Steve Jobs loved Bob Dylan, we learn in the Alex Gibney documentary “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine,” and an interview subject who knew the late icon well says he was, “both the joker and the thief.”
She’s referring, of course, to Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” and Gibney’s picture serves as a treatise on that thesis.
It is a film about the contradictions inherent in the Apple visionary, who changed society in a profound way virtually unmatched in recent history, fostering a climate of intimate and emotional connections with our ubiquitous devices, while simultaneously mistreating those who crossed his path.
The picture is made with the consummate skill of the predominant documentarian of our age, an Oscar winner who is insanely prolific, having come out with something like 30 films in 10 years, while demonstrating a commitment to a high-caliber search for meaning in the popular subjects he investigates.
Instead of merely re-tracing the familiar story — Jobs’ innovations with Steve Wozniak in the garage, the rise of Apple, Jobs’ fall alongside that of the company and the subsequent major redemption — Gibney aims for a deeper understanding.
Beginning with the filmmaker’s puzzlement at the outpouring of grief that erupted in the wake of Jobs’ death in 2011, the movie examines the direct connections between the subject’s biography and his deeper thoughts and feelings, at least as they were expressed to others, with the character of the machines he created.
In that sense, the movie treats Jobs as he should be treated: as an artist who understood something fundamental about human nature, that our greatest mission is to stave off the loneliness inherent in existence, and captured that feeling in the perfect form for the computer age, in everything from the Apple II to the iPad.
“The Man in the Machine” might not give the fullest possible picture of the man; it’s so impossibly hard to square some of his cruel behavior, especially toward his eldest daughter, with his public image, that this probably is not possible. But Gibney comes pretty close.