October 24, 2015
With Steve Jobs the movie, Steve Jobs the man has made the transition from real life to mythology.
If you want to watch a drama about a person who resembles the man who built Apple into the success it is today, then by all means go see the movie. Just don’t expect to learn much about really happened.
The best comparison I’ve seen is with Citizen Kane. The classic by Orson Welles was loosely based on the life of newspaper magnate William Randolph Heart. Welles changed the names so he could freely use creative licence — and in the process created a masterpiece.
Aaron Sorkin did more or less the same thing, offering an interpretive drama about Jobs’ life, but instead kept the real names. The result is outright inaccuracies and a heavy emphasis on Jobs’ initial denial surrounding a daughter born out of wedlock.
Every book about Jobs mentions this tragic episode, but Sorkin dwells on it. I can’t say I blame a movie maker for doing this. After all, most people — even though computers are an integral part of our lives — aren’t really that interested in the technology behind them.
Jobs spent most of his life creating products, but in the end we all know that no matter how great the fruits of our labours might be, the thing that really counts in life is our relationships with family and friends. Anyone who has ever had a child will respond emotionally to a father rejecting his daughter.
Many people think he did this because he was obsessed with succeeding in his career — that he feared having to help raise a baby would be a fatal distraction. And yet, amid all this denial, he named a computer after her — the Lisa. This computer is long forgotten, but the story behind its naming will long endure as an example of the complexity we are capable of when it comes to family.
Of course, he later came to accept her, raised her as part of his family, and there was a happy ending.
Still, this is not the movie I want to see. In fact, now that Jobs is dead, I don’t know if it’s possible to tell the kinds of stories about him that were truly exciting.
The books I enjoyed about Jobs and Apple were written while he was alive — and refused to co-operate with the authors. Many of the people interviewed for these books were afraid to have their names used for fear of angering a powerful man.
Jobs had a reputation for having a quick temper in his younger years, and people working in the tech industry didn’t want to get on his bad side. So these books read like secrets revealed. You knew that people were taking risks by talking.
Perhaps the best of these was Apple Confidential by Owen W. Linzmayer. You can still find it on Amazon.
These days, you can say anything you like about Jobs — even make stuff up. If Sorkin’s movie takes off, Jobs could turn into a commodity to be exploited, like other dead celebrities. That would be shame because his real story — tons of stuff I haven’t mentioned — was already fascinating.
I’ve read the eponymous biography by Walter Isaacson that was authorized by Jobs. It’s accurate but the writing is kind of ho-hum. A new book, called Becoming Steve Jobs, is supposed to be better. People who knew him say it is not only historically accurate, but also does a good job of capturing the essence of the man. Maybe I’ll put it on my Christmas wish list.