Director Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin are two men with nothing left to prove. Their work speaks for itself in ways few artists today can claim, so it only makes sense that they would collaborate on the definitive portrait of a man whose work gave everyone a unique voice. His name was Steve Jobs, and with Michael Fassbender embodying the deceased founder of Apple at three major points in his professional career the latest creation from Boyle and Sorkin is nothing short of a true cinematic treasure. It’s perfectly paced, expertly acted, and filled with commentary on the war between work and relationships we each battle in our everyday life that strikes a near universal chord I doubt anyone will be able to deny.
Each of the three acts in Steve Jobs takes place in the hours before a major press event. The first, in 1984, finds Jobs dealing with launch problems related the worldwide debut of the first Macintosh personal computer. It’s an event happening just days after Apple captured the world’s attention with a Super Bowl ad Jobs himself claims is better than most short films released in the same year. The demo his team has prepared has encountered a glitch with its voice software, and though everyone insists they must remove that component from the presentation, Jobs stands firm. He believes the only way people will connect with the personal computer is if it feels personal, and that begins with saying hello. He’s not wrong, but the expectations he has for others is not necessarily okay by any means whatsoever. His relentless pursuit of technological perfection has clearly strained nearly every relationship in his life, including his connection to a girl who may or may not be his daughter, but Jobs is so caught up in the moment he can’t see the forest for the trees. All that matters is making good on his personal promise to make the world a better place through computing, and he refuses to let anything divert him from that path.
When we meet Jobs again it’s 1988, and we’re just hours away from the NEXT computer being introduced to the world. Jobs, freshly removed from Apple following an excruciating encounter with the company board after the Macintosh failed to catch on with the public, seems calm and collected in spite of needing a win more now than ever before. There are issues again, just like with the last launch, but something about his reaction to them has changed. His confidence, while always present, has been cemented at this point. He knows what he must do, and in his mind he’s doing exactly that. As a result, the blinders that keep him from fully appreciating the life he’s built or the people he has around him remain present as ever. In fact, most relationships are more stressed than ever, as the fallout from his Apple departure left a bevy of negative comments in public forums from former employees and coworkers, including co-founder Steve Wozniak. If Jobs had few people at his side when Macintosh launched with all the promise in the world, then there is practically no one at his side when he chooses to reveal NEXT, which he himself admits is nowhere near ready for market. The legendary tech wild man comes alive when discussing the impossible odds against him however, and you can’t help feeling more alive as well.
The third, and perhaps most poignant chapter of Steve Jobs focuses on the launch of the iMac in 1998. Jobs, now back at Apple, is riding high on a wave of positive acclaimed that followed his miraculous last-minute resurrection of the company brand. Everything Jobs hoped to accomplish with the launch of the Macintosh 15 years earlier is now possible with the iMac, and for once the public seems to agree. The excitement for the product is as high as any product launch up to that point, and you know Jobs is satisfied that he made the product he wanted to make, but still you sense the gears turning in his head. He may be physically present at the launch, but per usual his mind is somewhere in the distant future, dreaming of creations he has no idea how to create. For Jobs, the constant pursuit of something better than whatever we have now is everything, and you get the sense in this chapter that he’s begun to realize that pursuit will never really end. As much as that gives him purpose, it’s also cause for pause, as he has put so much of his life on hold for the sake of reaching the next level of technological achievement. In his mind, the world is waiting on him to deliver the thing(s) he knows he can bring to life, and so it’s the world that must come before everyone else. That decision was easier in 1984 than it is in 1998, and for a few fleeting moments it seems Jobs may indeed have regrets.
While Sorkin and Boyle provide wonderful blueprints for the film, Steve Jobs succeeds thanks to its stellar performances, most notably lead by Michael Fassbender in the title role. Fassbender delivers three distinct, yet beautifully cohesive versions of the same man at various point in his highly publicized life. You’ve seen images and videos of the real Steve Jobs on the days featured in this film, and if you’re a real cinephile you probably also saw Ashton Kutcher reliving some of those days as Steve Jobs in his own take on the Apple founder, but Fassbender finds a way to make it all feel fresh once more. He completely disappears in the idea of what makes Steve Jobs tick, or at least what makes the version of Steve Jobs the world knows tick, and it’s absolutely riveting to watch. He’s supported through it all by an equally talented cast, including Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg and John Ortiz. Each performance is perfectly measured, and everyone is given a chance to shine in each individual act.
The best surprise of Steve Jobs may be Seth Rogen, who delivers what is destined to be referred to as a career-changing performance as Steve Wozniak. Rogen previously displayed his dramatic talents alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 50/50, but here he is tasked with conveying a far greater range of emotion. Wozniak is a generally a quiet man, choosing to work behind-the-scenes while Jobs greets the crowds, but as we move forward in time he grows increasingly unhappy with the amount of credit given to himself and the people he oversees. Where he once saw things as being even between him and Jobs, Wozniak realizes perhaps far too late that his once best friend is never going to be as concerned for his well being as he is for his own. At the end of the day, Steve Jobs is looking out for Steve Jobs, and he expects the world to believe that by supporting this idea they are also looking out for the future of technology. While that may be true to an extent, Jobs only achieves greatness if Wozniak and his team of developers can create something out of nothing. The challenge of conveying all that on camera, in what essentially amounts to three scenes no less, would be a hard task for any seasoned actor to deliver on. Rogen somehow pulls it off, and I dare say there are moments when he steals the entire film.
As much as the world changed during the time Steve Jobs was on this planet—often due to his own craftsmanship—there is also a lot that remained the same, and recognizing that may be what ultimately sets this film apart from most biopics. While Jobs is focused on achieving one goal, which we watch him attempt multiple times over the course of 15 years, he is missing out on much of life. His mission remains the same, and to an extent he does as well, which causes him to miss key human experiences like developing a real relationship with his daughter, or learning to hold conversations with the people who consider him a friend without getting lost in his own thought. While there is a side of Steve Jobs that is focused on the pursuit of his technological dreams, the bigger message seems to be what it takes to realize how much pursuing something great actually costs a human being. There are moments in life that come only once, and if you’re not ready or willing or able to make time for them then they will pass you by. Jobs may have had the world in his hand, but it came at a great cost, and Steve Jobs perfectly captures a man trying to justify that expense while clinging to the only way of life he has ever really known.