Steve Jobs: A study in contrasts
The man with the focus of a monk, but none of the empathy
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine
Directed by Alex Gibney
If you’re a fan of Steve Jobs, you probably won’t like this incredibly unflattering documentary about the iconic tech innovator. For full disclosure, I’m typing this review on a Macbook Pro and I have an iPhone in my pocket, but after watching Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, I have to say, I sort of resent myself for purchasing them. To be fair, this documentary is incredibly opinionated, but after watching it you will certainly get a feeling that Steve Jobs was not a very nice person, to say the very least.
I was a little uneasy when I saw the two-hour runtime, but the documentary was incredibly informative and captivating, and I considered the experience a worthwhile use of time. There was a nice balance of interviews, narration, clips from dispositions, and readings from news articles, which certainly helped to keep the viewer’s attention. Admittedly, I didn’t know a whole lot about Jobs before watching this film; I knew that he started Apple, I knew that he was difficult to work with, and I knew he was known for stabbing coworkers in the back. Right now, I feel like I need to read a more moderate biography because my impression of the man is more negative than I would have ever expected.
The documentary doesn’t seem to want for material, throwing jab after jab at Jobs. They include interviews with friends, past collaborators, and former employees (and even a monk who was his spiritual mentor) who illustrate just how difficult and cruel Jobs was as a boss (underpaying collaborators, manipulating workers, and ungracefully accepting resignations), as well as how much of a jerk he was as a person (his reluctance to pay a pittance of child support even though he was a millionaire and his insistence on parking in handicap spots). The documentary studies the contrast between the charismatic and iconic image Jobs emanated to the world, and the cold and manipulative demeanor known among those who actually met him (some claimed to have regretted taking a job with him within the first few days).
I was surprised to learn that Jobs aspired to become a monk. However, his mentor, Kobun Chino Otogawa, claimed that Jobs was “ brilliant, but he [was] too smart,” and declined to train him as a monk. It’s ironic that Jobs held such spiritual aspirations because, as Gibney puts it, Jobs had the focus of a monk, but none of the empathy. Jobs found it hard to connect to others, but created technology that many claim connects us all (though others yet claim that smartphones and iPads only help to isolate us). Chrisann Brennan (Jobs’ high school girlfriend and mother of his daughter, Lisa) confirms the disconnect between his personality and his efforts to bring people together through technology when she states, “[Jobs] is a study in contrasts.” It isn’t hard to agree with her statement after watching the documentary.
If the documentary’s goal is to make you hate Steve Jobs, it is pretty darn successful. It was an incredibly emotional film to watch. The film opens with scenes depicting a worldwide wake for Jobs, depicting people laying flowers and lighting candles in front of Apple stores and YouTube clips of mourners’ reactions to his death. Though we might believe that these images show expressions of love for Jobs, Gibney suggests that it is really his products that we love and are mourning the loss of future creations — an indication of our international addiction to Apple.
During one of the most heart-breaking and memorable scenes, Bob Belleville, who was the Director of Engineering at Macintosh from 1982-85, revealed that with the stressful work conditions and long hours, he lost his family while working for Jobs. To make things worse, Belleville still praised Jobs for his accomplishments. With tears in his eyes and his voice breaking, Belleville read something he wrote about Jobs, “[His] was a life well and fully lived, even if it was a bit expensive for those of us who were close.”