Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine: Eating Around the Core, by Matt Warren
Alex Gibney’s new documentary, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, is an investigation into the nature and character of the late Apple co-founder and CEO’s personality, and how that personality continues to inform Apple’s corporate values and the underlining existential morality of its products. But really, the time for a fearless and searching moral inventory of our own collective iAddiction has long since passed. Here I am, typing up this review on an Apple laptop, listening to Apple Music through iTunes on my iPhone 6, eating an apple and breathing in orchard smells from a scented apple butter candle. I’m already lost inside the walled garden of Steve Jobs’ untethered capitalistic ambition—a Japanese Zen garden of attractive, ergonomic gadgetry that we humans grow ever more dependent upon with each passing year.
But how good or bad is any of this? Gibney is nothing if not the documentary form’s Explainer-In-Chief, and Man in The Machine explains the particulars of Jobs’ life very well. Subject: Jobs, Steve. Born: San Francisco, 1955. Occupation: tech innovator, big business iconoclast. Founded (out of garage): Apple Computers, 1976. Wild success into the mid-1980s. Shitcanned from own company in 1985 due to: typical megacorporate shenanigoats (see also: Mike Judge’s satirical HBO TV series Silicon Valley, 2014-present). Wilderness period: 1985-1996. During which he: co-founded Pixar Animation Studios. Re-hired, Apple: 1997. Ensuing professional triumphs: the iMac, the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, et al. Then: cancer. Then: death.
So what, then, does Gibney tell us that we couldn’t glean from a quick perusal of Jobs’ Wikipedia page? What Gibney emphasizes, overwhelmingly, are the contradictory aspects of Jobs’ personality coupled with an ambivalent appraisal of Apple’s effect on the global behavior of multinational corporations, as well as the intra-personal behavior of private individuals.
Jobs was not a particularly nice man. But he wasn’t a cartoon billionaire supervillian, either. Like all capitol G “Great Men,” Jobs was monomaniacal about his work—frequently and cruelly at the expense of familial and personal relationships, even as he promoted his widgets as the ultimate tool for forging an interconnected, humanistic global community. He wrapped himself in the veil of Eastern spirituality while suppressing the First Amendment rights of tech journalists. He was a free-market capitalist who colluded with CEO peers to subvert the ability of Silicon Valley clock-punchers to leverage their skills at fair market value. He claimed enlightenment while refusing to pay child support. He claimed that Apple strove to “make the world a better place” while cancelling all of the company’s philanthropic programs and deeming charity “a waste of time.”
Meanwhile, what has Apple’s tech done for society? Like all technological innovations, Apple products have empowered smart, creative people to be even smarter and more creative while simultaneously enabling stupid people to become even more frivolous, ill-informed, and lazy. And while it’s true that Apple has made interpersonal connection on a global level easier than ever, that connection has come at the expense of immediate interaction with the people in our daily, three-dimensional personal space—i.e. the person sitting next to us on the train, across the dinner table, or on the other side of the bed. We’re faces buried in screens, off-loading our human-ness out of our bodies and into the cloud.
So, let me ask you this. Did you enjoy the last four paragraphs of this review? If so, you’ll probably enjoy The Man in the Machine. Those four paragraphs are a pretty fair distillation of the material Gibney has assembled here, asking larger philosophical and metaphysical questions via first-person voiceover as prompted by key touchstones in Job’s biography. Gibney and his crack team of deputy editors, researchers, and archivists use interviews, library footage, and artsy B-roll to chart Jobs’ ascension, cultural canonization, and ultimate demise with clarity and economy. Gibney asks questions, but he doesn’t answer them. And for a subject this thorny, that’s okay. After all, he’s not Siri.
Is Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine interesting? Yes. Is it particularly cinematic? No. Would I recommend paying money to watch it in theaters? I would not. Will it lead you to a decisive, uncomplicated, and unambiguous opinion about Steve Jobs’ life and work? –HTTP Error 404: File Not Found–