Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine

When Steve Jobs died the world wept. But what accounted for the grief of millions of people who didn’t know him? This evocative film navigates Jobs' path from a small house in the suburbs, to zen temples in Japan, to the CEO's office of the world's richest company, exploring how Jobs’ life and work shaped our relationship with the computer. The Man in the Machine is a provocative and sometimes startling re-evaluation of the legacy of an icon.

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  • ★★★★ review by CinemaClown on Letterboxd

    From the director of Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is another entry in the long list of films that have been pouring out ever since the greatest visionary of our time breathed his last. And while there’s no denying that it’s an intriguing examination of the legacy he left behind, this documentary takes a very one-sided approach and focuses only on the human imperfections of Steve Jobs than anything else.

    Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine begins with a segment focusing on the intense level of hoopla surrounding Jobs’ death, and questions the outpouring love from everyone around the world for the man they barely knew. The film then briefly skims through Apple’s history & its late co-founder’s life before delving into the dark stuff concerning the way he manipulated his friends, employees & almost everyone to get things his way plus also covers his company’s rise from a rebel corporation to the Goliath itself.

    Written, produced & directed by Alex Gibney, there is a little attempt to balance both aspects of Jobs’ life but as the story progresses, it gets easily seduced by the darker side and just skips over how his immaculate vision & his products single-handedly went on to revolutionise not one but six different industries (personal computers, music, movies, phones, tablets & apps) and in the process changed everything about how we live & communicate today. Instead, this documentary is a wonderment if idolising someone who wasn’t a “nice guy” is worth it.

    Steve Jobs was an insanely complex person & a character of sharp contrasts. His unabashed love for what he did & his philosophy of life is clearly reflected in the pristine design & quality of his products for its elegance, beauty & simplicity can be termed as the ideal marriage of technology with liberal arts. It captures how he pushed his employees beyond their capacity & what they considered was an impossible task yet now when they look back upon it, they don’t hesitate to call it the proudest work of their entire professional life despite the price they had to pay for it.

    But then, I also can’t blame Gibney’s documentary for sticking to Jobs’ infamous qualities & decisions considering the fact that negative portraits always attract a wider crowd, thanks to our morbid curiosity in stuff like these. The film goes through events like Jobs dumping his girlfriend when she got pregnant, him not being around for his daughter, his souring relation with Steve Wozniak (one of Apple’s co-founders), his ruthless marketing strategy, complete disregard for rules, the isolation his products have created in society, tax exemptions, labour practises & other controversies surrounding Apple Inc.

    It’s not that whatever the film puts on screen has a false or unverified source for it only picks its stories from incidents which were hot topics in news when they happened but it’s also biased in its portrait of a man whose vision changed the world yet who himself failed as a human being for he saw everything in forms of ones & zeroes, had no compassion whatsoever for people who didn’t matter to him, and was thoroughly devoted to his work life than anything else. Sure he was a misfit, most people who push the world forward are, but to see people complain about the massive following he’s got is simply absurd.

    There are interviews from people who were close to Jobs at different times of his life yet there isn’t any from those who were around him during his last decade. It does cover some interesting topics, sheds light on stuffs that weren’t really in the dark but was still forgotten, and mainly exists to challenge the grievance felt when he was gone. Gibney’s narration is once again enthralling and keeps a firm grip on viewers’ attention, it blends recorded interviews with archival snippets of Jobs’ earlier conversations & some cleverly chosen images, all edited together in a splendid manner to make its point across. At times it succeeds, other times it doesn’t work out.

    The Man in the Machine also takes a little dig at that revolutionary Apple product which put the ‘smart’ in a smartphone from the moment Steve Jobs unveiled it during that historical keynote at 2007 Macworld. Instead of criticising people’s own inability to handle their instincts, it blames iPhones for isolating its owners from their surroundings as if it isn’t the case with numerous devices that were inspired from it. iPhone had the same aesthetics, art & simplicity as any other Apple products but it did far more than what people ever imagined something in their pocket could do and yet, all it focuses on is one unintended side effect than the groundbreaking change it inspired in the global cellular industry.

    Finally, there’s… one more thing! As evident in any company or person who manages to inspire a loyal, devoted fan following, Apple has its share of blind followers who are unbelievably smug & can’t offer any valid reason behind their purchase of an Apple product but there are also many who have stayed around as loyal customers only because they are extremely happy & satisfied inside this company’s ecosystem. No other tech company can claim to have as passionate a fan base as Apple, which was only made possible by their consistent delivery of quality products that scored high on design aesthetics, simplicity, ease of use & overall satisfaction, and the combination of it & few other factors is the reason why this company & its late CEO are beloved, admired & respected like no other.

