The Social Network is one of the best films of the century thus far. Attempts have been made to replicate it — and rightfully so — in an age so driven by technology, it is encapsulated everything that is the 21st century (social media, the degeneration of face-to-face relationships, and the rise of the college drop-out genius) in a tightly written, superbly directed feature.
Steve Jobs follows the same formula, putting us into the mind of a tech genius and allowing us to make our own assumptions about whether or not he should be the icon we worship. But, unlike The Social Network, writer Aaron Sorkin seems to have a different agenda in mind and wants us to respect this great man, even with his flaws, and that comes through in the screenplay and the ending of the three-act structure conceit that he creates for the film.
Starring Michael Fassbender as Jobs, Steve Jobs follows the late Apple co-founder as he prepares to present the Macintosh, Next cube, and iMac at their respective unveiling ceremonies. Danny Boyle directs the film, and unlike Social Network director David Fincher, seems more keen to follow into the labyrinths of Sorkin’s sentimentality and shine a light on the subtle moments of Jobs’ personality.
The film is broken into three acts, with each presentation working as a conceit to dive into Jobs’ mind at that point in his life and see what led him to act the way he does. With the Macintosh, the weight of lighting the tech world on storm and the revelation that he has a daughter keeps him preoccupied, for the Next cube, it is the fact that he must show the world again why Steve Jobs is someone to take notice of, and finally with the iMac, he is reminding everyone why Apple brought him back.
With each stop, he is followed by Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), who works as his tangible conscience and reminds him of the consequences of his indifference towards others. Those other people are Steve Wozniak (Seth Roger), the other co-founder of Apple and one who actually worked on the computers; John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), the man that was hired to run the company just after its inception; Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), a programmer who butts heads with Jobs over his work and relationship to Jobs’ daughter’s mother; and Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), the mother of Jobs’ alleged child.
Boyle is able to capture each age and gives us a visual awareness of the year that Jobs is presenting each new device. He also understands the blind legion of fans that Jobs, and Apple, bring to each unveiling. During each sequence, Boyle uses a giant screen on the stage as a divider between the story taking place on screen and the mindless fandom that is sitting in the seats of the auditorium. Jobs rages with Chrisann over whether her daughter is also his, he scolds Hertzfeld for his negligence with the software and demands the word “hello” when he starts up the computer, and he back-hands Wozniak, who is looking for some recognition in the work that he did on the project.
Each part defining who Jobs is as a person and as a leader. Each happening while feet stamp like a riot about to erupt in the streets.
But where Boyle, and Sorkin, miss the mark is in understanding the character. Jobs is not a bad person, but one who is indifferent to others. They show this throughout interactions between Wozniak, Hoffman, Hertzfeld, Sculley, and Chrisann, but each one has to have a silver lining at the end. Usually, this silver lining comes from the interactions with Chrisann, and his daughter Chloe, with Jobs fighting over giving her money or aiding her mental problems that he senses she has.
In each act, Jobs comes around in the end. But, it feels so uncharacteristic. From what we perceive as a very nuanced and strict character, it seems odd that each time around he would give in and allow himself to help these people who he detests for most of the scene. Sure, it is his daughter, but it never seems earned outside of that reason. This aligns with where Steve Jobs struggles, which is in the repetitiveness of its plot and the almost video game-like structure that carries us through the story.
Steve Jobs is an asshole –> Hoffman tries to keep him level headed –> Woz wants something —> Chrisann wants something (we will get back to you though) –> Hertzfeld is meddling around –> Sculley has a life lesson —> Fine, Chrisann. Take some money.
Steve Jobs works like a merry-go-round of plot points with the hope that we become more interested in his persona with each changing year. Sadly, it doesn’t work this way and the monotonous job by Sorkin becomes wearing after the second time through. The dialogue in between is sharp, but the plot suffers around it.
There is clearly something here, but maybe the well is dry with Steve Jobs as a character. We understand his difficult nature and we comprehend that he was somewhat selfish, and the film does a solid job of exploring that, but the structure is weak — at times even becoming lazy.
We have seen this character before — so what makes him different? Much like his computers, the design of Steve Jobs may have been more thought-out than the actual hardware.