Steve Jobs. Tech genius or horrible monster behind the scenes? Why can’t he be both? Aaron Sorkin’s very wordy script doesn’t settle on one or either, but positions itself somewhere in the middle. Jobs is neither portrayed as a complete inhuman monster, nor as somebody who really had a handle on the technical side of computing. He is seen here more as a businessman, somebody who knows the art of the sale rather than the technical abilities of his latest computer. Fans of Sorkin’s television triumphs such as The West Wing and The Newsroom will be in familiar territory.
This isn’t a biopic in the traditional sense. Instead it comprises three segments leading up to the launch of specific product launches in Steve Jobs’ life. These are the launch of the Mac in 1984, the NeXT computer in 1988, and the release of the iMac in 1998. Played by Michael Fassbender, there is enough humanity in him for the audience to relate. Much emphasis is placed on his adoption and upbringing as a “broken” person, a direct contrast to the sleek technology he is famous for.
Danny Boyle shot the three segments in different formats (16mm, 35mm and digital) to reflect the advances in technology throughout the years. Apart from that, each segment has the same structure to it, personal and professional issues coming to the fore in the moments before he is due to go on stage and present the new product to the world.
As unbelievable as this setup is (who would get involved in all of this drama mere moments before appearing on stage?) it supports the story. The three products provide context to three stages of Steve Jobs’ life and are appropriately spaced to look at his relationship with his daughter, his relationship with Apple, and his relationships with those closest to him, chief of which are Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, former head of Apple, and Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ long suffering PA.
The disagreements between himself and Steve “Woz” Wozniak (Seth Rogen) form a starting point for his later business disagreements with most of the people around him. Woz insists on an open platform with multiple input slots, all of which the motherboard he has designed can support, whereas Jobs insists on halving the inputs and keeping the system closed, because according to him consumers don’t know what they want. There’s a smaller thread between Jobs and programmer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), which subtly tops and tails the narrative.
For technophobes, there isn’t much emphasis on the equipment being used. This is most definitely a personal character drama with the computer products used as a metaphor for Jobs’ personal and professional life. Beyond that you don’t really need to know anything about the equipment or what it does.
After viewing, whatever you think about Steve Jobs will depend on whether you think of him as the alienating genius or the broken man who wants to repair his relationship with his daughter. Truth be told, there is precious little about him that is out in the wider world. And let’s face it, Apple fans are going to buy their products regardless. Whatever your opinion may be of the real man, it takes nothing away from how perfect this story is as a piece of cinema.