Film Review – Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is everything you want in a biopic documentary:  able to look at the subject through a human lens, able to acknowledge the faults as much as the success of the person, and able to realize that the complexity of an individual can never be totally understood, and that is what is interesting about him. Steve Jobs is a name everyone knows, to many he was a genius who made machines that wowed people.  Even those of us who aren’t users of his devices know who he was and that he was important in the technology field.

In looking through Steve Jobs’s life director Alex Gibney was trying to figure out why when Jobs died that there was such an outpouring of sadness and public anguish comparable to when Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lennon died. These two touched individuals through their artistic expression and strong moral arguments while Jobs was the CEO of one of the largest corporations on earth.  How was Jobs able to touch people in this way? Was it just that we loved the machines he built for us?  Was there something more and even a bigger question, was this sadness justified?

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In examining him Gibney is quick to bring up the strange contradictions of this man who was devoted to making great products and getting some of the most brilliant people to help him create something that he felt would change the world. Yet he lacked a deeper connection to many of the people around him and felt less responsible for helping the world beyond his creations.  This examination of the man comes about in different ways and takes its time revealing his complexity during the film. Throughout watching and long after the film was over this fascinating analysis of what he thought about himself and how others saw him percolated in my head and became clearer so that I was able to see it. Here was someone so singularly focused on making Apple succeed that he was able to do anything to make that happen and everything else was just the pieces that lead to that moment.  Whatever was necessary–good or ill–was something he was willing to do.

Yet his greatest achievement that comes across was that Jobs knew how to present himself to the world. He made the coming of a new Apple product an event that had people excited.  It allowed many to see Apple not so much as a company but as a place where innovation and rebellion against old ideas were constantly being challenged. But in the end Apple was and still is a business devoted to making money and staying at the top of the market place.  After seeing what Jobs was able to create but also seeing what he was willing to do to keep his company going, the question of motivations was very interesting.

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While we would be disturbed by some of what Jobs was willing to do it never seemed to come out of simple greed but rather as a way to keep Apple as a major creator of innovation.  This could encompass using poor workers in China, creating stock deals that might not be legal to retain his most talented people, being basically an almost impossible man to work with, or going as far as denying his own child because it didn’t fit into his idea of himself. Yet despite all the things he did to people,  even those who worked for him and saw his darkness still had a sense of reverence toward him and recognized that he was brilliant and could get them to do things they didn’t think possible.  Sometimes they even saw something warm in him–not often, but when it happened it was glorious.

Gibney has created a complex portrait of a man who was most able to connect with people through the devices he created and the image he crafted rather than through any person he knew during his life.  This film also examined the deeper conversation we are having about technology in our lives and explored the idea that those who have revolutionized the way we communicate are unable to communicate with those around them. The Social Network did this with Mark Zuckerberg and, while that is a theme here, it is presented only as a possible theory. Gibney all but admits that trying to figure this man out is never going to be completely achievable but he gets as close as possible to who Jobs was by taking what he has found out about the man to craft something as true as he can.


Benjamin is a film connoisseur and Oscar watcher who lives in Minneapolis and, when not reviewing movies, works at the Hennepin County Library.

You can reach Benjamin via email or on twitter

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