Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine
STEVE JOBS: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE, documentary, rated R, Violet Crown Cinema, 2.5 chiles
Director Alex Gibney has followed his indictment of Scientology in Going
Clear (2015) with another, less successful attempt at a hard-hitting documentary. Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs, who founded the company in 1976 with Steve Wozniak, is the subject of Gibney’s new film Steve Jobs: The
Man in the Machine. The documentary makes a solid point: Jobs and his inventions are inseparable. But the film seems undecided as to whether or not to embrace or denigrate its subject, an infuriatingly abstract and unreadable figure.
Among the film’s more fascinating aspects is its recounting of the history of the Apple Computer, from the first design by Wozniak to iPods, iPhones, and iPads in use today. Wozniak was an irascible figure and a master at do-it-yourself projects. While in college at Berkeley, he and Jobs sold blue boxes, illegal devices used to make long-distance calls free of charge. By the mid-1980s, Apple was giving IBM competition with the Macintosh computer and Jobs, a confident, arrogant genius with an entrepreneurial spirit, was milking Apple’s image as the David to IBM’s Goliath. The image was cemented by an iconic ad inspired by George Orwell’s novel 1984, showing a hammer smashing a screen on which Big Brother (an allusion to IBM) is delivering a speech to the masses.
The Macintosh was preceded by the Apple Lisa, which Jobs named for his daughter, although he was more interested in finding a name for the computer than in honoring Lisa. He later questioned his daughter’s paternity in court, refusing to pay $500 a month in child support despite being worth around $200 million at the time. Apple employees were routinely seduced, vilified, and ignored by Jobs. He treated colleagues and family members with a callousness that seemed sociopathic.
Jobs’ vision for Apple superceded other considerations. His appreciation for Zen Buddhism had him studying under Kobun Otogawa, a Zen priest. Jobs wanted to become a monk but had too great an attachment to his ego. He left Apple in 1985 after disagreements with then-CEO John Sculley, who ran the company until 1993. Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 and revived a flagging company with the introduction of the iMac. Gibney covers controversies at Apple such as outsourcing manufacture to overseas factories. When labor abuses were exposed at Foxconn, a Taiwanese company with a factory in China, the news was followed by a series of suicides by Foxconn employees. Jobs seemed more concerned about Apple’s image than for the victims and their families.
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is a contradictory film. It often feels as though Gibney wants to go deeper, but he keeps Jobs at arm’s length. The segment that deals with the cancer that ended his life in 2011 does not elicit much sympathy, and the resulting portrait feels incomplete and dispassionate. — Michael Abatemarco
Machine sage: Steve Jobs