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Review: Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine

The most surprising element of this film is how powerful the ending feels.

Truly, we know the story of Steve Jobs by now, or at least we feel like we do. And on top of that, this documentary by Alex Gibney seems to want to dehumanize the mythology surrounding Jobs perhaps more than anything else, and does so by basically reducing Jobs to a series of unfortunate behaviours, (bad employee, bad father, lied about his cancer diagnosis, bilked friends and colleagues out of well-earned money). It goes on and on how corrupt Jobs appears in the eyes of Gibney. One can understand wanting to take a bite out of the Apple, but is there a term to describe the exact opposite of hagiography? It would perhaps be this film.

But the problem is that Steve Jobs cannot fight back. Perhaps you are familiar with the old joke about having no Cash, Jobs or Hope. Here, Gibney has not found one supporter of Jobs, one person willing to rush to his defence. Of course, that is kind of the objective of the exercise, but when it is considered that his takedown of Scientology was a bold stroke, this seems almost…catty?

But then the ending hits, and suddenly it all starts to make sense. This is a morality play, and it’s not Jobs that is being placed on stage, warts and all, it’s Gibney, too. It’s all of us. The Apple of our eyes are ourselves.

The elements that we come to expect are right at the forefront: the 1984 ad, Jobs and Woz building the computer in the garage, the Gizmodo account about the pilfered iPhone 4. Gibney does not feel the need to list these events thematically or chronologically, so Jobs himself gets younger, grows older, becomes almost reborn.

At times, the film strikes the audience as a cliché, a Gibney-by-numbers playbook, of ominous music, cutaways in which the interviewee stops and stares, a clearly one-sided agenda. And the film is certainly overlong at almost two hours and ten minutes. But to criticize Gibney would be like Gibney savaging Jobs. Who is truly beholding the man by using the machine?

[star v=4]