For the love of Jobs
With a script by brilliant Hollywood writer Aaron Sorkin, “Steve Jobs”, directed by Danny Boyle, paints a powerful portrait of the iconic founder of Apple, depicting him during the three key moments of his career.
It can become rather dizzying when you think about the influence that Steve Jobs, cofounder of Apple, currently has on our lives. Even though he died in 2011, the man who revolutionized the personal computer has managed to infiltrate the everyday existence of hundreds of millions of consenting human beings, and almost no one is upset about it. The portrait of such a phenomenon deserves better than a biopic in the hackneyed traditions of the genre – and indeed who remembers Jobs, by Joshua Michael Stern, which came out in 2013? This was the trap that Danny Boyle’s astonishing new film Steve Jobs set out to avoid. Based on an acclaimed biography by the journalist Walter Isaacson, the movie carefully steers clear of the classic narrative arc of the success story, where the rise inevitably precedes the fall, and instead prefers a circular narrative, in which the story of Steve Jobs is conjured from just three isolated moments in his life. Vibrating with intensity, each takes place during the hour preceding a product-launch event: the first in 1984, when the Macintosh computer came out; the second in 1988, when Jobs left Apple and brought out the NeXT computer; and the last in 1998, for the launch of the colourful iMac.
Such a theatrical structure could have been a little ponderous, but is in fact completely euphoric thanks to the talents of scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin, author of the extraordinary political series The West Wing, as well as of the portrait of Mark Zuckerberg that is David Fincher’s The Social Network. Sorkin’s style is instantly recognizable, the screen being saturated with words, which bring out all the intelligence of his characters. In Steve Jobs, clashes of ego are rendered as rhetorical showdowns between the hero (played by Michael Fassbender) and his closest collaborators such as Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), Apple’s cofounder, his marketing director and confidante, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), and John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), Apple’s CEO at the time. Added to the mix is Jobs’s complex relationship with his daughter, who was born in the early 80s and whom at first he didn’t want to recognize. The man in the roll-neck is portrayed in diffracted form, his bad temper and lack of empathy making themselves felt through his absurd demands, his hasty judgments and his megalomaniacal ambitions. The moment when someone tells him that being a genius absolutely does not justify behaving like a jerk, the film hits on its true subject, which structures all of Sorkin’s oeuvre: how dominating masculinity, in a position of power, must be both admired and put in its place.
Sorkin has in fact created a self-portrait, since he’s been known in the past for his personal problems (particularly with drugs) for which – control freak that he is – he always refused outside help, even when he was drowning in work after agreeing to write 20 series episodes a year. But despite these subconscious private issues, the focus in the film is always on Jobs, and the verbal jousts are electrifying. A director without a particular style, Danny Boyle is perfect for the exercise, which consists in following the rhythm of the words and giving them carnal form. Ultimately his camera captures a man who was unknown to the world, a man whose inability to tell others the truth – his truth – becomes touching. “I wanted to make an action film with words,” Boyle said of the movie. And that’s exactly what he’s done.
Steve Jobs, by Danny Boyle, out on February 3rd.
By Olivier Joyard