Written by Aaron Sorkin
Steve Jobs works like a three-act stage-play. Each act, taking place in a different time period and before the unveiling of a key product from Jobs’ history as a technological innovator. Which is not interchangeable with the history of Apple, Inc., the company he co-founded. Because the visual storytelling is not that which makes Steve Jobs as impressive as Steve Jobs is.
But that’s something surprising enough; Danny Boyle is already an established picture-smith, and Steve Jobs doesn’t prove this, Steve Jobs just perpetuates a known truth of the film industry. What Boyle does here is to give each act their own distinct aesthetic gimmick, starting in 1984 with 16mm film, continuing in 35mm for 1988 and ending in digital for 1998. The passing time works on the audience, sub-consciously or otherwise. But I did notice consciously, and the experience was only heightened (and was reaffirmed that films filmed on film just look better than films not filmed on film).
Boyle’s the kind of director who understands that seeing the mechanism of film-making is only something of-which to be ashamed if the mechanism isn’t itself appealing. By changing the technology used for each year, he makes Steve Jobs‘ extended narrative more convincing, despite that choice reminding you that what you’re watching isn’t real. A baffling dichotomy, but one that Jobs understood well-enough, at least in this infamously exaggerated dramatisation. We, the audience, can see what’s underneath and between the seamless cuts of each scene, but we don’t mind, because what’s there is actually a part of the art, not just the easel.
This is not dissimilar to the iMac G3 unveiled in Act III – popular amongst mainstream consumers and the general public for being constructed with translucent materials, allowing them to see “behind-the-scenes” (I needed Wikipedia for this, I’m not a follower of technology). This is what made Act III the most interesting for someone like me, whose first school computers were the iMac G3. Let me tell you, simply seeing the iMac G3 here brought back many memories. Plus, Jobs’ Act III appearance is more in-tune with how the public knew him; the turtle neck, the jeans, the round glasses.
Almost like a superhero’s trademark outfit, this set of clothes were so iconic that seeing them on-screen for the first time pose the popular-cultural risk of doing Michael Fassbender’s acting all on their own, and would’ve been an easy cushion of support for a less competent actor. Acts I and II, therefore, are more like the origin story or a prequel that manages to be actually interesting (something with-which Fassbender is already very well-versed, several times), before the main act. Steve Jobs is extremely intellectual in the way the narrative is constructing a man whose greatest product was himself, while the plot is too being constructed in such a way for that to make sense, as well as being told parallel with the construction of modern film making – the evolution of a man, and the evolution of his creations, shown through a visual evolution that applied to the real world of that man’s life. Through nothing more than some intense monologues and a cool mise-en-scene, Steve Jobs works cine-magic and tells the hero’s journey formula in three heated exchanges from three different years – all of which develop his early life, how he and Wozniak started Apple, and chronicling his exile from his kingdom, subsequent return, reclaim of birthright and atonement with those important to him.
And that’s the power of Aaron Sorkin – he tells entire epic sagas through two people talking at each other with urgency. He writes exciting action films, but the action’s in the dialogue. As Jobs develops, each Act unveils a new, improved Jobs, with less flaws than ever before! But the audience’s interface, and the production of what they’re consuming, are hermetically sealed together.
Perhaps that’s why Steve Jobs is so fascinating, and my third best film of 2015.