Alex Gibney’s Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine opens on a young, uncharacteristically nervous Steve Jobs being prepped for a television interview. There is an inherent humanism to his uneasy laughter as he explains that he might be sick.
We are then transported to a different world. A more familiar world. Swarms of people are mourning, weeping for Jobs, holding up iPads with candles on their screens. This is the setup for Gibney’s thesis. It is a simple yet logical and probing question: Why did so many people mourn the loss of a man they never met. The answer, if there even is one, is complex.
Gibney seeks to answer the question posed by his thesis by intensively dissecting Jobs’ persona through a calculated retelling of his career. Many interviewees of Gibney have their trite pull-quotes that seek to understand and encapsulate the enigma of Jobs. He was the joker and the thief. He was the power of chaos. Apple was a 30 year sitcom, and Jobs was the main character.
It all sounds so poetic, a passionate homage to one of the greatest American minds. Yet, there is an apprehensive backdrop of something darker laying dormant in the early interviews of the film.
The assumption is that we know the truth the whole time, but we are unwilling to truly believe it, opting instead to hold this man up as a mythic hero. Still, we know of the aggression. The dedication to the vision at any cost, even if that cost turns out to be as high as human life.
Gibney’s portrait leans heavily toward an indictment in the middle. Jobs engaged in backdating stocks for his own benefit. Foxconn workers got nerve damage from manufacturing iPhones and some even committed suicide. Jobs became the Goliath he strived so hard to defeat early on in his career.
But Gibney back-peddles on this indictment slightly at the end. The final image is an iPhone on pure black. Gibney implores us to see our reflection in the products that fueled this shadowy transformation of Jobs from David to Goliath. In a way, Gibney blames himself (and perhaps all of us as consumers). But, as he describes watching his own reflection in Jobs’ creation–the ultimate embodiment of Jobs’ vision–it is Jobs’ face that appears in the screen.
Thus presents the real question that Gibney is grappling with: Who are we when we own Apple products? Jobs wanted the Apple computer to be you, as opposed to simply an extension of you. He wanted the iPod to be you. The iPhone. The iPad. If so, where do we end and our Apple products begin?
When the screen lights up with the unmistakable Apple logo, Jobs dissipates, and our reflection disappears with it. There are no real answers. Simply meditations on genius and consumerism, David and Goliath, us and machine. It is a fascinating tale spun to incite thought, as well as a comprehensive case study of a man no one truly knows. Gibney helms this study masterfully.
Jobs was monastic yet brutal. Unforgiving yet luminary. Arrogant yet charismatic. He was a “paradigm shifter.” For better or worse, he changed everything. Everything else about him is up for debate.
There is a lot to unpack of Jobs’ life in Gibney’s documentary. Many tasty morsels of his life tumble out as the film progresses through his life. Sometimes, this makes the film seem uneven, but it doesn’t appear that Gibney’s goal was to make an even film. I think Gibney just wanted to explore Jobs as a figure of immense popularity. People fell in love with him despite his flaws and his apathetic business practices. Gibney’s fascination with this point comes through clear in his film, and inspires similar fascination in the viewer.
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is available to stream now on Amazon Instant Video here.
As always, thanks for reading!
Have you seen Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!
–Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)