If you’ve heard of a recent movie about Steve Jobs, you’re probably confused. Back in 2013, Ashton Kutcher took on the role of the co-founder of Apple in Jobs, then last year there was a documentary about the icon called Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine. And while the latter (unlike the former) was generally well-received, neither has the impact compared to the the next one down the line that also came out in 2015.
Released first in September at various festivals, to which it was overwhelmingly praised, the aptly-named Steve Jobs had a very, very short theater run in October where it made only $33 million worldwide. Now, being written by the master writer Aaron Sorkin whose other film The Social Network made over $224 million in 2010, something strange and incredibly unfortunate happened to this Danny Boyle (Sunshine) project.
So what does this mean for the future of biopics, even if they are universally praised? Financially, there’s not a lot to be done besides stronger marketing and well-placed release dates. Commercial indifference to Steve Jobs aside, actors Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet are currently up for Academy Awards for their performances, while Sorkin recently picked up a Golden Globe award for his screenplay. But there is something that 2015’s Steve Jobs has done for how biopics may be created, structured, and delivered to audiences in the coming years.
Sorkin does something that has never really been done before in the biopic genre- presenting a uniquely creative way of giving viewers a portrayal of a man that may be somewhat fictional and augmented in a finely-tuned three-part structure. And even though the three-part style doesn’t seem original, it is in how Sorkin executes it. He tells the story of Jobs in showing the behind-the-scenes discussions, arguments, and breakthroughs before three of Apple’s biggest product launches rather than just showing the typical childhood, adulthood, and death style that most biopics over the years have used.
It starts in 1984 with the launch of the first Macintosh, picks up again in 1988 with the doomed NeXT model, then starts again in 1998 with the arrival of iMac. All of which is just showing a certain section of a life. Other biopics like the recent Trumbo and Black Mass also used that structure similarly, but this one is showing the minute moments of Jobs’ life, not giving audiences the big, gigantic lifespan of the individuals that tend to grow tiring and often leave little knowledge-learned by the end credits. The structure of Steve Jobs is a major breakthrough for the genre because even if it doesn’t present what the individual has done over thirty years but just how they lived and grew in a few important moments can really give a better look into who they were. In an interview with Wired, Sorkin expressed how he created the idea for the film and his quick pitch his The Social Network producer Scott Rudin:
[Finally,] I got this idea, and I wrote an email to Scott saying, “If I had no one to answer to, I would write this entire movie in three real-time scenes, and each one would take place backstage before a particular product launch.
And that’s not all. As mentioned earlier, Sorkin openly admitted that not everything Jobs says and does in the film is completely true. Well, for one thing, it’s impossible to know everything that the man said or how he acted in secret moments of his personal life, but then again why does that matter so much, and why does every biopic that comes out feel the need to utilize that? There is a time and a place for that traditional style, but how Sorkin wrote it is something entirely new.
Some of it is true, some not. But dramatizing real life isn’t always what’s best for the film medium, and a skill that Sorkin luckily possesses is taking truth and manipulating it only to the point of practical effectiveness, instead of just making things blatantly false. In an interview with Den of Geek, Sorkin stated:
I think your concern is that it’s unfair to Steve Jobs, to the people who love Steve Jobs, to the legacy of Steve Jobs, to play with facts. Again, I am very confident that the people who watch movies are at least as smart as the people who make movies, and I am certain that the audience is not going to believe that, in reality, Steve had these confrontations before the product launches. However, the content of those conversations is true.
And with that, it is very interesting as to what makes a biopic a biopic. Audiences will understand who Steve Jobs, the man, was through the film even though they may not totally understand his full life history. And that technique works brilliantly in the scope of this film. Does a biopic absolutely have to show ten, fifteen, twenty moments throughout someone’s life similar to that of a biography in book form, or can it just give small but introspective views on the main character as a human being?
So whether or not biopics will learn from Steve Jobs remains to be seen, although it would be no surprise if more and more attempts to duplicate it in the near future, that is if more people actually go and watch the movie. It doesn’t matter who the film is about- Abraham Lincoln, Amy Winehouse, Steve Jobs, or just someone walking down the street- it’s all about execution. And putting together director Danny Boyle, writer Aaron Sorkin, and actor Michael Fassbender here created a masterpiece of a film that exudes as much intelligence on the outside as it has hidden underneath. Steve Jobs is a fantastic sort-of-true biopic that should be the new frame for which others of its kind are based.
The film is currently available for purchase on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital download. See the trailer below: