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The Steve Jobs Movie: A Requiem for a Narcissist

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 12/10/2015 Brett Fenzel
STEVE JOBS © Detroity2k/Flickr STEVE JOBS

Despite being the villain of his own hero's journey, the Steve Jobs of his eponymous movie "Steve Jobs" gets a chance at redemption in its final moments. Far from being Father of The Year of any of the 15 years that span this three-act film (more in theatrical terms than cinematic), he's finally able to come forward with the ultimate gift idea for his daughter Lisa, who seems never to part with her clunky Walkman. "I'm gonna put 100 songs in your pocket. No, 500. I'm gonna put between 500 and 1000 songs in your pocket."
Always innovating and calculating but this time a shade closer to fathering (in a denouement that feels earned but stretches its plausibility), the Jobs prototype of the earlier parts of the movie now seems to be playing slightly against type.
Older and with a more palpable case of FOMO, he recognizes that his daughter has advanced academically and socially despite his negligence. The father of innovation, prone to loving the product more than the person meant to use it, quantifies the human need of his daughter. Like any good narcissist in a desperate attempt to win back favor, he makes a promise that he can't quite fulfill. Or at least not yet.
The movie is suspended in a state of premonition of the iProducts we use today, and the final rooftop scene with his daughter is the closest we get to seeing the bespectacled, mock-turtlenecked, latter-day Jobs who made the dreams we never thought we had come true. His daughter just wants a dad, not even a great one. He fails time and again to find the algorithm for that, but in this moment he shows her and us the best that he can (or at least hope) to be.
Played with disturbing veracity, absent of marrow but with snakelike charm, by Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs is not exactly unfurled and unmasked. More so, he is put to task by the people who want him to be more human than he is and less of a short-circuiting machine that complicates their lives.
The structure and closed spaces of the film work beautifully to encase the tension between Jobs and his former friends and/or foils, ex-lover, work wife and daughter. There's nowhere much to run (a bathroom stall here, an unlocked dressing room there) and we feel adequately trapped with him and the human-sized flies buzzing in his ear.
The wise decision to split the action into three parts, each before a high-stakes product launch, allows the ace team of director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin to let us breath in (if not out) and make three distinct pictures. It's not a fractured experience, though, since the same characters and conflicts are constants in each. Although, for a movie that's essentially a chamber piece, it gives the viewer three distinct formal experiences.
The first one introduces us to a chilling monster and features the most coldly rat-a-tat Sorkinian Impressionism of the three. It feels of its time in 1984 with its grainy film stock and staunch idealism of an 80s message movie. Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, Apple's marketing director, with her Polish-tinged accent and short "I'm a business woman" coif seems to be playing Meryl Streep playing Hoffman directed by Mike Nichols or Sydney Pollack. She's not only trying to wrangle the unreasonable Jobs who is insistent that his MacIntosh says "Hello" despite seemingly insurmountable technical odds, but she's also saddled with the task of playing his mediator and wardrobe stylist and babysitter to the daughter he refuses to call his own.
When the second launch rolls around four years later, Winslet's Hoffman is still swaddling Jobs and playing his Gal Friday through Thursday. The focus, though, turns to Jobs' complicated and collapsed relationships with Apple CEO John Sculley and criminally under-appreciated mastermind Steve Wozniak played by Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogen, respectively.
It has a Wellesian air with a sunlit hallway, long-shot confrontation scene at its core and plenty of gloomy, rain-soaked flashbacks marking Jobs' failure and eventual ousting from Apple. The metaphors abound, most loudly when he's in an empty orchestra pit with Woz. "The musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra!" The truest one, though, surfaces when he's alone in the rafters with Lisa. She explains that she's been playing on a loop two versions of the same song, Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now." One is "girly" while the other one is "regretful," she intones. Perhaps she's too adept at music theory for a real life nine-year-old, but this is a metaphor, people, and Lisa is clearly a budding genius chip off the hold block. One that will leave the largest crater in his narcissistic fallout.
By the third act set in 1998 as Apple (read: Jobs) is about to launch the iMac, Lisa's presence looms large. Jobs has refused to pay for her Harvard education and now others, namely Andy Hertzfeld, his punching bag from Act One, have stepped in to foot the bill. Winslet as Hoffman, acting up a storm (and sure to bring Oscar to his proverbial knees) and now looking more than ever like a surrogate earth mother to Lisa sans glasses and with flowing brown locks, is threatening to walk unless Jobs acknowledges that his greatest responsibility is to his daughter. As Hoffman firebombs him with the should haves and could haves of his on again, off again fatherhood, her words hit like a cattle prod eliciting something almost empathy-like from Jobs.
Though Jobs himself is grayer and more worse for wear, the look of part three is crisper and cleaner, shot in blues and whites as if the action is unfolding inside the hopeful product about to launch. The emotional stakes are messier than ever, though. He's lost his former comrades from the Apple II and MacIntosh days, most notably Woz, in a pissing contest that might endure as one of the greatest committed to celluloid albeit one without a clear winner or loser. He's still got his ever-loyal Hoffman but now stands to lose her paired with his daughter. Even though out there awaits a world that will fall madly in love with him and his creations, he's caged in a match with the people who love and need him the most. Unfortunately, he has no language or points of reference to fully understand what those needs are.
The greatest strength of "Steve Jobs," the farthest cry from a cradle to the grave biopic since "I'm Not There," is that it knows when to cut us loose and leave us to stew with questions in the wake of this flawed but omnipotent superpower. It avoids easy sympathy by steering clear of Jobs' battle with cancer but still makes a few unsubtle attempts to explain away his self-aggrandizement.
He was adopted twice or something. In the end, the filmmakers don't owe us any explanation. Like their subject (and those crushed in the vice of his ego), they've given us a superior and seductive product that sometimes make us want to bang our heads against a wall, but then, invariably, leaves us asking for more.

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