“Oh my goodness! Steve Jobs!”
Quickly, I took a look at what I was wearing. A black turtleneck, blue jeans, glasses, and sneakers could give off that impression (along with the fact that I hadn’t shaved in a few days). So before she could say anything else, I replied, “I hope not; he’s dead,” to which we both laughed. Even to this day, she brings it up whenever I stop in for something.
During his life, Jobs was the symbol of Apple, a tech individual whose ingenuity, personality, and oversight helped bring a floundering computer company to worldwide prominence through products such as the iPhone, iPod, and Macintosh (well, maybe not the latter; more on that later). Director Danny Boyle sets out in the film Steve Jobs to portray him through a rather unconventional approach—before the launches of three major products. It doesn’t exactly sound like something that would work at first glance, but what we see in those chaotic moments brings Jobs’ character traits to the forefront—a man obsessed with detail, control, and a very simple attitude about life: “Be reasonable; do it my way.” But pride doesn’t always bring about the results we might want.
The film begins a few days after the iconic Apple ad that aired during Super Bowl XVIII in 1984. Jobs is nearly ready to introduce the Macintosh to a rabid crowd (even doing the wave in the auditorium beforehand). But there’s a problem: the demonstration is supposed to have a voice that simply says “hello,” but it’s not working and Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is up in arms about seemingly everything. There’s not enough time to fix the problem, so his aide Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) tries to talk him out of it; after all, it’s only a 20-second portion of a 2 hour presentation. Jobs replies, “Pull the voice demo . . . and then cancel the launch.” He then goes off on software engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), threatening to introduce everyone on the development team in his presentation, leaving Andy in the unenviable position of being embarrassed among his peers and the media unless the voice problem is fixed.
Jobs has unrealistic expectations about sales of the Macintosh (1 million in the first 90 days) and then forces Joanna to find a white dress shirt with a pocket for him to wear 15 minutes before going on stage (she has to get it from one of the attendees). Add into this powderkeg partner Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) wanting him to acknowledge those who worked on the Apple II computer (he won’t), his former lover Chrisanne Brennan (Katherine Waterston) trying to figure out why he’s unwilling to admit that he has a daughter named Lisa, and it’s pretty amazing that everything doesn’t blow up in his face.
Jobs comes off as out-of-touch, dictatorial, and ultra-controlling with enough hubris to sink the Titanic. Even after the Macintosh spectacularly fails, he calls a meeting of the Apple Board of Directors when confronted with a no-confidence vote—and asks for a vote on his position even when he’s told what will happen if he does by CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). He’s fired, but still sets out to create the next best thing, an educational computer called NeXT. In the presentation for this system, all the previous characters show up and add increasing levels of complexity to the film. Jobs delivers a bombshell statement to a media member about the new system (they aren’t ready to sell it; it doesn’t even have an operating system to use), then acts like it’s no big deal. Before he goes on, he’s handed a satirical article written by Guy Kawasaki that says Apple will buy NeXT and make him their CEO. At this point, Joanna begins to think that the article is actually going to happen (and sure enough, it does).
The final product launch happens a decade later with the iMac (you know; those candy-colored all-in-one systems that Derek Zoolander couldn’t figure out how to turn on). Because he hasn’t dealt satisfactorily with his past problems, they spring up on him once again. Wozniak’s still upset the Apple II team hasn’t received due credit, bringing about a tense argument in front of stunned and horrified Apple staff. Jobs chose not to pay for his daughter Lisa’s tuition to college; Andy secretly does, infuriating him even more. And when he’s finally convinced by Joanna that he needs to make up with his daughter, it’s almost too late to undo the damage he’s caused. But has he changed?
Considering that Steve Jobs only takes place in three locations, the characters and writing have to be excellent for the film to work. Thankfully, both of them are. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is lively and full of incisive dialogue. Fassbender completely immerses himself in the role of Jobs, displaying a commanding and imposing presence on the screen (you’ll hear his name mentioned for Best Actor at the Academy Awards—bank on it). Winslet does a fantastic job as Joanna, trying to balance Jobs’ obligations while keeping him in check. Bridges, as the CEO of Apple in the early portion of the film, is able to establish authority while standing up to the tirades of Jobs. Rogen’s Wozniak is a one-note character I wish had been expanded a bit more, especially since the two of them essentially created the computing revolution out of a garage south of San Francisco. The character of Lisa (played by three different actresses) is probably a bit controversial, as she is the pivot point on which any change in Jobs’ personality must happen. In many ways, when he looks at her, he sees a reflection of himself.
Can faith be found in an individual called an “unconscious coward” by his daughter? Even under his hardened exterior, change is possible. The Bible makes it clear that “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Proverbs 16:18 NASB), and Jobs faces this not once, but twice. He gets back up and is able to continue again, but it’s only when he’s confronted by his past adoption and his daughter Lisa (the only person in the film that is able to stand up to him and never waver) that he shows small signs of getting it. He puts his time-honored practice on starting exactly on time on hold as he confesses to Lisa, “I’m poorly made.” Not quite, since God did the creating thing, but it’s a start. We weren’t intended to have the word ‘poorly’ in our vocabularies, as God make things perfect from the outset. It’s the mistakes we make along the way that have allowed the word to take on a life of its own. But even then, God sent Jesus to bring about eternal life and changed lives to those who claim Him, so that the word ‘poorly’ can be something more, something significantly better.
As Steve Jobs walks on stage to demonstrate the iMac with flashbulbs going off, it’s difficult to tell what happens next. It provides a way for the viewer to take a breath at the end of an emotionally powerful, gripping drama that is more about relationships than it is about computers. It’s definitely worth taking a look at.
Steve Jobs is rated R, mainly for some strong language.