When Steve Jobs died on October 5th, 2011, we collectively mourned by holding candlelight vigils after downloading the latest “Flickering Candle” app on our sleek new iPhones. Tears were shed not only by Silicon Valley techies who had admired Jobs’ genius for decades, but also by everyday people who simply had converted from normalcy to the iPhone collective. We all felt connect to Jobs through the many Apple products that redefined personal technology, elevating his status from an iconic societal figure to an untouchable God of sorts – but documentarian Alex Gibney wants to know “why.” That is the simple question that Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine asks, daring to challenge “The Cult Of Jobs” by looking at Steve not as a beacon of progress, but a flawed human entity like you or I.
Gibney doesn’t set out to defame the legendary inventor, but instead understand why people cared so deeply about a shady CEO who seemed to avoid indictment around every turn. Steve Jobs changed our lives with inventions like the iMac, iPad, iPhone, and iPod, but at what price did his electronic children cost? Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine is about a businessman with a history of improper backdating of stocks, tax evasion, philanthropic resistance, “No Poaching” agreements, and Chinese factory abuse to his name, yet again, when he passed, all that mattered was the internet-accessible phone glued to our hands. Gibney’s documentary strives to understand why the public ignores these facts, and more importantly, how we fell in love with Jobs and never looked back.
Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine asks the right question, Gibney remains *relatively* unbiased, and we’re left to make our own judgements based on the information presented, but this look behind the hardware is a bit more difficult to swallow than expected. It’s not that the wires are jumbled, or that Jobs’ actions are wholly unbelievable, but the film runs at a daunting two-hour-plus length, and we feel many more of those minutes than we should.
Gibney isn’t offering new bombshell evidence or undiscovered dealings, but instead re-addressing certain news-worthy events in an attempt to stir up questions inside his audience. For those of you who know about Jobs’ aggressive interaction with Gizmodo, yet still think he’s earned a place on Mt. Olympus, you won’t be swayed by a minute of this documentary. Gibney’s presentation works better as a Steve Jobs 101 introduction than it does as an enlightening rap sheet, which means duller times for those super-hardcore Jobs followers. If you’ve memorized the life of Steve jobs, then you also already know what Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine explores.
As Gibney deduces, Jobs found a way to connect with people through the medium of technology. He was able to turn hard plastics and circuit boards into vessels of digital life, and that’s why Apple users kissed the ground he walked on. Gibney acknowledges Jobs’ accomplishments along with his follies, but the negative stories involved with this honest peek into Apple’s corporate history outweigh his positivity (and maybe that’s Jobs’ own fault).
Everything is covered, from Apple’s Chinese manufactures seeing minuscule returns on products (Apple netting some $300 per iPhone), to oversees suicides after prototypes go missing, the $7,000 Atari payday Jobs lied to then-partner Steve Wozniak about, to his habit of parking in handicap spots around the Apple offices – this is the Jobs so many people didn’t know, or simply didn’t care to remember. Let’s not even get started on his stoppage of Apple’s charitable donations, blaming financial flubs on other board members, and the smiley faces he emailed after learning out-of-company poachers were fired for their egregious mistake…
It’s impossible to claim Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine is without intrigue, because we’re asked to examine our own personal connection with Steve Jobs. He’s described by some as a character out of The Godfather, as a Bob Dylan lyric (both the Joker and the Thief), a father of ingenuity, and a lunatic trying to squash the little people from high above his (deserving) throne. But as one co-worker describes how joining Apple’s team led to sleepless nights, a divorced wife, and lost children, even he broke down, sobbing uncontrollably, when remembering back on the three years he spent beside one of the most influential minds in universal history.
Jobs put his entire life into Apple, and maybe that’s why he didn’t always think clearly on financials and legality – because his heart and soul was already invested into each product the public eventually clamored for. Gibney remarks about an old saying that translates to “the sadness of a soul as expressed in the beauty of things” – the closest representation of Steve Jobs that he can muster. That’s what Gibney pulls out of Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine, but he leaves our own interpretation up to us.
If only he could have been a little more swift and concise, then maybe I’d have a better understanding of Jobs come the film’s end – not an overload of data that we eventually stop processing.
Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine is a conversation starter loaded with controversial data about the lesser-known life of genius/tyrant Steve Jobs, but it asks a simple question of "why" that it can't even answer itself.