Steve Jobs had quite the reputation by the time he met his untimely death in 2011. He was known as driven, ambitious, and innovative, even after getting ousted from the company he started. The biopic Jobs explores those qualities, and is also brutally honest about his difficult personality. It does that quite well, but also without much of a point.
Biopics are funny things. In most films, you can pick out a worldview that the filmmaker wants to get across. They made the characters do certain things to garner certain reactions out of the audience. They craft the plot the way they do because they have a point. With biopics, it’s more difficult. Theoretically, biopics simply recount a truthful story that happens to be interesting. To use a critical eye, you can’t simply look at the events of the story, but instead look at why the filmmaker chose to include those events.
With Jobs, those details reveal a compelling story, but one that isn’t necessarily worthwhile. The story begins, after a brief glimpse of an older Steve Jobs, with Steve as a barefoot college student, losing interest in classes he deems unnecessary. After a montage including casual sex, drug use, and Eastern mythology, the film advances to the story of Apple. It shows an often irate Steve, hurling profanities at his trusted friends and using a vicious ambition to help his company pull ahead.
The film’s depiction of Apple’s beginnings is undoubtedly the most compelling part of the movie. Between Steve (played brilliantly by Ashton Kutcher), his college buddy Daniel, the neighborhood kid nobody will remember, and the brilliant Woz (Steve Gad). Steve finds a pet project that Woz was working on and manages to see potential in it. They make their first business deal. Then the next. Then they get an investor.
Oh, and by the way, Steve accomplishes most of this by lying, which includes lying to his partner about how much a deal was made for, giving him half of $700, when the actual deal was for $5000. This is just one expression of the selfishness and egotism that seems to define everything about Steve. When his girlfriend tells him that she’s pregnant, he denies that he’s the father, insisting she must have cheated, even after a paternity test proves that he is the father. As he screams at her in his living room, “This is not happening to me!” (This is not in an “I can’t believe this is happening” fashion and more in a “This is not my problem” way). Steve’s selfishness becomes more apparent as the film goes on, even denying Daniel, who, by the way, is one of the only basically good human beings in this film, a share in the company.
At this point, the film reaches a critical moment. His selfishness has cost him his company, the very thing he burned so many bridges and eluded so many other responsibilities to create. This could be a humbling moment. A teaching moment. A moment that could show what kind of circumstances can change a man, similar to the manner through which God changed Nebuchadnezzar.
But that’s not what happens. Instead, the film fast-forwards right past Steve’s lowest moment. We later see him reunited with his old flame, having now become a father to his girl and since having another child with his now-wife. That seems to indicate a changed man, but why did we not see the transformation? Not watch Steve face the painful reality of what his own selfishness had done?
That’s because he never did. Oh, he finally accepted that he was a father, and he made up with his girlfriend and got married, but a ring never changed anyone.
Except maybe Gollum. Gollum probably counts.
When the Apple CEO asks Steve to come back, he shows his true colors. He agrees to come back and revive the company . . . then proceeds to turn his back on the people who wanted him to return. He convinces the board to fire the CEO and fill those shoes with him instead, and then manages to edge out the board itself, in a power play we’re supposed to perceive as brilliant, but is actually devious. And so the film ends, with Steve Jobs having fulfilled his wildest dreams, without contemplating the means that led him there in the first place.
In the end, Jobs is a film that’s well done. The story keeps you interested, the acting is phenomenal, and it really makes you root for this guy who was nothing more than a hippie college dropout. But that’s exactly the problem. It wants you to root for a guy who is selfish, egotistical, and in short all but Narcissus himself. And that’s not even the scary part.
The scary part is that it’s good at it.