“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can image.”-Alan Turing
These immortal words, spoken by the true creator of modern computing, spring to mind whilst watching the latest film by director Danny Boyle. From the man who was the imagination behind the London Olympics opening ceremony and the multi Oscar winning “Slumdog Millionaire” (2009) comes a retelling of one mans vision of the modern world: “Steve Jobs”. The late creative head and CEO of Apple, Jobs was a true visionary who married the concepts of design and functionality together and made this vision into a reality.
The film focuses on the key moments in Jobs career that defined both his technological vision and his personal struggle with family, colleagues and the global media. Set within the timeline of various launch events the plot follows Jobs at his most volatile as he battles in vain to promote the computing-machines that have defined an era. Being another biopic of the late computer mogul, this film could have easily fallen on deaf ears in a minefield of meaningless techno-jargon were it not for the fast-paced and theatrical perfection of Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay. Based loosely on the Walter Isaac’s biography, Sorkin takes the script to a new level of quality that almost matches the obsessive-compulsive condition of the story’s lead character. Sorkin strives to breath life into a character that is renowned for his stubborn self-determination and blind tunnel vision. He endeavours to bring forth the humanity of the man (who cared more about the machines he created than his own daughter’s welfare) by creating empathy with the character to reveal a complex perspective from a misunderstood mind. Sorkin's writing is the software that powers the entire movie and similar to the iconic functionality of the Macintosh computer his methodically concise script is married beautifully to the complex and pleasurable design of Danny Boyle's directing style. Even so, the success or failure of this mammoth undertaking is entirely credited to the powerhouse performance by actors Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet who bounce off each other like human dynamos.
The film feels like a metaphorical representation of the Apple product that Steve Jobs created. It is beautifully shot with crisp bright cinematography while internally the encoded language of the story’s dialogue is economically precise, controlled and meticulously designed. In fact the representation of Jobs on screen is a mirrored parallel to the brand he created in real life. Jobs has now become the commodified object that he never intended his product to represent.
There is one scene during the film where an altercation between Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs comes to a final collision. Wozniak remarks to Jobs after berating him for his lack of talent that: “Your product is better then you” to which Jobs replies: “That’s the point”. Steve Jobs intended for his work to speak for itself and not rely on his own charisma to carry the Apple brand to success. After his passing, however, like all political figures and celebrities Steve Jobs has been made into an everlasting object of obsession, which like the virtual world in which he nurtured, he is no longer visualized for who he really was but for whom talented writers and gifted actors portray him to be. The “reality distortion field” that we experience in this mythic portrayal maybe an excellent example of Steve Jobs personality yet it is seen through the rose tinted veneer of the silver screen and as such this warps the truth and presents us with a modern golden idol: mired in human complexity yet stoic in visionary genius.
Perhaps this is always the way of nostalgia. We always look back with distorted vision because as humans we always selectively choose what truth we want to believe. We choose to believe in the mythic rather then the real so that we may extract deeper meaning from their example.
The story of Steve Jobs is a classic example of a prodigal son mythical tale. No one thought Job’s could succeed. Back in 1985 at the launch of the first Macintosh computer, the CEO and Apple shareholders had Job’s fired from the company for a lack of revenue. The limited vision of a few profiteering, short-sited men halted the progress of technological history for the sake of a meager profit and mediocre product. As Jobs’ states in the film, “Artists lead and hacks ask for a show of hands.” Here we see the premise for the come back kid, who loosing everything in his struggle for the unreachable, returns triumphant as the unsung hero to resurrect Apple from the ashes of financial disaster. A more mythic tale could not be told in modern times.
Returning to my opening quote from the great Alan Turing, the parellels between Steve Jobs vision and Turings life are clear to be seen. Alan Turing went through great personal strive to bring his vision of a thinking computer into realization. He had similar problems in that no one believed in his dream. Turing struggled through bureaucracy, war, and personal humiliation to persuade the powers that be that his dream could be made into a reality. Even though I can’t really say that Jobs went through the same trials as Turing, however, a parallel can be drawn between these two great minds. We have in both examples the search for an artist’s vision of the future and the limitations of the unimaginative few who sell themselves short in the attempt to diminish that artist’s dream. No prophet is ever welcome in his own country.
It was once said that ‘trying to predict the future is a discouraging and hazardous occupation’; the prophet is either seen to be woefully conservative or absurdly far-fetched. Arthur C. Clarke, seen talking about the functionality of technology in the opening scene of the film, gives us a staggering insight into where computer technology could take us in the near future. Clarkes writings, immortalized by Stanley Kubrick in “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), give us merely a glimpse of the potentiality for what our future technology may accomplish. Perhaps what both Clarke and Turing were communicating was that envisioning the future is no easy task. A true artist must face the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in order to create something monumental. This is true of anyone who pushes passed the status quo and attempts to change the world. This was certainly true of Steve Jobs. It was true of Turing and it will be true in the future. We must look back into the rear mirror to see whats coming always with one eye on the road. History Repeating.