Five years ago in these pages, I called The Social Network “a two-hour exploration of a single question: Is Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, an assh—?” Now Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter of The Social Network, has just written a movie called Steve Jobs. It is a two-hour exploration of a single question: Was Steve Jobs, the man behind Apple Inc., an assh—? Steve Jobs has a fancy director in Danny Boyle, who made Slumdog Millionaire. David Fincher was the fancy director of The Social Network. Perhaps in 2020, Sorkin will release Bill Gates: Assh—?, directed by the guy who made Birdman.
Like Sorkin, that Birdman guy (Alejandro G. Iñárritu) just loves to film people talking fast while they walk through corridors. I don’t know about you, but I find that when people walk through corridors they are usually just trying to get through the corridor and don’t have much time to talk. But I haven’t won an Academy Award like Sorkin and the Birdman guy have, so what do I know?
Both The Social Network and Steve Jobs are dominated by Sorkin’s characteristic style: The exchanges are wooden and forced and far too on-the-nose and feature five times as many words spoken as is actually the case when it comes to actual people in actual real life. But those words are spoken so quickly viewers are fooled into thinking they’re watching smart people speak the way smart people actually speak—rather than the way people on cocaine actually speak, which is what Sorkin’s characters actually sound like.
But listen: He makes a good living, he could buy and sell me, and I don’t resent that. This is more than I can say for Sorkin, whose screenplays seem to be fueled by resentment that both Zuckerberg and Jobs are/were billionaires when they are/were, in his view, unacceptably assh—lic.
Lest you think from my descriptions here that Sorkin is unoriginal, let me assure you that these two films, The Social Network and Steve Jobs, are not the same movie. For example, the scene in which a young college student berates Jobs for being an assh— comes at the end of the new movie, whereas in The Social Network the scene in which a young college student berates Zuckerberg for being an assh— comes at the beginning. Also, in the final scene of Steve Jobs, the title character basically admits he’s an assh— (“I’m poorly made,” he says ruefully), whereas The Social Network concludes with Zuckerberg only considering the question of whether he’s an assh—.
The Social Network at least had a lawsuit in it to keep the action moving. Steve Jobs is essentially a series of three one-act plays—each set in the 45 minutes before Jobs launches a computer product. (Yes, you read that right.) The first is the release of the Macintosh in 1984. The second is the release of Jobs’s non-Apple NeXT computer in 1988. And the last is the release of the iMac in 1998. These were indeed remarkable moments, the first and last of which surely count as among the most dazzling and fluent feats of sheer salesmanship in the history of business. So, of course, we don’t see them.
Instead, what we see is Jobs taking precious time out from his last-minute preparations for these crucial events in his life to have melodramatic and often hysterical encounters with friends and ex-friends and enemies and rivals and people who just flat-out hate him. To be charitable, this strains credulity. It also makes little dramatic sense. As embodied by the Irish actor Michael Fassbender, who is usually very good but who never gets a handle on his character here, Jobs never seems flustered or under pressure or all that annoyed to be interrupted.
Instead, all the anxiety shows in the face and actions of his PR director, Joanna Hoffman, who is played by Kate Winslet with a ridiculous Mitteleuropa accent that comes and goes like Prufrock’s women. And even she takes time out to berate Jobs for being a bad person. Remember: This is the person whose job it was to manage these product launches. The idea that she of all people would have posed an existential challenge to Jobs five minutes before he took the stage to show the world the iMac is preposterous.
Perhaps the most preposterous aspect of Steve Jobs is its implicit message: that Jobs needed to acknowledge his own lousiness as a human being to liberate him from his weaknesses and thereby truly “think different” and begin Apple’s unparalleled rise. Apparently, in the world according to Aaron Sorkin, only people who are nice to their children can create an iPod.
John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.