like dialogue playing on the metaphor Jobs uses about himself: “the conductor” and his “orchestra”. It has the intensity and energy of a “perfect play” which Elia Kazan defined as “a feat in compression”. Yet, the use of flashback, parallel editing, and close-up showcase filmic resources and language. The close-ups are particularly striking: they make the human flesh explode on the screen—as if the camera wanted to probe into the texture of the substance (flesh) around the mind, or, in other words, the cube around the software.
The dilemma and arguments are, in the end, all “too human”—the Ubermensch, at least according to this version of Steve and Jobs ‘s life, is able to retrieve—if momentarily—the “human” from the “super”, in particular when the father admits to the daughter in a pascalian epiphany of a “different order”: “I am poorly made”.
The final sequence of the movie proposes a blurred vision of Jobs walking away from the stage and the limelight to meet Lisa in the wings—a final attempt, perhaps, at humanizing a character who will continue to puzzle thinking, “different” or “indifferent”. Joanna Hoffman, his professional partner, often suggests that humans are not machines, something that he could not accept—his own tragic flaw, perhaps, and a timely character feature as the journey has continued to generate products that are increasingly turning us into Steve Jobs avatars. As Eric Pickersgill, whose photographic series “Removed” can be viewed online, explains it: “I am saddened by the use of technology for interaction in exchange for not interacting. This has never happened before and I doubt we have scratched the surface of the social impact of this new experience” (quoted in New York Review of Books Feb. 11, 2016, p. 25). Joanna’s phrase “reality distortion field” might sound like today’s oracle—with or without the vision(ary).