You’d think that Steve Jobs would be doing much better at the box office than it is. Aside from being about a most recognizable man behind some of the most important (and fashionable) consumer tech in recent history, it’s also a filtered down and confined tale, doing the business of a biopic without being a regular biopic. It’s structure should be most pleasing and accessible to the public at large. You know — like an iPhone.
I’m reminded of Oliver Stone’s film W. (George W. Bush), which was released while that President was still in office. It too simplified and boiled down aspects of its subject in an easy to grasp manner, though maybe not as cleverly. And yet, it too didn’t do so well with audiences. Fahrenheit 9/11 was the big Bush movie (rightfully so), perhaps riding its wave of word of mouth controversy to the bank. W. played things safe, sticking to the dramatic format model a little too well.
Steve Jobs may not be in a familiar format, but it should’ve been just as much within reach of understanding as W., if not more so. Could it be that people DO understand, they just DON’T care? You know — like a Newton.
In the great Network, it was stated in voice over how audiences don’t like to hear that their lives are ultimately worthless. It’s true that people gravitate towards what will superficially uplift them and conjure up happiness. Sometimes, movies like Pixar’s Inside Out will trick people with standard cartoon goodness only to deliver an emotional ride that covers birth to maturity. That makes them think. Makes them feel.
This is scary to some.
Steve Jobs, through the looking glass of one man’s relationships and attitudes, does more than describe how a cultural and technological icon may have behaved behind the scenes. It paints a portrait of human regret and the sadness and loneliness of always moving forward. “No one sees the world the way you do” is said to Steve early on. This is more than just a biographical pat on the back. It’s detailing just how much of an outsider this man is.
Michael Fassbender was tasked with being Jobs in three similar yet wildly different scenarios, taking place years a part. It’s in the last moments prior to a gadget unveiling, where Steve’s friends and family confront him and pass by to pull out of him just who he is and where he’s at in life. Fassbender plays it all off not as someone who is socially awkward and unaware, but someone who is socially unconcerned and progressively driven. I had the feeling that, when he was looking at someone, he was really looking past them, thinking of what’s to happen next. Piercing and always in motion, Fassbender was. Even when standing still.
With a visual style that cuts and bleeds with the tempo of its script — crisp colors and projections on flat surfaces — Steve Jobs lays it all bare with a moment that left me near speechless. In W., we start and end things with the President in a baseball game dreamscape, waiting to catch a ball that disappears in the lights. What this means, he’ll never know, and that’s the point. Steve Jobs ends at the beginning of a presentation for the iMac, where Steve has taken the stage. He looks back at his daughter, walks towards her, and flashes back to a meeting with his old friend Wozniak — whom he argued with in real time minutes prior. “Woz…” he says, before cutting back to Steve smiling, still towards his daughter, as lights flash around him and people cheer.
It may have been his way of reconciling what is, underneath, important to him after all. It may have been his way of looking back while focused on what’s ahead. It may have been one of the more wonderfully constructed and deeply thoughtful sequences in a movie this year.
So… why the apathy, moviegoers? Seriously. Steve Jobs ought to be an easy ticket. It’s different enough of a movie about a familiar enough of a man to be captivating enough for all. Was it unlucky to be released in a month of bombs and stinkers? Why didn’t it break away heavily from the pack?
This scares me.
Rating — *****
Utilizing all the tools of the trade, Steve Jobs is about more than just one man. It’s about what we sacrifice for our greater good. It’s about yearning for more, learning to live with consequences and growing towards being in a better place. And it’s about to leave theaters. Go see it.