Directed by: Danny Boyle. Longtime readers might have picked up that I’m a lifelong but dispassionate Danny Boyle fan, and that I’m pretty much committed to seeing everything he does (although I still haven’t seen A Life Less Ordinary, or even 127 Hours, what’s wrong with me?). And when I say I’m dispassionate, I guess I just mean that I won’t wave a flag too hard for almost any director, because every director has some duds, and every director has some stuff within their gems that isn’t so gem-like—but all that being said, yeah I think Danny Boyle is one of the better directors around today (in the English language, because I’m a dummy beyond that). And before you remind me, yes Sunshine was kind of a dud, and Slumdog Millionaire was not great either. But I guess I really like the storytelling choices he makes, at a technical level. Even though his scripts can sometimes be a bit sentimental or a bit…I don’t know, a bit Danny Boyle, the artistic decisions he makes as a director to bring that script to the screen, the combination of music, costumes, sets, lights, cinematography—basically all of his mise-en-scène decisions and all of his editing decisions—are always at least interesting, because he’s not afraid to be a bit weird. And to me, that’s what puts him over and above the more highly-esteemed “auteur” directors of today like Christopher Nolan (who’s no dummy, but whose films are pretty austere and visually conservative), or even the Coens (whose films are certainly odd, but whose storytelling style is pretty inconspicuous). And, before the chorus of film nerds chimes in with the objection that I’m conflating flashy and showy and conspicuous filmmaking choices with “interesting” choices—yes I know, simple is awesome, quality doesn’t rest on trick photography and self-conscious “movie” shots. I mean, some of my favourite shit is Ken Loach and Olivier Assayas—pretty spare, fly on the wall, immersive stuff. But the fact that Danny Boyle is willing to, and is excited to, make a decision that isn’t the obvious decision, makes for some great shit, whether it’s the subtitles in the club scene in Trainspotting (or the toilet for that matter, or a lot of other things for that matter), or the video game sequence in The Beach, or the little cutaways of divine/hallucinatory beings in Slumdog, or all of the weird shit in Trance, he’s not afraid to show you something that’s really cool.
The thing that puts Danny Boyle in the penalty box with modern viewers and modern critics is, I suspect, the fact that he’s willing to do all of this at the expense of shaking us out of our cocoon of Hollywood safety—he’s willing to break one of the big taboos of Hollywood, and one of the major cinematic codes of North American (and generally Western) audiences—the illusion that we’re not watching a movie when we’re watching a movie. Danny Boyle isn’t afraid to remind us that we are, in fact, watching a movie, and that movie, in fact, resulted from a lot of decisions by a lot of collaborators with distinct voices. In this movie, perhaps more than any of his others since Trainspotting, we get a very rich, detailed, lively piece of art, expertly executed, technically very sound, and with a lot of craftsmanship and artistry unabashedly on display. It is a self-conscious piece of mythology surrounding one of the most influential and legendary figures of modern times. This movie is about the birth of the postmodern era—isn’t that cool? It’s told in three distinct periods, three product launches over the course of three distinct eras of Steve Jobs’ ascendancy, and each is contained to the 30 minutes before curtains. And all of the minuscule shit that people objected to—the film took artistic license with the events (as all movies do), that those people never “actually” said that (the movie isn’t “actual”, it’s an interpretation), that Michael Fassbender doesn’t look like Steve Jobs enough? (fuck right off)—only betrays another tendency that I’ve noticed, and that I’m afraid is now becoming a soapbox thing for me: people want to pretend that movies are reality. That’s the fundamental thing I’m noticing, especially when it comes to movies “based on real events”—it’s not enough that Danny Boyle teamed with Aaron Sorkin, a celebrated screenwriter (who normally gets on my nerves but whose diarrheic and exaggeratedly verbose style actually worked really well here, in a movie where the talking is the action), who based the screenplay off the most definitive and celebrated biography of Steve Jobs (the Walter Isaacson one), he teamed with a host of amazing crew members (Alwin Küchler on the camera, Elliot Graham in the editing room), and he got one of the top 5 best ensemble casts of the last 20 years in front of the camera. Is that not good enough for everybody? I deliberately haven’t seen the Ashton Kutcher movie, but I’m very tempted to see it just so I can honestly gripe about it when discussing this movie. But I’m pretty sure it’s just another predictable, pandering, hero-worship, great-man theory baloney movie. As far as all that shit goes, the only weak part about this movie is the way it treats that relationship between father and daughter—the ending is such a cheeseball ending, a real Danny Boyle ending, with that song that’s way too excited and optimistic, and the light flares and slow motion that make it look like a commercial for Steve Jobs’ legacy—it produces the idea that Steve Jobs generally gets his “redemption.” Again with the redemption! I get the impression that Boyle meant for it to be more ambiguous, the look on his daughter’s face, standing in the wings, where she can see that she’s “lost him forever”, and the disconnect between the cheering, rosy, hype-machine ending that we’re seeing, it’s supposed to be really arty and effective, but to me all of that shit just gets drowned in the super-excited, TV commercial vibe. So that’s my only beef I guess—I’d rather have my mythological heroes super flawed. I’m still waiting for the day that we can have a movie about someone who does great things AND terrible things. I’m waiting for a movie about Steve Jobs that can fully, fully accept the fact that yes, he was a genius and he changed our world completely, and also, not BUT, not WELL MAYBE, but ALSO, he was an asshole to the people around him, including his daughter. And it’s pretty clear to me that those two things are related, that the qualities that made him amazing at revolutionizing society’s relationship to computers are the same things that made him awful at being a parent, and perhaps a human being in general. Or least, as a mythology, I find that so much more interesting and believable than all of the stuff with the redemption. But god help me, I might just have to go see the Ashton Kutcher movie.