At the beginning of the decade we witnessed The Social Network, a film that observed the birth of the tech generation and how it’s affected the way we act, think, and behave daily. 5 years later I feel comfortable calling it a masterpiece (close at least), and the finest work from writer Aaron Sorkin and arguably director David Fincher’s as well (ZODIAC tho). 20 years from now it’ll be recognized as the definitive film about the way we live in the 21st century. Now Sorkin has traveled back into the world of megalomaniacs as he takes on Apple co-inventor Steve Jobs. With Sorkin’s pen these creators take on the stature of Charles Foster Kane in a digitized age.
Aaron Sorkin’s script is simply put, the best script of the year by a good margin. He’s the best modern dialogue writer not named Quentin Tarantino. Steve Jobs takes place chronologically at three iconic moments in the history of Apple, and is effectively divided into three acts: the unveiling of the original Macintosh in 1984, Jobs’ failed NEXT Computer in 1988 and the release of the game changing iMac in 1998. Each act focuses on Jobs (Michael Fassbender) and his loyal assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) as they prepare behind the scenes for each press launch. Both actors take the lyrical dialogue and make us hang on every word. We don’t just hear Sorkin’s dialogue, we experience it.
Sorkin’s greatest strength is writing meticulously specific dialogue, but using broad Shakespearean themes to make what we’re watching feel gigantic in scope while also as though it’s the most important conversation in the world. More so than any other megalomaniac Sorkin has written, Steve Jobs is the one that feels the most like the center of the universe. With a grin, Steve declares “Two most significant events in the twentieth century: Allies win the war and this.” His ego and attitude are so abrasive and self-absorbed that it’s as if the other characters are “orbiting around him” as director Danny Boyle puts it. Jobs goes to verbal war with John Scully (Jeff Daniels) and Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen). The effect is so potent that it’s as though the Earth’s axis has shifted. And in the film, it has. The rhythmic and lyrical nature of the language is just as important as what the characters are saying.
Fluidly rolling out quote worthy dialogue and epileptic editing with subtly composed shots (a few Citizen Kane nods), Danny Boyle has made his best film and puts on a masterclass at certain points, although Sorkin’s musically piercing screenplay is pretty hard to F up. Boyle’s blocking and camera movement is more assured and less showoffy than last years Birdman, a comparable film for its walk/talk structure and focus on a tortured artist.
Motifs of geometry and shape mirror the film’s form and character to create an inseparable connection between the character and film itself. The characters are robots in this machine of a film. If we’re ranking the artists on this project, Boyle’s direction can sometimes veer too far into the conventional (specifically in the slightly miscalculated ending) and keeps it from nearing masterpiece status, but being the worst in a group like this is still pretty damn great work.
Boyle uses a brilliantly unorthodox shooting approach. The 1984 section is shot on 16 mm film while the 1988 is 35 mm film and finally the climactic 1998 scene is digital. The contrasts give Steve Jobs marks a passage of time that fortifies the modernity of each sequential act as the film’s resolution grows progressively crisper (psssssttt 35 mm is still the best). A consistent use of Bob Dylan songs and references to him only sweeten the melancholia that lays below Jobs. Plus, ya know, he’s the greatest singer/songwriter of all time.
Outside of Lord Dylan is Daniel Pemberton’s synthesized opera score that pulses in the background like an orchestra watching Jobs every move. It crashes and swirls through scenes depending on his mood and movements. Fassbender is collected and magnetic as Jobs. Often we can’t tell if he’s a mad man who fell into these circumstances or a genius artist whose trapped.
It’s clear that the film was green lit because of Jobs 2011 death, but the film does it’s hardest, and mostly succeeds, in defying the usual trappings of a biopic. I do wonder if waiting a few more years would give the film a bigger impact and shadow? It feels almost too immediate to have staying power. My only gripe about the screenplay is that the three acts are nearly identical in conflict and structure and the finale wraps up a bit conventionally for such a daring film. It’s a limited structure to try to tell a story in. By the third act it’s a bit like having a steak for the third day in a row. Still delicious, though something more exotic and experimental would be preferred.
All of this craftsmanship would have been little more than an expertly crafted exercise if the film didn’t beat with something deeper. Zuckerberg couldn’t connect with people so he made the world like him. Jobs had ruthless perfectionism and a desire to create friendly, warm technology, but I get the sense that it was all an attempt to create an illusion in himself. He has a similar Shakespearean flaw to Zuckerberg, but his tale is a bit warmer. He used technology so he could express himself and this is told through Sorkin’s screenplay not in the dialogue, but in the silence.
Laced throughout are little moments with Steve that feel like what can only be described as revelations: mumbling to himself as though he’s Howard Hughes alone in a room, a quick edit to a memory from a decade ago that now feels re-purposed with a deeper understanding, a split second hug from his daughter, the flashing of cameras and the smile of a man in his element.
Anchoring the film is the question “can a genius can be a decent guy?” Jobs’ relationship with his daughter Lisa is where this conflict lies. In these moments Pemberton’s score slowly pulses like Zimmer’s Interstellar score, also used as a connective tissue between a father and a daughter. Like 2001’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the sound marks an evolution for Steve. For a seemingly robotic genius it’s a discovery of emotional connection. In this circus of a film these instances offer a look into a man that really can only be done in cinema. A rare intimate moment where you forget you’re in a movie theater and completely absorbed in an art form. They’re fleeting indescribable moments, but downright revelatory and moving. It’s why I got to the movies.