Documentaries continue to be among the strongest, most absorbing and well-crafted pieces of cinema today. Here’s yet another just out in theaters and On Demand: STEVE JOBS: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE, the latest from Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney who has previously applied his critical intelligence and probing eye to Scientology and the Enron scandal. Now he’s taken a bite out of the man who created Apple and essentially invented the entire computer industry.
With rare images of Jobs childhood, little seen interviews with Jobs himself, as well as interviews with colleagues and intimates who describe their relationships with Jobs for the first time on camera, Gibney frames this provocative doc as a question about what our relationship to Jobs reveals about who we are, who Jobs is, and pulls no punches. No comparison to the superficial 2013 feature film JOBS starring Ashton Kutcher as a look-a-like paper cutout Steve Jobs. Advance word on another feature film STEVE JOBS due out this fall starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, and Seth Rogen is promising.
STEVE JOBS: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE has the luxury of gathering a wealth of information, including the disparate characters in this complex person’s life without the dramatic concision required by a feature film. It also has a striking point of view and opens with behind the scenes images of a youthful, black haired, suit and tie wearing Jobs marveling at his image on camera and near to nauseous as he’s getting miked up to go on TV. The next time we see him televised, he’s turtle necked, grey-haired and gaunt, physically worn down from the pancreatic cancer he tried to cure himself of, and to which he finally succumbed. But the images also bookend his unwavering excitement about technology and what it could express, and which this doc insightfully conveys.
The next scenes take place right after Jobs death on October 5, 2011 and show people all over the world mourning en masse the loss of a captain of industry as if he were some sort of religious figure, and the filmmaker/narrator wondering in voiceover at this surprising response. A 12 year-old boy speaks directly to camera and definitively ticks off what Jobs has created: “He made the iMac. He made the iPod. He made the iPad. He’s made everything!” For this boy and his generation, Jobs may as well have created the world in seven days.
Indeed, Gibney reveals that when Jobs was 18 years old, he sought out a Buddhist monk (later a lifelong mentor), told the monk he thought himself “enlightened” and asked what he should do. He even spoke about becoming a monk himself. The monk, smiling into camera, says he told Jobs he needed “proof ” of his enlightenment. The rest of the story is the proof and the lack thereof.
Gibney soon lets Steve Wozniak, Jobs’s boyhood pal and one half of the initial dynamic duo that became Apple, describe Jobs cheating him out of most of what was essentially their first paycheck. The film goes on to reveal Jobs’s ruthless work ethic, his illegal stock back-dating practices, his initial recoiling from parenthood and his daughter Lisa, for whom he eventually named a new model computer, his lack of philanthropy in light of his staggering wealth, and the poor working conditions in Chinese factories which drove workers who made APPLE products to suicide.
It’s a provocative compilation of material and not surprisingly Apple, according to Gibney, did not cooperate or contribute to the movie in any way. Jobs comes off as a cruel and confounding human being, ironic since he began by rebelling against the establishment (IBM) to humanize the computer and hand it to the individual. For Jobs, a person sitting in a room before a computer is revolutionary, an iteration of Descartes’ dictum, “I think, therefore I am.” Jobs understood as an artist might, what a computer could be, an animated mechanism in a unique relationship to a person; a person doesn’t just “use” a computer, but rather a person “is” the computer, and as an extension of the self, the computer allows a person greater, richer expression. It’s a heady and now self-evident series of insights and epiphanies.
Gibney probes the painful ironies, positing that Jobs who was adopted went through life feeling simultaneously abandoned AND special. He wanted to be both the outlaw and the man, availing himself of the perks of both and none of the responsibilities. Finally, Gibney observes that while Jobs was a visionary whose products connect us all, he obviously had significant difficulty making human connections.
The filmmaker leaves us with many ethical questions, among them, should a huge global company be focused on making the world a better place, or is it enough to simply make good products? The film takes its best stab at reconciling Jobs’s extraordinary vision with his often deplorable personal conduct and need for control and leaves us with a vivid impression and much evidence to suggest that the products he made were the expression of a man who was more than the sum of his inelegant parts.
See STEVE JOBS: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE