Steve Jobs (Film, 2015) : Confronting Conflicts

When a movie is based on one of the most revered and eccentric personalities of all time, expectations run high. And this only intensifies when you hire Aaron Sorkin as the screenwriter and make the hero of the movie also the antagonist of the movie, at least for the first act.

Steve Jobs is very quick paced and witty and it deals with the life and conflicts of the titular Steve Jobs. The plot of the movie, revolving around the personal life of Jobs is exactly opposite of what the man strived to achieve in his professional life, in that it is full of chaos and conflicts and moments of doubt and insecurity.

The film takes us through three key moments in the life of Steve Jobs; the Macintosh Launch of 1984, the launch of Next in 1988 and the 1998 launch of the iMac. Not just professionally, but also how these significant moments played out for his personal life. And it does this through an incredible screenplay and excellent dialogue delivery. The movie peels back the different layers of the same characters, playing on the wisdom of time. Incidentally, the first act of the film drives towards building his personality, his interactions with his team and his daughter and highlighting some of his questionable traits. The second act is about him persevering and being proven somewhat right, proving to the audience that he was always the “big picture” guy and that maybe we were a little too quick and harsh in judging him. I think it is the second act, beyond any other, that we decide to label his character as a “visionary”, which is very interesting as it is supposed to be the lowest point of his life, having just been fired from Apple. The third act is about reflection and confrontation of all of his past conflicts and about evolving from them. It is about success and overcoming all odds. If I had to sum up the structure of the movie’s plot in one sentence, it is “It’s like 5 minutes before every launch, everyone goes to a bar and gets drunk and tells me what they really think.”

Though the incidents in the film are shown to be years apart from one another, they all have similar aspects to them. For instance, the fact that Steve Jobs was adopted as well as the debacle caused by the Time Magazine article both come up in the first and the third act of the film, with the subplots coming full-circle as the chain of events play out. Similarly, Wozniak pleads with Jobs twice to acknowledge the Apple II team in his presentation with a gap of 14 years, to be turn down by Jobs on both occasions. Another character consistency is how Jobs uses intimidation to win arguments and get out of actually answering to anyone, with the exception of Joanna Hoffman (his colleague) and perhaps Lisa (his daughter). So while on the one hand, the three acts show the character development to enhance the plot, there are consistent events that show how in certain things, everything is still the same. These are the things that Jobs sees in black and white. The idea of living in the past by acknowledging the Apple II team is something that he never stops seeing as being suicidal and a disservice to the company and to the world. And he has the bravery to make the tough decisions and be the bad guy to follow through on his goals and vision.

There are multiple analogies in the film that convey how highly Jobs thinks of his own ideas – to the point that he is convinced his launch of the iMac will be one of the two most important events in the twentieth century. He has an unwavering faith in his products and he never settles on his vision for them. He is also confident that his vision and plan for the products would be superior to those of anyone else and considers himself to be the key factor in the success of the products. The screenplay and the strong dialogues deliver this home with exchanges like “Markkula (founding board member of Apple) took me off the Lisa (software) because of his strong religious objection to making it good” and “There are no top guys at the Apple II team. They’re ‘B’ players and ‘B’ players discourage the A players. And I want ‘A’ players at Apple and not Dell” to convey his resonance and perspective. He strives for perfection and control in every aspect to ensure he is able to see his vision through. In fact, his need for control even comes up in a conversation with Sculley back in 1984 during the launch of the Macintosh when he says he hates “having no control when the most crucial events of your life are set in motion. As long as you have control. I don’t understand people who give it up.”

Take a look at these two scenes regarding the exchange between Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak prior to the launches in Act 2 and Act 3, which showcase Jobs’ unwavering confidence in himself and his vision for his products and his company. What makes Jobs different and ultimately successful, is his clarity of thought in his products, practicality in his vision for the use of the products and a resounding reach to customers via his strong marketability understanding and communications.

Act 2 Scene before the launch of the Next Computer
Act 3 Scene before the launch of the iMac

Since a major plot of the movie is the relationship between Steve and Lisa (which also happens to be the aspect where Steve grows the most), this quote from Joanna summarises the first two acts of the film and Jobs’ character perfectly – “I love that you don’t care how much money a person makes. You care what they make. But what you make isn’t supposed to be the best part of you. When you’re a father, that’s what’s supposed to be the best part of you. And it’s caused me two decades of agony that Steve for you, it is the worst.” This conversation makes Steve introspect as he finally decides to make things better with his daughter towards the end of the movie. Below are two scenes taking place at different parts of the movie to depict the character development:

Act 1 Scene with Lisa
Act 3 Scene with Lisa

There is no doubt that the movie portrays him to be a very flawed character. One who is stubborn, arrogant, spiteful, a bad father, a bad friend, and at times even a bad leader. But, it also humanises him by showcasing a softer side of him in his relationship with Joanna and Lisa, and by giving more insight to his decisions, his faith in his vision, his resolution in absolving all conflicts by facing them head on instead of running away from them and by accepting that he is poorly made. While personally I feel that Woz and Joanna were definitely the better people in the film, we all root for Jobs because of his genius and his uncompromising vision for his company. And above all, we admire him for his flaws and for letting his guard down where it matters.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble makers. The round kegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They are not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do, is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to they they’ll change the world, are the ones who do.

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for your genius AND your crazy.

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