With each generation, new stories of success form, and while many gain fame and fortune for their intellectual and creative contributions to society, rarely do we witness someone change the very nature of our existence, whether that be with unique innovations, or a new way of looking at a longstanding subject. We marvel at these individuals in a way that is hard to describe, considering that what they have accomplished is more impactful than we thought humanly possible. And that is just it, we can never fully understand how the mind of an intellectual and creative genius operates, but it is ever fascinating to examine their brilliance with scrupulous detail. As mainstream society becomes more accepting of what can be called “geek culture,” the desire to know more about their lives has increased, and with that, the trend of chronicling their trajectory has become increasingly common in the form of the biopic.
Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. Jobs was the most important contributor to the personal computing phenomenon of all time, and arguably the most important American of the last fifty years. Zuckerberg is possibly the closest thing to Jobs for his generation. Both men have been subjects of biopics in recent years and with the upcoming film about Steve Jobs, there are some important things to remember with regards to chronicling his life on screen. First, let’s look at Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg was only a year old when Steve Jobs became powerless within his own company in 1985. Over the next two decades, the tech world exploded, growing at an unprecedented pace, with large contributions from Jobs and other pioneers of personal computing. Because of these innovations, Zuckerberg became an adult at the perfect time for someone with his skill set. A couple months before his twentieth birthday, Zuckerberg came up with concept that would become Facebook in his dorm room. Within six months, he moved from his dorm in Cambridge to sunny California, and entered the capital of tech world in the United States. By the time he was 23e, he was already a billionaire, and today, Facebook is used by around a quarter of the world’s population. When the 2010 film, The Social Network was released to critical and commercial success, the story that it painted about the origins of Facebook and its CEO was less than flattering.
With a slogan like “you don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies,” it was clear that the film had pinpointed on the controversy that surrounded the early days of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg himself. The story arc relied heavily on the two lawsuits that Zuckerberg was embroiled in after Facebook became the most important webpage since Google. The co-founder of Facebook, and original CFO, Eduardo Saverin was ousted from Facebook in a rather dubious series of legalities and trickery shortly after Facebook became a huge success. Also, allegations from two Olympic athletes and former Harvard students that Zuckerberg reportedly stole the idea from was simultaneously unfolding during the lawsuit between Zuckerberg and his former best friend. Eventually, both of these cases were settled, with the Winklevoss twins netting a multi-million dollar settlement and stock shares and Saverin returning to Facebook’s masthead and an undisclosed settlement (likely in the hundreds of millions) as well as a confidentiality agreement. The Social Network’s scribe, Aaron Sorkin, focused on these matters intensely when writing the screenplay for the David Fincher film. The film was lauded by the great critic Roger Ebert as the best film of the year, and most of his peers agreed that it was a dark, ironic drama with a comedic blend.
The problem with The Social Network is that many people saw it as fact. Sure, Jesse Eisenberg played Mark Zuckerberg in an acting performance that is still the best of his career, but the way that he was set to portray Zuckerberg, made the real man appear as a stereotype of a character trope. Eisenberg spoke rapidly, intelligently, but abrasively, as he made Zuckerberg appear as an undeniable brilliance with a pension for disregarding the emotions and actions of those around him. Andrew Garfield, pre-Spiderman days, represented Eduardo Saverin in a way that made the man look petty, naive, and somewhat of a lackey to Zuckerberg. Both real life counterparts called the film an exaggeration of actually facts, and a few studies have the movie being only forty percent accurate. In fact, the movie made Zuckerberg look as if his motivations for creating Facebook were to get back at girls who had wronged him and get new girls in return. To his credit, Sorkin did not take on the movie because he thought that it was factually a great story but that it was an excellent storytelling opportunity.