    On an overall scale, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is another impressive investigation from a master documentarian but it’s not as intensive, informative & absorbing as Gibney’s previous work. Its casting of a dark but ineffective spell on the legacy of Steve Jobs is quite understandable given his shady personality but a balanced perspective would’ve resulted in a far more fulfilling experience for he was a creative entrepreneur whose passion, vision & fierce obsession with precision, perfection & simplicity remains unparalleled in the industry plus he’s directly or indirectly responsible for the way people go about doing their daily things today. While it certainly makes for a fascinating watch, it isn’t something that will stay around for long since The Man in the Machine chooses to neglect the machine aspects of a man & focuses only on the inhuman aspects of a machine.

  • ★★★★½ review by Derek Diercksmeier on Letterboxd

    Alex Gibney is a master. After this year's utterly tremendous Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, he gives us yet another captivating exploration of institutional power. Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is haunting, thoughtful, horrifying, infuriating, enlightening, and absolutely sickening. Released four years after his death, this documentary explores both the man himself and the cultural implications of his power. Steve Jobs was a force of evil. What did he do? He became one of society's wealthiest men through unparalleled exploitation and gargantuan egotism. He pioneered one of the world's most monumental corporations by convincing the world his products were more than shiny toys. He convinced his audience that owning his product made you a better person and mere involvement with the company meant you were changing the world. He ran an iconic ad campaign aligning himself with the absolute most remarkable men in history and liked it so much that he even narrated a version for himself. He did not believe in charity donations and also denied paternity of "illegitimate" daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs, which then forced mother Chrisann Brennan to raise the billionaire's daughter with government assistance. Like any shrewd businessman, he exploited tax loopholes and took full advantage of all at his disposal. He described his company as a family and vowed to destroy anyone who dared to leave this supposed family. He began this enterprise with stressful work environments and advanced towards full-blown slavery. Foxconn and Apple's enslaved workforce were driven to suicide until that basic human right was also revoked, ushering in the use of preventative "suicide nets" surrounding the factories. One would hope that this knowledge would stop the cultural worship of Apple and Jobs, but we couldn't be bothered. We have about as much empathy as our mythical CEO did. We grieved immensely over the loss of a brutal billionaire while never caring about those lost because of his empire. We consider the benefits of advanced technology worth all of this human suffering and we move along. We get the world we deserve.

  • ★★★½ review by Matt Singer on Letterboxd

    "He had the focus of a monk, but not the empathy."

    It's hard to imagine two more disparate approaches to a single subject as this documentary, which is long and shaggy, and Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, which attempts to distill the same man's life into three nearly identical scenes. I didn't love either movie; in some ways the flaws of one are the strengths of the other, and vice versa. Ideally, they'd probably seen together as a double feature. Maybe on an iPad.

    I'm also grateful to this movie for crystalizing my New Year's Resolution for 2016: To embrace boredom.

  • ★★★½ review by Dan Gaertner on Letterboxd

    The busiest man in the movie business, Alex Gibney has another film out this year, a biopic of Steve Jobs and exploration on the phenomenon of Apple products. Alex Gibney shows Steve Jobs as a ferocious genius and a not so great human-being, possibly a fraud.

    Parts of the documentary are going to seem like takedown pieces, but they actually serve the purpose in showing that Jobs for all of his bravado about thinking different, was very much a corporate animal like so many in Silicon Valley. The motion picture also doesn’t shy away from Steve Job horror stories concerning his employees. We have heard these stories before in other films and documentaries, but it is always worth revisiting.

    The portions in the motion picture that concerns the business practices of the Apple Inc. are pretty damning. Steve Jobs may have acted like a monk, but he certainly did not have the empathy of one. The footage of Chinese factories pumping out plastic status symbols are grotesque and highly disturbing. The fact that one of these factories had to have nets placed outside to catch workers who were jumping to their deaths from the top of the buildings is something you would expect to see in a motion picture by Terry Gilliam.

    I found the ending to be particularly powerful. It calls back to a specific moment in the film you might have glossed over as a viewer. I would have considered it pretentious if it was directed at us.

    “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” is arguably the best motion picture made about the man to date. It seems to me more complete than the other pictures. Yes, it covers much of the same ground, but Alex Gibney presents the material in a unique fashion that invites the viewer to question the man, the company, and ourselves. I am apparently one of the few that actually enjoyed Joshua Michael Stern’s “Jobs” that came out last year starring Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs. I think I responded to the picture because it was essentially about triumphing over adversity. Everything Steve Jobs did in the film would be batted down by some Luddite, and Jobs would have to overcome some obstacle of bad decisions by suits who did not understand anything about computers. He is a technological messiah. In “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine”, Alex Gibney asks us to think different.

  • ★★★½ review by Andrew Milito on Letterboxd

    Despite its sometimes bland presentation, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is an insightful look at the legacy of Steve Jobs and Apple in both a positive and negative light.

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