“Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine” SXSW Movie Review

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

“Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” (2015)

Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney brought his latest film, “Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine,” to the SXSW Film Festival for it’s World Premiere. Playing to a packed house at the lovely Paramount Theatre in Austin, TX, the film explores the legend of Apple founder and leader, Steve Jobs.

The film opens with the reaction on the streets to the death of Jobs at the age of 56. Gibney reflects on the fact that people around the world reacted to his death like a close, personal friend had died. It was an outpouring of grief and affection that is usually reserved for a film or pop star. People descended on Apple stores around the world, leaving tributes, candles, and flowers as they openly wept. Gibney doesn’t understand why the loss of a computer innovator is such a blow to so many people. He’s attached to his iPhone just as the next person is, but why did this man and his products make such a connection to some many people? He asks, “What accounted for the grief of millions of people who didn’t know him?” Gibney’s mission with this film is to figure out why Jobs was seen not only as a hero and an innovator, but as someone who was a messiah to the information age. The film looks at the man who asked not only his design team but also the people that used his products to “Think Different.”

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The film briefly touches on Jobs childhood / teen years and his early days working for the arcade game maker Atari. The film doesn’t go into too much depth until Jobs starts up Apple in the garage of a small home with a handful of like-minded programmers. Jobs idea was to create a computer that was personable and could adapt to your needs and interests. He wanted to build the exact opposite of the computers that IBM was putting out for the business world, a computer for the rest of us.

Through archival interviews and videos of Jobs, Gibney lets Steve do most of the talking in the film, making him almost a personal tour guide to the story of his life. Jobs had the uncanny ability to spot talent and the ability to inspire people that worked for him to achieve the impossible. Gibney interviews former employees from both the early days of Apple and the latter years, when the company that Jobs started had become a powerhouse in not only the computer world but in the business world as well. Gibney shows Jobs as a driven man who expected his employees to create perfect products but demanded that the job take over their lives, so much so that their personal lives suffered to a great extent. Apple did not allow access to current employees, so we only see important executives, such as CEO Tim Cook or top designer Jony Ive, in footage from press conferences and Apple events. The film does extensively interview Jobs first wife and several of the early employees of Apple, giving some insight on what drove Jobs in the startup days.

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

This film will probably be a shock to the many fans of Jobs and Apple. Jobs was a man who was driven to succeed and didn’t mind screwing other people to achieve his goals. Gibney tells the story of Jobs being hired by Atari to create a board for one of the games, with the goal to make the board use fewer computer chips and be more streamlined. Jobs goes to his old friend, Steve Wozniak to design the board (something that Woz was much better at than Steve). When Woz creates a board that amazes the engineers of Atari, they give Jobs a bonus of $5,000. He tells Wozniak that Atari gave them $1,400 and gives Woz his cut of $700. Only later did Wozniak find out that Steve kept most of the bonus to himself. Gibney gives us many examples of how Jobs could be cold and calculating, a man who seemed to be obsessed with accumulating money. When Jobs came back to Apple (after being let go for a while), he all but eliminated Apple’s endowment programs and most of its charity work, adding more money to the bottom line. The film sheds light on some accounting scandals the Jobs was involved with, painting in a very negative light. The film also takes a critical look at the factories in China that Apple uses to build their products. These factories are full of low-paying jobs that require long hours and put so much pressure on the workers that they are committing suicide at an alarming rate.

Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine

Photo courtesy of CNN Films

With his film, “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine,” Alex Gibney shows us that Jobs was a man who helped connect the whole world through his products, but he couldn’t connect to people in his own personal world. It is truly ironic that Jobs created products like the iPhone, something that was meant to connect us to other people, but instead seems to isolate us as we stare at our iPhones at the bus stop or at the dinner table. The film is a fascinating, unflinching look at an extremely complicated and ego driven man. I just wonder that after seeing this film, will the fans of Apple and Jobs hold him in such high, almost god-like esteem and will they look at his products with the same reverence? Or will they just go back to staring at their iPhone screens?    My Rating: Full Price 

My movie rating system from Best to Worst:  1). I Would Pay to See it Again  2). Full Price  3). Bargain Matinee  4). Cable  5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again

“Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” is playing exclusively in Atlanta at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

For more of Mike’s movie reviews / interviews click here.

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