97% of Steve Jobs is nearly perfect. Much like the products borne of the man’s unparalleled creative vision, everything in his latest biographical film is optimized, streamlined, rounded when the edge should be rounded, sharp when the edge should be sharp, forward-thinking, life-changing, and pitched to be perfect. The performances are subtle and explosive, depending on which character you’re dealing with. The drama is heavy-duty; the comedy is excitingly witty. The pacing of the whole film is breathless. And the writing — whew, the writing — Aaron Sorkin has probably never been this good or done this much with a film script. This is ostensibly The Social Network 2.0, a story about a genius/jerk who defined the times for the rest of us, except Steve Jobs has a richer character in the driver’s seat.
And in comparing the two, that leftover 3% only becomes all the more glaring. The structure of the film is unique, built over three days in history: the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, the launch of the NeXT computer in 1988, and the launch of the iMac in 1998. The aforementioned breathlessness of the film is derived from setting each episode immediately before these launches, as that’s probably the most stressful and nerve-wracking collection of hours in any product launcher’s life. No different in Steve Jobs. Jobs needs everything to be perfect, every address to start exactly on time, every personal grievance from his staff and family (of which there are many, and between which the words staff and family mean less and less) to be voiced and dealt with. “It seems like five minutes before every launch, people go to a bar and get drunk and decide to air their grievances,” says Jobs.
Thus is the structure sort of justified within the film itself, although that line could have been struck and the end result would be the same. It would seem incredibly limiting to box fourteen of the most intense years of the man’s life into three pre-launch sections, but Sorkin and director Danny Boyle get so much dynamism and life out of the structure that the feeling of being bookended never really occurs to the viewer. Michael Fassbender is stellar as Jobs, his voice lilting slightly higher than usual, his ferocity always threatening to emerge from out the top of his turtleneck. Along with Oscar Isaac and James McAvoy, Fassbender is simply the best actor in his age bracket, which makes it all the more exciting that all three of them will be in X-Men: Apocalypse next year, another movie about a brilliant mutant trying to make a dent in the universe.
In Steve Jobs Fassbender is joined by Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jeff Daniels and a few other strong supporting actors. Take your pick from the above as to who will garner the Best Supporting Actor/Actress Oscar nomination; Fassbender will certainly receive a nod for Best Actor. And yet there are two greater stars in Steve Jobs, the more obvious of which is the title character. Jobs was a multifaceted personality if ever there was one, but most of all he was a personality. The movie about his life is likewise full of verve and humor and tragedy and no small amount of backstabbing. The second star, again, is Sorkin, who attacks what most would deem to be a major challenge with a determination that might just rival that of Jobs himself. The dialogue is searing, sharper even than that of Social Network. At the beginning of the film Jobs compares Andy Hertzfeld’s inability to make the Macintosh say “Hello” to a game of Russian roulette, each failsafe Andy reinstates a new chance that Jobs won’t humiliate him onstage. “You’re standing here complaining,” says Jobs, “but if I were you I’d focus on getting a few more bullets out of the gun.” This is the guy who always, always, always has the last word, and Sorkin gets that above all.
And so Jobs rollicks into the final minutes and delivers a happy ending and everyone lives happily…wait, a happy ending? Where did that come from? It’s true, Steve Jobs accomplished what he lived his life to accomplish. Today, years after his passing, he is much more than just the richest guy in the graveyard. In that larger sense the happy ending — in which deafening applause and uplifting rock music accompany a dual victory for Jobs in the presentation of the iMac and the reconnection with his teenage daughter — makes sense. But it hardly gels at all with the 97% that preceded it (maybe 98%? 98.5%? Not sure, exactly, although it occurs to me that Jobs would probably want the exact percentage); it’s jarring, mostly because we go from a scene where Jobs essentially shoves his win in the face of John Sculley, further humiliates Andy Hertzfeld for being a good guy, denies any recognition at all for poor Steve Wozniak, and then has a conversation with his daughter. That conversation ends with the two sort of coming to terms with each other at long last, and everything’s so hunky-dory all of a sudden that the film just seems to decide to end itself.
The problem isn’t that Steve Jobs didn’t end like The Social Network, with Mark Zuckerberg remaining a lonely asshole sitting in a room with a computer. The problem isn’t that Sorkin fabricated the majority (if not the entirety) of the minutiae of the film, although some people who want to paint themselves as friends of Steve Jobs will tell you that is the problem. The problem…well, I’m not really sure what the problem is. The ending feels off, feels unsanctioned and unearned. In the middle of the film Steve relates how the NeXTcube is nearly a perfect cube, just a few millimeters longer in places so that to the human eye looking straight-on it will appear to be perfect. In a sense, Steve Jobs made up for the imperfection in the human part of the equation by mirroring the imperfection in the computer part of the equation, thus: “perfection”, not perfection. Regardless of how inaccurate Steve Jobs may technically be, there’s something about the ending, that final 3% of unadulterated joy set against the 97% of drive, determination, dedication, and straight-up aggression, that seems to account for an imperfection in us that requires some kind of closure, some kind of humanity that transcends all the techno-babble. In a sense, then, Steve Jobs is “perfect”.