Leave it to the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin to describe the life of Steve Jobs in the form of a behind-the-scenes showbiz tale. He did it for sports with Sports Night, for sketch comedy with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and for news with The Newsroom. Now, with Steve Jobs, he’s done it for the tech revolution. In keeping with this framework, the film presents its titular subject as one part visionary, three parts impresario, and narcissist all the way through.
The movie, directed with customary panache by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire), is a canny narrative told in three distinct acts, each involving the launch of a particular product and each presented in its own aesthetic style. The unveiling of the Macintosh in 1984 is shot on grainy 16mm film and scored with vintage synthesizers. The introduction of the NeXT computer, which took place in 1988 during Jobs’s hiatus from Apple, uses 35mm film and a full orchestra. And the 1998 launch of the iMac, following his triumphant return to the company, is shot digitally and features a contemporary electronic score.
The result is a film that almost advertises its own artificiality—Sorkin has been upfront about the fact that almost all of the dialogue is fictionalized—and, as such, one that’s more akin to a stage play than to a conventional biopic. In the minutes preceding each product launch, Jobs (Michael Fassbender) interacts with a recurring array of friendly antagonists: his right-hand woman and “work wife,” Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet); the Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen); the onetime Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels); the engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg); and Jobs’s daughter, Lisa (played by three different actresses at different ages). I doubt I’ll be the first to note the resemblance to A Christmas Carol and its ghosts of past, present, and future.