In Depth

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine – hatchet job or welcome corrective?

Fans of Steve Jobs are not pleased with a new documentary they're calling 'a vicious takedown'

Steve Jobs

A new documentary about the late Apple chief co-founder, Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine, sets out to examine the dark side of the business genius.

The film, by Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney, director of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and more recently the Scientology documentary Going Clear, premiered at South by South West, the music and film festival in Austin, Texas. Some commentators have called it a vicious character assassination, while others have welcomed it as a corrective to the cult of Jobs.

Gibney spent nearly three years on the project, which takes a mostly chronological look at Jobs's life. The filmmaker interviewed around 50 people who knew and worked with Jobs, though Apple Inc. didn't participate.    

Marlow Stern in the Daily Beast calls the film a "hatchet job" and a "blistering takedown" that depicts Jobs as "Mephistopheles in a black mock turtleneck" and an "endlessly alluring megalomaniac who terrorises the people closest to him."

The film shows Jobs's sinister side, from his denials that he was the father of his high school sweetheart's child, to the time he allegedly swindled his genius engineering pal Steve Wozniak out of a bonus by selling a game Wozniak had designed to Atari. It even accuses the Apple co-founder of parking in handicapped spaces in his silver Mercedes.

Stern calls the documentary "a film wholly unworthy of its subject; a viciously one-sided examination of a remarkably complex individual".

Alex Needham in The Guardian admits that this "unsparing portrait of Steve Jobs will prove extremely displeasing to devotees" but says the film is "a riveting and important corrective to the myths Jobs helped to propagate". Needham says Gibney makes a powerful case that Jobs had "the monomaniacal focus of a monk but none of the empathy of one" and shows "the ruthlessness, and the pointlessly crappy behaviour that reveal Apple's ideals to be a sham".

In Variety, Justin Chang calls Gibney's film "a coolly absorbing, deeply unflattering portrait of the late Silicon Valley entrepreneur". It is also, says Chang, a meditation on our collective over-reliance on our favourite handheld gadgets, though it has less to say on this topic.

Chang says that Gibney acknowledges Jobs's artistry, innovation and technological showmanship, while exposing just how "ruthless, deceitful and cruel" the man could be.

But more than anything, says Chang, this searching, scorching, and "more than willing to speak ill of the dead" documentary will whet appetites for the forthcoming Jobs biopic, directed by Danny Boyle and written by Aaron Sorkin, that is due to be released later this year.

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