As it’s my last week of graduate school classes, I’ve been revisiting some of the work I did early in the fall of 2013 when I started here. The very first thing I wrote as a graduate student journalist was a review of the film Jobs for Vox Magazine. Having never gone to the movies as a reviewer, I approached it the same way I normal approach going to the movies at a large megaplex: by sneaking a six pack of beer in to the theater with me and taking mental notes of every little thing in the film that bothers me.
It’s not the most clever review, and looking back at it there are some poorly worded and clunky sentences. But it’s not entirely cringe-inducing, so I’ve reproduced it here without any permission from Vox (I don’t think they’ll mind as they didn’t even bother to transfer it to their new website when they did a redesign this year).
Genius is a difficult term to define and even more difficult to depict in art.
In the Steve Jobs biopic, Jobs, from director Joshua Michael Stern, Ashton Kutcher portrays the young Apple Computers founder from the time he drops out of Reed College in the late ’70s to his heroic return to Apple in ’94. In between, Jobs visits India and rips off a young Steve Wozniak only to later partner with him after seeing the potential of the early, crude personal computer. He founds the now iconic company only to be forced out in knock-down, drag-out war with the fiercely independent, imaginative Jobs being restrained by his board of directors who value profitability over innovation. After Apple stocks continue to plummet in Jobs’ absence, he is brought back in, achieves complete autonomy from the Apple board and the rest is history.
Kutcher’s Jobs isn’t believable. The film fails to offer a good explanation of how the anti-establishment, acid-dropping, barefoot enfant terrible transformed into the already mythologized figure of American capitalism. Jobs moves from serape-clothed hippie to suit-wearing businessman seemingly overnight. At the film’s beginning, he cries to his girlfriend about not knowing his birth parents but later denies his paternity of his first daughter and insists that he needs to focus on running Apple not on being a father.
But even his leadership of the company is nonsensical in the film. Jobs floats around with a vacant look in his eyes and then suddenly says — sometimes yells — vague, abstract things about “innovation” and “creativity” that miraculously inspire everyone around him. Think Hollywood’s depictions of Jim Morrison and Mark Zuckerberg in one untenable character.
We aren’t even led to believe that Jobs knows very much about building computers. The Apple CEO isn’t shown doing any computer work after 1978 in the film. But he orders other people to make better computers and even fires an employee for doubting the functionality of multiple fonts in a word processor despite Jobs’ own lack of understanding of how one would make that work. But he wore sandals to the office, so he must have been a visionary.