It’s too early to make a film about Steve Jobs and his overall impact on humankind. How can we possibly know the full impact of Jobs’ work, particularly when his creations are constantly being upgraded, are a part of our everyday lives and provide us with constant distraction? The ipad, the iphone and itunes are everywhere, with those without being told constantly they need to own one, now. Is there any chance of finding perspective on Jobs’ life and creations when most are too occupied immersing themselves in his work?
Jobs’ name is synonymous with the most influential men of the 20th (and 21st) century, though his personal life reveals an irony: for a man who created devices to bring us closer, he was brilliant at pushing everyone around him as far away as he could. Jobs’ inventions have a quality that mirrors the man: you can hermetically seal yourself off from the world around you when you’re listening to itunes, yakking into an iphone or spending hours on an ipad. For all the ways Jobs’ devices were made to be personalized and a day-to-day necessity, they are great at providing distractions, just as Jobs was said to be superb at losing himself in his work and his mental output. It’s too soon to fully wrap our minds around Jobs and understand in full how his inventions both add and take away from our daily lives. The great thing about Alex Gibney’s documentary, “Steve Jobs- The Man in the Machine,” is that he seems aware of this problem.
Gibney is the superb documentary filmmaker who gave us last year’s much-discussed “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.” He also made exceptional documentaries on Jack Abramoff, Enron, Eliot Spitzer, Lance Armstrong and Wikileaks. He’s fearless, not afraid to dive in and ask questions that would intimidate lesser filmmakers. What he does here is especially admirable: Gibney’s new documentary doesn’t celebrate Jobs’ life and, instead, asks the refreshing question of why we loved him so much.
“Steve Jobs- The Man in the Machine” carefully recalls Jobs’ life, influence and machinery. Yet, it puts a welcome emphasis on Jobs’ casual sadism and tendency to behave like a monster as much as his landmark creations.
There’s a touch here I found especially worthy of mention: Gibney shows a clip from Wim Wenders’ “Until the End of the World,” the 1991 sci-fi epic that featured devices that are similar to GPS tracking, the ipad and the overall addictive qualities of the internet and technology as a whole. The film is one of my personal favorites, not well remembered and has been ignored for years by serious futurists and enthusiasts of cinema. Gibney is one of the few, outside of cult film enthusiasts, to bring up the elements in Wenders’ magnificent film that mirror modern day society, as well as Jobs’ techno toys that are both enabling and enslaving the masses.
Gibney’s film isn’t definitive (it may be decades before a work of art on Jobs could be) but it provides a nice break from the frequent efforts by filmmakers to paint Jobs as a techno martyr. There was an intriguing element of a cold task mastr in Noah Wylie’s portrayal of Jobs in “Pirates of Silicon Valley,” te enjoyable (now campy) TV movie from 1999. Ashton Kutcher’s take on the Apple founder in the 2013 “Jobs” was more of a feature length impression than an immersive interpretation. Last year’s “Steve Jobs” was more of a theater piece turned film made flashy and pretentious by Danny Boyle. Michael Fassbender might have nailed the intensity of Jobs, though he looked nothing like the man and served a movie that felt like a stunt.
Here is a look at the Jobs that will work for those who idolize and despise him. The qualities that made Jobs a frustrating contradiction and an astonishing innovator are explored here with a balanced and thorough manner. Just don’t look for the ultimate Jobs doc. In terms of asking the right questions and probing key subjects, this is comes closer than most.