Interested in seeing the new Steve Jobs movie that Universal is releasing this weekend in select markets (with wide expansion set for October 23)? Well, me, too. Only I’ve already seen it five times within the past dozen days. And I eagerly await my next few viewings.
You’re probably wondering how I’ve been able to see this inevitable Oscar contender so many times prior to its initial release. The more important thing to ponder, though, is “Why would anybody WANT to see it so many times in such a short timeframe?” The answer to that question, quite simply, is because the movie is masterfully made, and it works on so many different levels. Not unlike so many of the products the title character brought into this world…
To best analyze this movie, one would rightfully begin with the fertile subject matter — a titan of an entrepreneur, a revolutionary communicator, and a contradiction of a human being (after all, Jobs is a man who denied the paternity of his own illegitimate child for years while obsessing to marry technology with accessibility in order to procreate the most sought-after and sophisticated gadgetry of our time for strangers).
And who better to write the screenplay on such an intriguing individual than someone who possesses these same traits himself? Namely Aaron Sorkin, whose taut screenplay is fraught with conflict, three-dimensional characterization, expertly crafted scenes, transfixing dialogue exchanges, and an uncanny insight into the human condition; and he seems to accomplish all of this within every scene.
Steve Jobs, the movie, however, is not a one-man show (nor is Steve Jobs, the man/myth — Woz, anybody?). No, Sorkin had invaluable help from his filmmaking collaborators. I’d venture to say making a movie is akin to making a computer; there are hundreds of people (creatives and technicians alike), countless components and painstaking decisions involved in constructing both. But making a movie and/or a computer work magnificently is a whole other matter.
In tech/geek circles, Jobs and company are widely considered to have made their computers with an unmatched expertise. And in film circles, Sorkin and director Danny Boyle seem to share that same esteem. Allow me if you will to further this movie/computer analogy. If Sorkin is the programmer writing the sequences and instructions needed to make the movie, then Boyle is the central processing unit that flawlessly carries out these instructions with a flair.
There’s a scene halfway through the movie (a sequence, really) that has stayed with me more than the rest of the compelling scenes. It starts off with Jobs backstage at the second product launch of the three product launches that Sorkin utilizes to structure the movie (specifically the introduction of the NeXT computer, at a crushing time in Jobs’ life after he was fired from Apple).
On his way to the stage, Jobs enters a large, empty hall where a dozen or so tables are pushed up against the walls with chairs stacked high and haphazardly on each of them. There is only one man in the room, John Sculley – the man responsible for Jobs’ acrimonious dismissal from the very company Jobs created. The two hadn’t spoken in years, and there Sculley is, seated in the one chair on the floor.
As the two friends-turned-rivals begin to argue their own points of view of Jobs’ “firing”, the scene flashes back to the moment when Sculley first informs Jobs of his impending loss of stature within Apple. This flashback takes place in Jobs’ unfurnished home. The scene then continues to intercut between the NeXT pre-launch, Jobs’ home, and flashbacks of Jobs’ volatile demise in the Apple boardroom. The flashbacks climax in the boardroom where Sculley sits at the head of the table alongside the rest of the board as they unanimously oust Jobs.
The first time I watched the above scene, I vacillated between feeling it was a bold sequence and feeling it was an overly showy, style-heavy choice – the ridiculously stacked chairs in the hall… the conspicuously empty house with Jobs sitting on the floor while working on his beloved Macintosh… the hyper-kinetic intercutting.
It all bumped me in that first viewing. I saw it again, and decided to just focus on the dialogue; pretty damn good dialogue, I thought. I saw it a third time, trying to pay close attention to the visuals AND audio (not an easy task when Sorkin is on a tear, and Boyle is getting visually adventurous). This time, I noticed a few other nuances, like many of the shots in Jobs’ house had him and Sculley speaking to each other from separate rooms (for the first time, these two literally and figuratively are not seeing eye to eye).
Hmmm, nice touch I thought. It wasn’t until my fourth viewing, when I just couldn’t shake my suspicion that those damn chairs piled high on the tables like post-modern art were meant to bump me, and thus make me think. Alas, they were there for a very precise reason – to highlight that Apple was in upheaval and disarray at that moment, and that Sculley had THE chair (on Apple’s board), the very chair that Jobs wanted.
Throughout that entire sequence, arguably the most dramatic of the movie, Jobs never once sits in a chair. He stands in the oddly chair-strewn hall, he squats/stands/walks in his own home, and he paces and fumes in the Apple boardroom (the sole person on his feet). At that moment, I was no longer just a fan of the movie; I was in awe… of the movie and the filmmakers.
There are plenty of other scenes and moments in the movie to laud, of course, but I’ll save those for you to discover and appreciate. Until then, get in line (or online), buy your ticket, take your seat, and enjoy the show.