Steve Jobs, the controversial new movie about Apple's late CEO, is an amazing piece of writing, acting, and directing. It is a tremendous film.
It also has very little to do with reality.
Steve Jobs is a retelling of myth, an attempt to harness the power of Jobs' fall and redemption at Apple to explore a story about a character who almost (but not quite) looks nothing like Jobs at all.
That was kind of the point, according to writer Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle. I asked them after a screening last night how they'd chosen to make a Steve Jobs movie that didn't include the words Pixar, iPhone, or cancer, and Sorkin told me that "before I knew what I wanted to do, I knew what I didn't want to do: write a biopic."
"It's an abstract," added Boyle. "That was one of the reasons we didn't want [Michael Fassbender, who plays Jobs] slavishly to look like him. We wanted to send the signal very early on... that it's clearly not a photographic impersonation."
Listening to Sorkin and Boyle talk, it's easy to understand why Laurene Powell Jobs and Apple execs like Tim Cook and Jony Ive who worked closely with Jobs are so angry about this movie — they still remember Jobs as a man, not as a myth. Reorganizing the elements of his life into an expressionistic narrative that attempts to highlight specific themes at the expense of literal truth has to be infuriating. It's infuriating for me to watch this film claim that Jobs launched NeXT with no OS and no plan to accomplish anything besides selling the company back to Apple so he could take over, and I didn't even know the man — I just know it isn't true.
"There is a difference between journalism and what I do."
I asked Sorkin about the tension between that narrative elision and his pride at having revealed John Sculley's angst over Jobs' firing at Apple, and he laughed. "I don't want to argue with you," he said. "There is a difference between journalism and what I do," he said. "That doesn't give you a license to lie, but the difference between journalism and what we do is the difference between a photograph and painting. What we're doing is a painting."
"Those facts that you're talking about are not as important in this story as the fact that Steve was able to climb his way back to Apple, and that NeXT was the car that drove him there. That was the more important truth."
I'm not sure I understand the concept of "more important truth," but I do know that Steve Jobs is a fascinating attempt to find a man within a myth, all while creating a new myth of its own. Watch the full interview above.