A few days ago, I had the opportunity to see a screening of the new Steve Jobs movie. I have to admit, I went in there with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I didn’t like the Walter Isaacson book for all the reasons that all the other nerds didn’t like it and my expectation was, “garbage in, garbage out”.
That being said, I actually enjoyed the movie more than I thought I would. The movie is really a story about the fictional Steve Jobs and his fictional daughter. I use the word “fictional” because many of the meetings and conversations represented in the movie simply never happened. Likewise, even the relationship between Steve and his daughter Lisa is not accurately represented. The movie is entirely silent about the fact that Lisa was living with Steve and his wife and other children during the same period of time the film portrays them as estranged. For that matter, the movie also does not acknowledge his wife and other children.
It is this lack of accuracy that is going to make all Apple nerds a little crazy. According to this movie, Steve Wozniak was responsible for the Newton (he wasn’t), Steve Jobs had multiple powwows with John Scully after Scully fired Jobs (they didn’t), and the entire inspiration for the iPod was a tape deck that Lisa wore on her hip for about 15 years (it wasn’t).
Aaron Sorkin writes some great dialogue and the story does pull you in. However, there is so little connection between the movie and actual events, that you have to wonder why they called it Steve Jobs at all.
All of these dramatizations of Steve Jobs seem to be focusing exclusively on the low hanging fruit. Make no mistake: if just a fraction of the stories are to be believed, Steve Jobs was a pretty terrible manager when he got started. This movie dramatizes several of those sins around the orbit of his denial of Lisa’s paternity. What the movie, and to a lesser extent the Isaacson book, fail to do is expand the story much further than that. How did someone with these types of demons succeed so spectacularly? How did he get a measure of wisdom after his years in the wild to turn Apple into the biggest public company in the world? How did he balance Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
In the end, I don’t think the makers of this film had any interest in those questions. They looked at the source material and saw an opportunity to tell a father-daughter story and they did it pretty well. The unfortunate part is that by attaching it to Steve’s name, it creates this sort of mythology that everyone who has any knowledge of the actual events agrees isn’t true but for most people who watch the movie, will become gospel. I can see why his family didn’t want this movie made.