Look at your iPhone. Look at your MacBook. Look at your iPad. Chances are that when you bought them, or when you thought about buying them, you pictured one guy in a black turtleneck and round glasses telling you about them, making them seem like the absolute pinnacle of technological achievement, something that you absolutely need in your life. Since his passing in 2011, Steve Jobs, the founder and CEO of Apple, has not lost favor with most of the fans of his company and its products. That’s very strange, given that he famously didn’t know how to do a lot of the technical things associated with creating hardware. So how did he become such a Christlike figure? This is one of the central questions in Alex Gibney‘s new documentary, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.
The film puts Steve Jobs in the spotlight, the way he’d been for such a long time throughout his career, but it also isn’t all about what a great guy he was. In fact, quite the opposite. Through interviews with people who knew him, we get the sense that Jobs was difficult at the best of times and wanted what he wanted despite the impossibility of such a thing. He could dream it, ergo he wanted it. That’s a precarious position to be in for any employee. But look at the result? Apple is one of the most trusted companies in the world. Do the ends justify the means?
Gibney is a filmmaker who never pulls punches. He won an Oscar for his and Eva Orner’s 2007 documentary Taxi to the Dark Side about the United States’ torture tactics following 9/11. He’s also taken on Enron, WikiLeaks, and most recently Scientology in the HBO doc Going Clear. So why focus on Steve Jobs? There’s already been a bad movie made about him, and the Aaron Sorkin-scripted Oscar-bait affair will be coming out later this year. Well, it turns out that it is because Jobs is a subject worth discussing, less for his achievements (which we largely already know), and more for just what a strange and sort of terrifying person he could be.
As the title suggests, the film is about looking inside, to the man at the heart of Apple, the public face of a multi-billion dollar company. He screwed over his friends, alienated his loved ones, openly denied being the father of a child who was clearly his (this story is among the most compelling in the film), used intimidation and guerrilla tactics to get his way, and never felt like anything other than an underdog — even when Apple was at the height of its global domination. It’s amazing to see how people who knew him talk about him. Some do so with a mixture of head-shaking and chuckles, some with tears, some with awe at the fact that he could and would do some of these things.
There’s a framing device in the film which is video taped footage of Jobs himself giving deposition during a court proceeding. He introduces the sections in the film via answers to a direct questions. These are enlightening as they show us Jobs at his most bristly. He clearly felt that he didn’t have time for this, but was made to do it anyway. This, and the use of Bob Dylan music — a favorite of Jobs’ — perhaps gives us the greatest insight into his mind. He wasn’t performing for anyone, and no one is telling a story through their own recollection: this is Jobs toward the end of his life being annoyed and fidgety. In other words, something few have probably gotten to see.
Whether or not you care about Apple products or Steve Jobs, Gibney’s documentary offers a story well worth watching. It endeavors to figure out why this man became so beloved, so revered, and why his death was mourned by so many people, especially since, as the film reveals, he was someone who’d call a secret police branch because a journalist found a prototype at a bar. But, hey, he gave us the iPod, so he’s probably okay.
IMAGE: CNN Films
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. You can follow him on Twitter if you’d like.