Did you have a good world when you died? -enough to base a movie on??”
Jim Morrison, An American Prayer
It’s almost 1 year to the day of the October 25th, 2015 of the release of the Sorkin biopic film Steve Jobs. Being one of only 3 people in the theater for opening night (one being my wife who is a good sport), I wanted to look back on the film after watching it a few times and letting the complex narration marinate.
I saw criticism coming out about the Steve Jobs film, and how it doesn’t represent the life of Steve Jobs, and people personal to Steve didn’t appreciate some of the stretching of the personal details represented in the film. Please believe me, for some of us who appreciate the brilliance of Mr. Jobs we know that few details are correct, and we can still appreciate the absolutely stunning and life-affirming performances of two of today’s most accomplished actors as well as writers and production crews in reflecting an ethos.
So, I won’t belabor this review that shook me so long it took a year to write. However, I will endeavor to spoil very little of the content of the performances for you, who might have been wary even still of such a critically panned film, to the best of my ability.
The artistic shooting and editing is so well shot, that you wonder how it wasn’t all shot in three days. The flow, continuity, emotional pauses, every beat, every step, every pace, is so well structured that it is truly a symphony of engineering. Few people understand that absolutely daunting task of taking in the audio alone and masking out all the echoes caught in those crowded halls, the sheer quantity of cuts necessary from a slew of camera takes to arrange a movement-based cut-sequence for that long, the matching of color and focus of light in every angle pre-production and post, the use of emotional cues as transitions, the list goes on and on.
More? The use of extras as props to elicit feeling was excellent direction and attention to detail, and the ridiculous shot planning required would blow most DOP’s out of the water before they took the job. Mixing appropriate film recording formats was genius. Makeup was believable and aging was a non-issue. Music played in all the right keys and feeling.
All around, the producers should be ecstatic with how well their money was spent on capturing the story.
The characters. Oh, the characters. Clearly to anyone who comes into the film with a neutral or positive stance, these characters represent the metaphorical aspects of our hero’s psyche, and they dance their wit about like they have been involved for years. Once you understand that simple fact, the brilliance within the writing makes you remember why words still matter so much in our Instagram-ed culture.
In no order:
Skully as the fatherly figure, the mature, older, emotional and wiser man who could both be strong, and yet defiant. He represents the Mentor archetype, who then also transitions to the Shadow character after the Fall from Eden scene. He is also his professional side, the man of numbers, and the power that comes with money. The resolution of the passing of the torch is always so important in that kind of relationship, and Jeff Daniels delivers. Sometimes overlooked due to his comedic work, Daniels channels his sensitivity to the world into Skully, and by the end you understand the cragly depths of the thoughts.
The powerful female anima, the reflection of our hero’s Ego, within his communications officer Joanna. She is part wife, part feminine aspect of his alpha personality, some would call her a kind of mother while others see her as a requited lover. To her, he brings his most honest and deepest weaknesses when battling the public world. She soothes him, calms him, brings order to the madness without. Notice that the final scene of his greatest failure is also filmed from her comforting embrace, like a partner heading off to their final battle. She is not just his alpha reflection, she is the warrior by which he stands. She is there when he wins, and she is the only one allowed to directly challenge him, ever, and win.
Lisa, the daughterly love for his child, a maturing teacher-apprentice relationship. It is the imparting of his love for technology, and its perfect round beauty in the face of nature’s obsession with spirals, that he fills this part of him with this spirit. She is his challenge within to come to terms with his aging, represented by his spark of existential rage. He fears the reflection of that abyss, and you can feel its effects everywhere.
Woz, the buddy, the Peter Pan emotion of his, and how he looked at the world with youthful hope as well. He also reflects the shared but opposing parts of a young zeitgeist, like a Lost Boy who you would be able to play wiffle ball with at any time and still be insanely experienced in one aspect of the toys of our youth. Seth Rogen does a commendable job portraying the innocence of youthful endeavor, and of the challenges with best friends.
Joel, I believe, plays the role of the messenger or paige. There’s not a lot of nuance to what is usually minor character in any story, but even here they added another level with the role of truth in messaging. You think Apple would be proud of that part.