The truth is that Zuckerberg is part of the one dollar CEO club in which he gets a salary of exactly, yes, a dollar per year. It has been stated that he works fifty hour weeks at Facebook’s corporate office to this day, and instead of having a lavish, towering workspace, he works in the trenches alongside his employees. He met his wife at Harvard a year before he started working on Facebook in 2003. Of course, a man with that much intelligence and success is bound to bring controversy, but The Social Network gave a false interpretation of the pioneer of modern social media. Is Zuckerberg a nice guy? I don’t have an answer to that, but neither did Aaron Sorkin. Is Zuckerberg a genius? Absolutely.
To get this out of the way, the 2013 film, Jobs, was pure fan-fiction and an insult to Apple and to Steve Jobs, in large part because the “only gets by with his looks” actor, Ashton Kutcher attempted to abandon his cast type of being dumb yet lovable to embody the most brilliant mind of his generation, and the results were absolutely awful. And Hollywood is commenting on that by taking another stab at a Jobs biopic, admittedly at a higher level this time.
Set to release in October and based off of the 2011 biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, the second attempt at Jobs’s career is assuredly going to be better a better film in every way than the first try, but what exactly does that mean? The same man that penned Zuckerberg’s story has been tasked with Jobs’s life, and if the trailer is any indication of what to expect, Aaron Sorkin has once again pinpointed on controversy as the opening moments have Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak asking Jobs what his purpose is in the company and what exactly does Jobs provide? This plays off of every anti-Apple, self-righteous computer programmer that likes to point out that Steve Jobs did not actually code as if that means he was not the driving force behind Apple because at a tech company, you have to know programming, right? The absurdity of this popular way to unmask Jobs as some form of poser in the industry is an insult to the legacy of Steve Jobs.
The trailer shows Steve Jobs portrayed by Michael Fassbender as hard to get along with, egotistical, but of course an utter genius at the same time, resembling Sorkin’s representation of Zuckerberg in many ways. The other aspect of Steve Jobs’s life that Sorkin has chosen to dive into his skeleton closet in regards to Lisa Brennan-Jobs, the child that Jobs fathered out of wedlock a few years after Apple was born. In his younger years, Jobs adamantly denied that Lisa was his child, and it was only after he was ousted from Apple that he started to repent for his early mistakes.
The Steve Jobs that founded Apple was not the same Jobs that took back the helm in 1997 and reinvigorated Apple’s computer models and the simple, yet beautiful interface that is present on all of the revolutionary devices that Apple released in the early-2000’s such as various iterations of the iPod, the iPhone, and iPad. Also, his personal life had changed dramatically at that point as he had remarried and started a family that would add three more children to his life. Jobs may have not been the best man in his youth, and he may have became too into his own ideas which led to his removal from Apple, but his formidable years, the ones spent away from Apple, with companies like NeXT which would develop the first browser for the Internet, and also contributing to the creation of Pixar which has brought many beloved animated films to screens ever since the first fully computer generated animation movie, Toy Story. He brought Apple from near bankruptcy to one of the most profitable companies in the world.
If we can take Sorkin’s portrayal of Zuckerberg into consideration, it begs the question of how trusting we can be with the upcoming look at the life of Steve Jobs. No one is perfect, and Jobs certainly knocked heads with many in his career, but if his story of redemption is not told accurately, then the film will serve no purpose other than pandering to the idea of a good dramatic film.
Aaron Sorkin has successfully made Jesse Eisenberg appear to be everything that is Mark Zuckerberg so will Michael Fassbender follow the same path when becoming Steve Jobs? That would not be compliment, and it seems that Sorkin has done exactly what he must not do as a storyteller: categorize individuals. He makes Zuckerberg and Jobs appear as anti-social, egotistical geniuses, because hey, that is how all tech geniuses are in real life, right? The truth about these two complex individuals will likely never be represented accurately on screen, but what we can examine is the contributions that they made to society and to their industry. Be weary of a convincing performance from Fassbender, because if Jobs were still alive to comment, I’m sure his remarks would fall in line with what Zuckerberg had to say about Eisenberg’s representation of himself written by the same man: Aaron Sorkin.
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