Steve Jobs is arguably one of the most influential figure of the last ten years. Not only his products, but his very person, has a cultish following around the world. Hence Jobs, the new biopic on Mr. Jobs, will automatically have a wide audience interested in watching the movie. Unfortunately, the film stands more on the merit of Steve Jobs as a polarizing and mystical figure, rather than its own. Viewer interest is sustained because they know what’s coming, rather than good storytelling or depth of its characters.
Jobs traces the development of Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher) as a student in Reed College, through the debut of Apple and his eventual demise as the company board pushes him out. The film ends on a positive note with his return in 1997. What we get is a humanized Jobs who becomes increasingly unlikeable as his maniacal commitment to his “vision” overshadows all his relationships, yet also oddly attractive for the same reason. We see the early influences of Jobs’ interest in design as well as computers, as well as the roots of his self-professed Buddhistic inclinations. We are excited to see big risks taken and great rewards achieved as Jobs finally finds an investor.
The filmmakers also want us to see the darker side of success. We watch Jobs discard his pregnant girlfriend and disown his daughter because they are hindrances to his ambitious plans to change the face of the computer industry. Jobs’ small coterie that forms the Apple startup are eventually dispersed throughout the company as it gets larger and those he considers non-essential get no cut in stock options. We get full exposure to Mr. Jobs’ infamous temper peppering what could be a boring R&D process.
Jobs is just as much about the person as the product. During a major low-point in Jobs’ life at the company, Steve Wozniak (“the Woz”), delivers a farewell speech as he departs Apple in which he accuses Jobs of losing sight of people in his obsession with product. While watching Jobs, self-conscious viewers will realize how much seems to be at stake on a mere product. We buy into the film’s premise that Apple is all-important. Mr. Jobs’ obsession with Apple products becomes the obsession of the film and its viewers. We are drawn into a world where the product is everything.
This could only happen with a film about Jobs and Apple. We cannot imagine a film wherein the viewers themselves are so immersed in the “product drama” unfolding, other than Apple. There is a mystique around Apple products that is in large part due to the mystique around Jobs and his single-minded purpose to create a perfecting revolution. The film and the audience therefore form a symbiotic relationship where the audience’s immersion in an Apple culture feeds the film’s own portrayal of Apple as worthy of its own cultural universe.
Some viewers may disagree with me, but I believe the film implicitly argued that the creation of the product was worth the bitter relationships and corporate backbiting. Or perhaps a more accurate way to describe this is that Steve Jobs becomes a way for the career-driven among us to live vicariously, as if in fact we were able to discard our messy relationships and selfishly pursue greatness.
This is a big reason why Jobs may not be the definitive biopic on the man. The filmmakers clearly wanted to produce a nuanced portrayal of Steve Jobs, not shying away from his personal failures, but in the end the movie channels the allure of Jobs. His personal failures become casualties that prop up personal greatness. Much like Walter Isaacson’s biography, Jobs falls under Steve Jobs’ spell.