Skip to main content

Review: The Man in the Machine


Real quick, does Alex Gibney ever take time off? Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief and Sinatra: All or Nothing At All both made their premieres this year, but Gibney still has one more documentary up his sleeve. The myth around Steve Jobs is known by everyone. He took a company that started out of his garage and turned it into a global powerhouse with products that people go into a frenzy over. No one would define themselves by their pager, so why does an iPod or iPhone so often serve as an extension of its users?

Steve Jobs' death in 2011 was met with a massive outpour of public grief, but the emotion on display didn't fit the man who passed. Jobs, for his outsized personality while he was promoting Apple, was fiercely private. Taking an approach inspired by Citizen Kane, Gibney starts his film at the mogul's passing, and works backwards through interviews and archival footage to get a sense of the man behind the smokescreen.

The film jumps around chronologically, tackling the early Apple years; NeXT; and the launches of the iPod, iPhone and iPad. It bears repeating that Jobs didn't personally design or engineer the famous items so closely associated with his name. The truth is that a lot of talented people surrounded Jobs, and he drove them to their limits. Apple is not represented in Gibney's film, but there is a good deal of interviews with those who worked with Jobs along with his friends and family, and the background information is revealing. The Steve Jobs who faced legal issues is certainly not the one we remember fondly.

Steve Jobs wasn't a perfect man, certainly, few are, but Gibney isn't interested in hagiography. At first The Man in the Machine gives the audience a lot of the personable Jobs that he presented himself as for years, then the darker side comes out. "Think different" was Jobs' method of creating a link between Apple and the noble ideals of icons like Martin Luther King Jr., and it worked really well. However, Apple didn't use "think different" to contribute to more moral business practices. The workers at Foxconn who make iPhones and iPods certainly don't have the luxury of using the products they spend all day building.

Gibney's documentary expands beyond Jobs--sometimes to its detriment--but the larger Silicon Valley scene that Jobs inspired, and the grime behind his technological benchmarks are integral to his legacy. Jobs was a master of branding: he created a narrative where customers bought not just a machine, but a reflection of themselves they could pour their identity into. The love story between Apple fanatics and their products is what Jobs is remembered for, but Gibney posits that we're all still buying into a myth. That Gibney himself can't explain why he owns an iPhone is cause for concern.

Gibney loses sight of Jobs in the wide scope of the documentary, but perhaps it is impossible to understand a man made up of so many contradictions. Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine isn't a hit-job by any means, but it does encourage viewers to "think differently" about the man so widely revered.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Dream Is Real

For my money there is nothing cooler than the idea of a city folding in on itself.

Review: Anomalisa

Weird is rarely used as a good quality in film criticism, but few words so completely describe Charlie Kaufman’s work as weird does. All of his films are a window into his very particular worldview, and that p.o.v. is certainly unlike anything seen in pop culture. For that reason, Anomalisa became an entry on many most anticipated lists for 2015. That Kaufman chose stop-motion to tell this story made the picture an event. So it came as a disappointment when the film was one of the year’s more mundane efforts.

Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind have an energy and heart at the center that is not present here. Previous collaborators like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry were able to temper the overwhelming negativity Charlie Kaufman occasionally falls prey to, but, this time, the writer doesn’t have a director to rein things in. In all of his efforts to create an experience that is both familiar and alienating, Kaufman may have accidentally created something host…

Hulk vs. The Incredible Hulk vs. The Avengers

There are two movies about the Hulk and one that features the green monster as a major player. One was made in 2003 by an auteur, starring a little-known Aussie. Five years later The Incredible Hulk came out to the same tepid reaction as Ang Lee's Hulk did. This weekend, The Avengers made the Hulk as popular as he has been in a long time. So it comes down to this: Hulk vs. Hulk vs. Hulk. Who will smash whom?

Round One: Acting
Edward Norton outshines Eric Bana as the dual persona of the meek Bruce Banner and the rage-induced Hulk. Eric Bana was given little to do but run and fight and often the audience was just waiting for him to transform. With the Incredible Hulk, Norton's Banner is fully fleshed-out and we are given a reason to care about him. Being allowed to go a little dark with Banner's scenes questioning what is left of his life provided emotional resonance to the character that Hulk lacked. Yet even with the capable performance that Norton gives there was something …