A biopic about Apple. What? You thought it was about Steve Jobs? Well, it is – technically — but watching the movie gives one the impression that it is more about the image and concept of the innovative company than about the human Steve Jobs, which as I understand is accurate, because he was not very human to people. However, of all the options of what story to tell, I think they chose an interesting one, because the theme of Jobs’ life as expressed in the movie is about his vision of changing the way we see computers into one that the product should be a natural extension of the individual. So it would make sense that this two hour commercial for Apple follow the same paradigm as the product to capture that essence.
And that thematic approach is what brings transcendence to the movie. It’s about something bigger than Jobs, a way of seeing the world, of changing the world. It’s sad that that “something bigger” was ultimately only a business and a product which cannot give true spiritual meaning or purpose to life.
As a Mac enthusiast myself I was fascinated to see the “story” of the spirit of that venture and of Steve Jobs. That is what a biopic is supposed to do, capture the spirit, not necessarily the historically accurate details of someone’s life. And I think writer Matt Whitely and director Joshua Michael Stern do an excellent job of painting the portrait of that artistic entrepreneurial genius.
They follow him with brief episodic moments of his college days dropping out of the “system” of college, his experimentation with drugs, his original pairing with Steve “Woz” Wozniak in his father’s garage to make the first Apple computer, and on up through his firing from Apple, it’s demise, and Steve’s recapture and reconstitution of Apple into the greatness it originally was.
The bulk of the story is told through the business/entrepreneurship angle, but what little personal human narrative they bring in is rather poignant about the character of this visionary entrepreneur who changed the world.
In the very beginning, we get the faintest glimpse of the fact that his birth parents had given him out to adoption. He wonders with anger “who has a baby and throws it away like it’s nothing?” Of course, this would be prophetic for him as he proceeds to use and cut through every friend he has on the way to the top and throws them away like they are nothing.
Because of his growing obsession with doing something great, he tramples over everyone who ever helped him. When he just gets going, he gathers together neighbors and friends to help build the business and then fails to give them options when the company goes public, while later screaming at Bill Gates for stealing his operating system (they chose not to depict how Steve hypocritically stole the operating system from Xerox). He gets a girl pregnant when he was just starting out, and then proceeds to throw the baby away, as he was thrown away, by denying his paternity and telling the girl, it’s not his problem, “it’s not happening to me.” (Which as an aside, is technically the completely logical consequences of the feminist abortion movement that tries to take away the male’s choice in having the child and then hypocritically tries to force that responsibility back on him through alimony laws.) At one moment in the story, Woz, the very guy whose idea the Apple personal computer originally was, leaves the company and tells Steve, “It’s not about the people anymore for you. It’s about the product.” Again, something that Steve apparently embraced.
But all this megalomaniacal pathos is balanced by some truly memorable proverbial wisdom that Steve spouted about being an inspiration for the odd balls, the rejects, the nerds, who can change the world, and the belief in the limitless possibilities of the human imagination. Not just better, different. There are the required references in there to the 1984 Apple campaign and Job’s statement to Scully, Exec at Pepsi, about not being known for selling sugar water but for changing the world.
We humans are complex creatures of good and bad, and visionaries are too often larger than life exaggerations of that complexity, so the movie is a fair portrayal of such ambiguity and inconsistency. But in the end, it is ultimately a very sad and tragic tale of a man who “changed the world” and provided inspiration for hundreds of millions, while losing his own soul in the process.
But it all got me to thinking about what I call the Salieri Syndrome. For years, I have struggled with the apparent fact that world changers and visionaries and great artists and intellects etc. on the whole tend to be the worst sort of human beings. They tend to sacrifice other people to their “higher cause” in the name of helping people. In short, it seems greatness so often lacks goodness.
Remember Salieri from Amadeus? How he wanted to do great things for God and how God made him mediocre while blessing the infernal monkey Mozart with the highest of musical gifts? Or like Steve Wozniak, who was gifted with the idea but not the greatness to make his idea change the world, while the selfish narcissist Jobs got the job done, and all the glory. How many of us have had youthful desires to change the world, to do something great, something significant with our gifts and lives — but to also be a loving human being, and dare I say pleasing to God? – only to see that users, manipulators, and a-holes seem to be the ones who achieve the most success in their field or change the world. It’s almost as if the two are mutually exclusive. The good are rarely the great, and the great are rarely the good. (Yes, yes, yes, I know there are always exceptions, plenty of exceptions. I am talking here of majority, not absolutes).
Perhaps it is a delusion to seek the combination of greatness and goodness. Maybe that’s like saying I want to be both proud and humble. When you get to the second half of your life and like most people, you either haven’t achieved your dreams, or you realize you never will, you re-evaluate your priorities. You start to think, maybe, just maybe, loving people instead of using them for our purposes, our “dreams” or our “higher causes” changes us, and that’s the world most in need of changing.