I watched Steve Jobs at my local theater. Twice. The first time, aside from a few elderly couples, the room was largely empty. I rushed back the following week, afraid they would take it off the floor soon–and I wouldn’t get the full cinematic effect ever again. This time, I was the only one there. Since then, both director Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin have spoken about the movie’s fate in several interviews, notably with The Hollywood Reporter. Steve Jobs simply couldn’t find an audience.
Critics who liked the movie attribute this to timing. In a year packed with cerebral cinema, Steve Jobs did not std out, especially after the failure of the last Jobs biopic. A harsher criticism is that the movie treats its subject, Steve Jobs, unfairly. In other words, Aaron Sorkin is cynical about Jobs and Michael Fassbender portrays the man as some irredeemable maniac. “The man was not all bad,” states a review for the movie on Amazon.
It’s the second criticism that I find difficult to understand. It’s simply not true. Throughout the movie, Fassbender’s Job is an exacting megalomaniac, yes, driven to create the perfect machine at the cost of his ex-wife and daughter–but he is continuously challenged by them, too, on this exact point. And by Joanna Hoffman, played by Kate Winslet, who hovers like a batty grandmother with surplus moral rectitude.
Throughout the three acts that make the movie, Fassbender appears perturbed, both as the genius who “isn’t getting his due” and by the fact that others value human relationships over the perfect computer. At Job’s core, the film says, is burning rage at being rejected, first by his biological parents, then by his original adoptive parents (Job was eventually adopted a second time). But what could an infant do, he asks in the movie, that the parents who took him home would want to give him back?
Perhaps the real Steve Jobs was motivated by more than just parental rejection–but this is a movie we’re watching and a particular motive certainly suffices for its narrative needs. The pain is profound–in a way, it’s quite Voldemortesque, especially when we learn that Jobs frequents his biological father’s restaurant without the old man knowing. This is a character incapable of love, as Dumbledore explains to Harry Potter in Rowling’s books because he was not made with love. If Aaron Sorkin ever read that comparison, I suspect he might faint.
Regardless, these daddy-issues drive Michael Fassbender’s Jobs to seek a Silicon Valley version of apotheosis by betraying his friends and through ritual patricide–treacherously replacing ill-fated Apple CEO John Scully. Jobs continually rejects his own paternity publicly, including in an interview with Time and when he does accept his daughter, is furious by his version of betrayal–she sells a house that he bought specifically for her.
So yes, Fassbender’s Jobs isn’t someone you might want to FaceTime. But there is something tragic here, that inability to connect, to experience love in the most fundamental of human relationships. In the last act, however, technical perfection can no longer triumph human connection–this is a movie, after all–especially when his rejection of her forces his daughter to reject him, too.
Fassbender’s Job talks it out with Jeff Daniel’s John Scully. Jobs also faces his considerable narcissism and is humbled–smartly connected to that pesky Time article mentioned earlier–thanks to a Joanna Hoffman/Kate Winslet meltdown. In the penultimate scene, he reconciles with his daughter on the rooftop of the building where the next Apple product is being launched. “I’m poorly made,” he says, acknowledging his flaws as a parent and jumping headfirst into our cesspool of human grief. You may even be tempted to give him a hug. Or shake his hand.
In short, the character grows.
They don’t have to, always, in art. But in this movie, they do.