Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine

Lately Alex Gibney’s big project has been to sort through the lures and lies of huge DIY personality cults. Not to psychoanalyze the guy too much, but he might have a slight fetish for male mavericks confusing the currents of the cultural mainstream (or at least a white Boomer’s idea of the mainstream). It seemed inevitable that the late Apple honcho would join the peculiar pantheon of Gibney documentary subjects, recently also including Lance Armstrong, Julian Assange, Hunter S. Thompson, and Jack Abramoff. To their unruly ranks let us now add the paradigm-shifting, partner-exploiting, employee-abusing, sweatshop-abetting, handicapped-parking-space-taking, paternity-denying, visionary genius leader monster Steve Jobs. An early glimpse at the big picture includes iPad candles at tearful vigils after Jobs’ death, overlaid with Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Jobs loved Dylan, Gibney tells us in narration, maybe because he wasn’t just one thing. With no shortage of character witnesses — there seem to be lots of interviews with guys wearing little round glasses — Gibney’s portrait is dense with telling biographical detail. And it is undeniably fascinating to look back on how this life progressed. Here, in grainy black-and-white, the vulpine young Jobs flips off a big monolithic IBM logo; there, in gleaming video, the decidedly more vulturelike, salt-and-peppered older man soaks up ovation-idolatry in his famous product launches, having himself become the monolith. That’s on us, of course, and Gibney’s one of us: citizens of a world willing to enable a technology entrepreneur with “the focus of a monk but none of the empathy.”