I should perhaps admit right up front that I have never bought a single product made by Apple Computers. Not an Apple IIe, not a Mac or iMac, not an iPhone. I own an old iPod, but it was a hand-me-down, and I didn't pay for it. I use a PC laptop. I have downloaded a few songs (maybe about 20 total) from Apple's iTunes, and I do subscribe to several podcasts (mostly movie-related) through the same, but I am not the Apple junkie that so many seem to be; indeed, Apple products come with their own huge cult-like following these days, and Steve Jobs, the mad mastermind behind most of Apple's more popular innovations, and who died in 2011 at age 54, is now revered as one of the central saints in the canon of technology worship.
According to Joshua Michael Stern's new biopic Jobs, Steve Jobs was nothing less than a minor deity, a bold, flawless, free-thinking genius whose ideas for computer innovation were destined to make the world a better place, and whose only obstacles in life were the poor ordinary wonks who would dare doubt his vision. Indeed, the bland and irresponsible platitudes about Jobs' own pseudo-fascistic almost neo-Nietzschian human exceptionalism has Jobs feeling less like a triumph of the human spirit, and more like a political lecture on the moral strengths of stabbing people in the back, denying friends, and endlessly badgering naysayers.
How DARE you doubt Jobs' decision to add fancier fonts to his computer? Don't you know who's talking? This is STEVE JOBS! He will change the WORLD! Indeed, so many scenes are devoted to Jobs browbeating doubters, that a good quarter of the entire film played distressingly similar to the “Tell me my steel is good” scene from Atlas Shrugged Part One. Yes, Steve Jobs did turn the world into a culture of tech nuts, and he did usher in an age where technology and design are considered one and the same thing. Yes, he changed a lot of industry standards ever since he unveiled the iPod in 2001. Yes, he is a well-beloved inventor of widgets you probably use on a regular basis. But does that have to mean that he is a beatific guru? A Silicon Valley prophet of a New Age?
Jobs, as played by a game and actually pretty good Ashton Kutcher, is actually something of a sociopathic dickhead here. All of Jobs' bad behavior is on display. He dropped out of college, and attended classes for free. After a mind-opening trip to India, Jobs moved to California, and started up Apple Computers with Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), with Wozniak as the hardworking engineer and builder, and Jobs as the aggressive visionary mouthpiece. Jobs is seen having his flashes of insight (“How can we make this smaller? I think THAT'S what the consumer wants!”), but is rarely seen building or inventing anything himself. He inspires people to make nifty and useful gadgets, and then sells them like they're his own babies.
Speaking of babies, Jobs also has a maddeningly brief subplot about his illegitimate daughter Lisa, whom he denied was his for many years. His daughter and her mother petitioned Jobs for years for acknowledgment, and he repeatedly rebuffed them. And then, during a cutaway (i.e. the 1990s, when Apple was a distant second to Bill Gates' computer empire, and Jobs was not the CEO), this drama seems to resolve itself. The only facet of Jobs' story that would have lent him any sort of depth or complexity is thrown away by the filmmakers. This would have been especially interesting, given the detail that Jobs himself was adopted. Is this explored at all? No.
Jobs also infamously denied most of the original founders of Apple Computers (Lukas Haas, et al). His excuse? They haven't done anything for the company lately. Jobs stepped on people, denied people, badgered people, and would never take any sort of advice from the board members around him (J.K. Simmons, Dermot Mulroney, Kevin Dunn, and a very good Matthew Modine amongst them), often to the detriment of the company.
All of this would be fine if Jobs were interested in making a full-bodied, well-rounded portrait of a very savvy, often smart, and certainly influential man who was loaded down with bad personal habits and antisocial tendencies, but it isn't. The movie, instead, forgives all of Jobs' transgressions. It's not that he behaved badly, but that the world didn't understand his genius. It's okay, you see, to behave like a sociopathic dickhead, provided you're an indelible genius who will go on to change the world with your innovations. The people who deny Jobs are considered to be foolish, and those who would help him are depicted as lucky to be brushing up against him. All the evil, evil board members who want to manage Apple differently than Jobs would are seen as unctuous and scheming doubters who are worthy of nothing but eventual comeuppance. The ends-justify-the-means morality of the film strikes me as jejune and irresponsible. I don't care how much you like your iPhone.
When Jobs speaks – and he only ever speaks in broad, vague motivational-speaker-like aphorisms about “connecting with people” - the soundtrack flourishes loudly, like John Williams is getting an erection. If Jobs' philosophy was about connecting people using technology, why was he so hurtful and remote? There is an irony to be explored in that notion, one that Jobs doesn't bother to even approach. It's tempting to compare this film to 2010's The Social Network, but that was a stylish and well-written film about the actual personality of Facebook's creator, and about how his egocentric worldview actually did him harm, despite having the power to change the world perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worse. Jobs has no style or grace, no ambivalence, no comment other than Steve is great.
Jobs blows. If you're a member of the Apple cult (i.e. if you don't want to vomit a little when you watch this ad), you may find yourself weeping at the glorious depiction of your chosen saint. If you're looking for a biopic with any sort of depth or insight, you'll get more interesting stuff from your run-of-the-mill TV movies.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and co-star of The Trailer Hitch. You can read his weekly articles B-Movies Extended, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind. If you want to buy him a gift (and I know you do), you can visit his Amazon Wish List.