Why the Steve Jobs Movie is Great

Steve Jobs is incredibly entertaining. Thrilling, in fact.

It’s a story about Steve Jobs told through painful behind-the-scenes interactions that take place before three separate product launches.

Some people may balk at this strategy but the reality is most traditional biopics condense an entire lifespan into 90-minutes of screen-time. What’s left is a checklist of resume highlights built around some major dramatic moment — usually failure of some sort (like the musician who struggles with drug addiction). The main character eventually overcomes it and lives happily ever after. The end.

Steve Jobs does away with that formula completely, and instead asks the moviegoer to do something Hollywood believes they don’t really want to do — think.

There is some explaining of Jobs’ story — it wouldn’t be a movie these days if the characters didn’t spend at least some time explaining things (have you seen The Martian? The whole movie is Matt Damon explaining things) — but to me, the film feels far more like portraiture than anything else.

It says: here is what the director Danny Boyle, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and lead actor Michael Fassbender believe Steve Jobs, in these specific instances, to be. We are going to give you the framework for him, how he might act or react, or what he might say, and how this whole thing might go — it’s up to you to take that and finish the thought.

Many viewers thus far are disappointed in the movie; they think it poorly represents the man. On a practical level, that may be true. But, it may also be true that people are having a hard time digesting his flaws played up for dramatic effect.

I’d argue, however, that the movie doesn’t even portray him in that bad of a light. He has moments of brilliance — revealed, again, through something as simple as dialogue, not action — but he also has moments of just being a dick.

It may not be an accurate portrayal — it’s been said that none of this stuff actually happened at all — and yet it still feels fair. And that’s precisely why the movie is so compelling. It presents Jobs as neither totally good or totally bad. Like most people, he’s somewhere in the middle. He’s not a god, he’s a man.

So, you walk in with one set of assumptions, walk out with a second, and ultimately find yourself still wondering, who is the real Steve Jobs?

If you’re looking for answers, that may annoy you. But look closely, and they are there. They’re just not obvious, and that’s another reason why the film is so interesting. Think about it — Steve Jobs’ life has been documented exhaustively, do you really need another movie to tell you what he’s done?

What you might need — and need is a strong word here — is a different take on him. Steve Jobs filtered through a far more colorful lens. And that lens, specifically, is what separates artistic renderings from Wikipedia entries.

This film, however, is not a Wikipedia entry. It’s an artful take. It’s a look at this man from multiple sides — the good, the bad, the in-between. It’s not explanation. It’s a painting. It’s a portrait. It says, here is what we think, and hopefully it makes you think.

Nobody will ever fully capture another person’s life, because life is life, and representations are just that — representations. The best you can do is your interpretation of it. That is what art is supposed to be. And that’s why the Steve Jobs movie is so good.

PS: I purposely tried to not reveal too much information about what happens in the movie, because I hate reading reviews and criticism that give the entire movie away. I’m trying to tell you why you should see this movie. Not accidentally give you all the reasons why you don’t have to.

PSS: When I watched the film, the girl who sat next to me — whom I didn’t know — spent the entire duration of the movie browsing Facebook on her iPhone. I couldn’t help but wonder how Steve Jobs might have felt about that. Technology giveth, technology taketh away.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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