It has been less than two years since Jobs died of cancer. His death is, in the scope of history, fresh. And his Great Man mythology is still malleable. Which is a fact that Jobs, the new film based on Jobs's biography (though not on the biography), is itself keenly aware of. The biopic, starring a serviceably Steve-like Ashton Kutcher, offers what any biopic must -- 120-ish minutes' worth of biographical detail -- but it does so with the sweeping conviction of history: that these details are, to some extent, irrelevant. Steve Jobs, the film suggests, has already earned his ticket into the pantheon of Great Men, and that ticket is the personal computer. The Jobs of the film -- a "Jobs" who, as Kutcher has noted, is only "an approximation" of the real-life version -- is a guy who is actively writing his own obituary. He cares about his work, the product of his life, above all else. The "all else" being, among other things, his hygiene, his health, and his fellow humans.
So Jobs-the-movie, unsurprisingly to anyone familiar with Jobs-the-man, travels well-worn terrain: Its star is a hero who is also an anti-hero. But instead of the complex villainy of a Walter White or a Don Draper, Jobs's flaws here filter down to one simple, salient fact: He is -- and this is really the only word that will do -- an asshole. An asshole of the conventional variety (he parks in handicapped spaces), but an asshole, too, whose assholery occasionally veers into cruelty. He betrays people, it seems, simply because people, being imperfectly designed, are betrayable. In an early scene in the movie, Jobs's girlfriend tells him she's pregnant. Jobs sets his jaw. He insists he's not the father. He kicks her out of his house. This was not part of his vision. "I'm sorry you have a problem," he tells her, coolly, "but it's not happening to me."
Dent in the universe, indeed. We are meant to empathize, of course, with the pregnant woman who has just been abandoned by her boyfriend. We are meant to be shocked and appalled and whoa-did-he-really-just-ed at the extent of Jobs's callousness. And we are meant to be all those things all over again when Jobs refuses, in a later scene, to acknowledge his daughter, Lisa. Yet the film never explains why Jobs treats people the way he does, why others to him are so painfully expendable. The film does not, indeed, seem to care. Because Jobs-the-Jerk has become, in real-life cultural lore, a crucial component of Jobs-the-Legend. Isaacson's biography notes that Jobs "had the uncanny capacity to know exactly what your weak point is, know what will make you feel small, to make you cringe." That's a quote from one of his friends.
In the film, one of Jobs's early bosses tells him, "You're good -- you're damn good -- but you are an asshole." This announcement is clearly not news to its recipient. Being a visionary, after all, Jobs is perfectly aware of his own assholery. And he is perfectly untroubled by it. If you want to put a dent in the universe, the people in your path may get a little dented, too.