My Movie of the Year: "Steve Jobs"

I don’t write movie reviews often—in fact, I rarely do. 

Quite frankly, most movies for me end mere minutes after their viewing. Sure, some inspire a feel-good sensation while others speak to my deep-seated intellectual. But like dreams, they dissipate into vague memories as I walk past the red-lit exit signs of the theatre.

Not so with “Steve Jobs,” whose avant premiere I attended last weekend in advance of its release this Thursday across cinemas in Beirut.

The story unfolds backstage at three historic product launches spanning the decade and half between 1984 and 1998. Immediately, we are made to see how divisive Jobs’ character is. 

He’s aggressive, openly threatening one of his chief engineers over a technical hiccup at the launching of the Macintosh. He’s cocky, self-smugly taking credit for “[playing] the orchestra” that is Apple computers, though he had no hand in any product design, development or programming. And he’s hot-tempered, exploding in front of anyone who falls short of his lofty expectations.

I absolutely love the dialogue between Steve Wozniak (brilliantly portrayed by Seth Rogen) and Jobs (Michael Fassbender, most recently in X-Men and 12 Years a Slave). Wozniak was the technical brains in the Steve-squared duo, slaving over the creation of the Apple and Apple II, while Jobs concerned himself with what consumers wanted, even if he failed miserably time and time again.

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) and Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) in biopic "Steve Jobs"
Credit: Universal Pictures/Francois Duhamel

In one tense scuffle between Wozniak and Jobs, Wozniak furiously calls out his former partner:
“You can’t write code. You’re not an engineer. You’re not a designer. You can’t put a hammer to a nail. I built the circuit board. The graphical interface was stolen from Xerox Parc. Jef Raskin was the leader of the Mac team before you threw him off his own project! Someone else designed the box! So how come ten times a day, I read Steve Jobs is a genius? What do you do?
“I play the orchestra, and you’re a good musician. You sit right there, and you’re the best in your row.”

This is the classic battle fought between doers and talkers, engineers and managers, tech gurus and business moguls. The former are responsible for creating what never was, while the latter often condescendingly enjoy the spotlight and visibility.

In years past, I'd read about the flaring friction between Wozniak and Jobs, but what really hit a chord with me was how sensitive and humane Wozniak comes across to viewers. 

In another of the heated debates between the two, when Wozniak is imploring Jobs to mention the top engineers of the Apple II in the iMac’s debut, Jobs flatly refuses, exhibiting a rather ungrateful and callous side with which we quickly become familiar. Before Wozniak storms out of the auditorium, he brings us to our knees in this powerful blow of a statement:
“It’s not binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time.”

The movie casts Jobs as callous and Wozniak as humane (here, tellingly, he's cradling his heart)

I’ll avoid going into further intricacies of the movie, namely the detached relationship Jobs has with his daughter, who he relentlessly denies, as well as his constant flare-ups with Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) who he recruited single-handedly.

I’ll only say that this movie does an incredible job of capturing Jobs’ discordant nature, of painting him simultaneously as genius and madman (or are the two perhaps inextricably woven?), and of leaving it wholly to viewers to decide where Jobs sits with them.

Now how often do you see a movie that lets you play jury? 


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