The mother of his child Lisa is the dionysian urge not of the Greeks but of the later Romans. It’s not that he hated that woman in the film- perhaps this metaphor becomes too harsh here for some- she was the personification of our hero out of control. This representation is the consequences of his touch with the dynonisian side, the wild, chaotic, and passionate side. He feels this urge for much of his youth and then he sublimates it as the characters separate from each other over time. I have always been impressed by people who can cry believable tears, and his baby momma gets an A.
The engineer from Apple, Andy Herzog, his nerdy side, perhaps also the magician with a touch of the trickster. He is the brilliant technologist who is the one who performs magic on the team, he writes in languages few know and is tricky enough to bend the rules before suffering a breakdown. His loyalty and opaqueness of his dubious enterprise with our hero do him favors, and yet his trickster consistently plays by a set of rules that reveals the ignorance of our hero to the world, much like the jesters of the ancient courts.
The alpha represented in Steve himself. His defense of his disabled best friend, who fought in the foxhole together with him and came out the other wide of the digital revolution in one piece, was a defining movement in his challenge to the Shadow character in the Wandering in the Woods period of his journey. His side of duty, honor, pure masculinity and force of authority, this is pure Ego. This is the force that is against the world, the that fights every day to bring order to chaos, an engine beating back the rising waters of time.
The second act, clearly shows the maturing nature of his emotional attitudes, though not necessarily for good, but simply more varied in their complexity. Following the maturation process, the Jungian process of individuation, in a character so central to modern life, was an absolute joy. Jung may have written a Red Book to bring harmony to himself, but our hero’s persona and the puppeteer that brought him to life were in such synchronicity, it is a wonder that angels don’t get their wings from such a beautiful sound.
Interestingly enough, for those that dour on our hero’s persona and character because of his past treatment with his family, the family is what mattered most to him it would seem the message that was delivered. She is the last character to exit our hero, and leaves her his greatest treasure. Who he was, a piece of his younger and more foolish self. I would say that fade into family is what makes an emotional piece work with such a story. Well played.
The Lead Acting
How about the performances by the leads? Fassbender is the only actor with the range to pull this off as a lead. Period. I’m sorry McAvoy and Stewart, but Fassbender is the rightful heir to the theater houses of Europe. A man who can dominate almost 90 straight minutes in front of your face. Even Hamlet had to give ways to his conspirators. This is the only man who can go from the mind numbingly over-produced Marvel universe to the short Oscar worthy independent feature and still be interesting every moment he is on screen. Stupidly, he wasn’t the producers first choice, and he seemed to doubt his ability to play the character. We’re all entitled to a few errors in life.
Winslet? Leo may have made more money since Titanic, but no actor since 1997 has delivered performances that make you forget she’s an actress. Her showcased range in the 2000’s, her fearlessness within her characters detail, her control of the nuances of facial expression, simply astounding. If you want to be a leading man, bring your A game, because right now her only match in the world of students of the art of theater and acting out there is Fassbender.
These two, and their chemistry, results in absolutely blissful moments of body communication and eye cues that only people who have that ability to detach themselves from their Ego in their repertoire could pull off. The spaces so confining, yet every angle, every prop, every moment created a story within the story. You buy that these two have history, and there’s nothing like seeing two giants of human study play with silence. Perfect beats.
So, to say that I enjoyed the film is beyond doubt. However, I did say at the beginning that this movie required me to think for nearly a year about how to review it. How can one do justice to something which not only inspires you, but demands that you address it?
Often in our lives our inspiration slips from our fingers like an old Floyd song, and the self-discipline of addressing the world as it is is becoming a lost art among the digitized generations overtaking the world. Art that truly transcends the human condition, that places its mark upon the zeitgeist, is the goal of nearly every creative man, woman, and child in the world. We live it, we breathe it. It is one of the bonds that lets us respect artists of any craft.
When I look at what these film makers produced, I can’t help but wonder how it occurred to them to do something so unique at such a pivotal moment. That creative spark is what powered the original Mac- this idea that the future of technology is not to consume man but to enhance him, not to make him a drone but to give him uniqueness, not to be like a machine bred by math, but to become the art that is being human.
And that was truly worth making, and watching, a movie about.