Last night my husband and I went to see Danny Boyle’s new film Steve Jobs. I loved the film, while my husband was slightly turned off by it. I appreciated the film mainly for two reasons in addition to the good acting by most principal characters and the energetic pacing (somewhat expected from a Danny Boyle film) that kept me engaged throughout the film.
I loved the film, first because the film’s representation of Steve Jobs reminded me of Van Gough painting style that showed spiritual and emotional reality rather than material reality (maybe Michael Fassbender, who does not really look like the real Steve Jobs was cast for this reason – well, I may be totally wrong). I felt the film attempted to show the interior substance of Steve Jobs. As the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian says, I think “the life of the cultured person today gradually turns away from natural thing to become more and more an abstract life. With natural exterior things becoming more and more automatic, we see our vital attention concentrate more and more on interior things.”
Secondly, I loved the film because its impassioned dialogues reminded me of the thought-provoking plays of Tom Stoppard, David Mamet and Jean Anouilh, as well as early American talkie films where dialogues themselves seemed to work as spectacles.
But, I also acknowledge the fact that the two reasons why I appreciated the film can be the reasons why some people did not like the film. In addition, I can see some moviegoers were disappointed by the film’s unconventional structure to narrate a biographical story. The film did have a 3-part structure, but it was not the usual Aristotelean structure of beginning, middle, and end. It did not tell stories of Jobs childhood or even young manhood, which is supposed to show his character development. It did not show Jobs’ untimely death from cancer. The film was all about the middle period of his life, structured around the three product introduction events for Macintosh, NeXT, and iMac. (For instance, my husband thought there would be a sequel to this film, which I would not bet on.)
I think such a structure makes perfect sense for portraying the essence of Steve Jobs public persona, because Steve Jobs to us, the public, has his most significance as the Apple brand creator. As Jobs says in the film, when asked by Steve Wozniak what Steve Jobs is and what he does, he answers that he is like the conductor of an orchestra who orchestrates the music created by all the individual musical instrument players in the orchestra (I thought the metaphor was brilliant). He was more than anything else the most gifted product orchestrator who jealously guarded the product image that he created.
I am not sure if the film represented Jobs in a fair manner since he often comes across as a hard-hearted and stubbornly mean person, particularly in his dealings with his daughter Lisa and Apple II engineers. But, the film also conveyed the difficulties of a driven and obsessive person to be humanly nice while being super-effective. Steve Wozniak says in the last section of the film that one can be both decent and talented and that it’s not binary. However, after seeing this film, we may think it’s very difficult for a very talented person to be hyper-competent and humanly nice at the same time. After all, what do we mean when we say a person is nice? I hope it doesn’t just mean that person is convenient or useful to us.