STEVE JOBS: What Happens To A Baby When No One Says Hello?

Steve Jobs is a brilliantly conceived and emotionally revealing film by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle. According to both, this film is a human story not a biopic. I agree. As we get to know Jobs through the filmmakers’ eyes and Michael Fassbender’sperformance, we are taken into the heartbreaking roots of his controlling behavior. If we look closely at the effects of his earliest days, it’s possible to understand why some people use their intellect over feeling – to stonewall any recognition of the need to give or receive love.

A Baby

Film, of course, takes artistic license. I didn’t know the real Steve Jobs and I’m sure he was more multifaceted than the man Michael Fassbender portrays. Yet, what Sorkin’s screenplay and Fassbender’s performance reveal gives me a chance to speak to something that happens to a baby’s heart. It starts this early, a need to wall off and reject love.

A baby’s heart can be broken.

John Scully (Jeff Daniels), Jobs’ business partner, friend, and mentor, is the film’s vehicle for taking us (and trying to take Jobs himself) back to his adoption. Any adoption can leave a baby with confused feelings of abandonment. Yet, Steve Jobs’ wasn’t an ordinary adoption. His adoption is the story of a baby who isn’t loved. No one said hello.

If the unconscious lives in us, as I know it does, Jobs’ insistence, as the film begins, that the Mac say “hello” at its initial launch makes psychological sense. Why else, besides his exacting demands to have things go his way and the fact that the Mac could, might Jobs be unwilling to accept anything but? It had to say hello. That’s human. That’s what a baby needs.

Jobs’ life did not begin with a human welcome, far from it. His first adoptive parents sent him back to the agency after one month. His birthmother made the second (and final) adoption so impossible that his mother, Clara Jobs, was scared she’d lose him. She wouldn’t love him for a year. Deprivation of love devastates a baby. In his baby mind and feelings, it’s impossible to conceive of any reason except something’s wrong with him.

Getting Control

Everyone needs love. A baby can’t survive without it. And, if he survives physically and intellectually, a huge toll is taken on the safety of human relationships. Jobs’ says it well: “It’s about having no control. It’s being out of the loop when important decisions were made about your life.”

He won’t let that happen again. He’ll control all decisions. No one else will have a say. On top of that, his need for love is diverted into fantasies of power, of complete self-sufficiency. This grand kind of competence is meant to over-ride a deep fear that if he lets people matter – they will not stay.

Accumulating successes through visionary innovations is traded for human need. What’s his real intention? He’ll have complete control over any human feeling, no matter what this does to anyone else involved. Fassbender’s Steve Jobs becomes very much like a human computer.

Self-protective indifference – that’s how Steve Jobs lives, at least the one in the film. Sometimes that indifference is vicious. He treats everyone who needs or wants anything from him with the same cruel negation he treats his own needs. The worst is his daughter, Lisa.

A Daughter

No one said hello to him. And, he can’t say hello to her. The film highlights Jobs’ conflicted relationship with Lisa (Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo, Mackenzie Moss), his daughter with ex-girlfriend, Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston). Lisa becomes his rejected baby self, the baby that isn’t wanted, and the reason for his walled off heart. He repeats with Lisa what was done to him, including a fundamental denial of his fatherhood and a heartless devaluation of her mother.

As the film goes on and the story of Jobs and Lisa unfolds, we do begin to see some cracks in his well-constructed defensive armor. The first crack is when Lisa, as a little girl (of about 6) uses Mac Art to make a drawing. She proves that the Mac’s simple system, with its easily recognized icons, is exactly what people need. But with any opening, her father’s delicate heart quickly closes back up. Anyway, being smart (whether it’s Lisa or Jobs himself) is safer than feeling.

Intellect Versus Feeling

Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan) might be able to think in non-binary ways, knowing it’s possible to be decent and successful at the same time. But, Jobs can’t. He has to live in either/ors – the biggest one, choosing intellect over feeling. Feeling, for an unwanted and deeply hurt baby, is the most dangerous choice of all.

His own longing for love Jobs diverts into visions of grand success; what his marketing executive and right-hand woman, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) calls his “reality distortion field.” He aligns himself with superstars: Napoleon, Einstein, Dylan, and John Lennon; enraged, but actually narcissistically injured, when he isn’t named Time Magazine’s man of the year.

Jobs felt like a nothing as a baby. His need for almost god-like importance is to counteract extreme vulnerability to feeling unlovable and easily thrown away. He can better imagine waves of people bowing to his accomplishments, than let himself know that he, like everyone else, has a very basic need for love.

Cracks In His Armor

We see glimpses, though, of cracks in Jobs’ unfeeling armor. One glimpse occurs when he and Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) fight about Andy’s helping Lisa. Upset because Lisa didn’t step in and stop her mother’s selling the house Jobs bought for them (taking it as a personal affront), he makes Lisa think he won’t pay her Harvard tuition. Andy, who has also been hurt by Jobs’ cruel threats, sends the tuition check so Lisa won’t miss classes.

This infuriates Jobs because Andy shows him up for the father he can’t be. It’s glaring, even to such a shut down man. (Anyway, Joanna’s been at him about his treatment of Lisa, too.) They fight. Bolstering up his old self-protections, he tells Andy he’s indifferent to whether people like him or not.

Of course that isn’t true. When Andy retaliates: “Well, since it doesn’t matter to you, I never did,” we see a crushed Steve Jobs. To fight off the sadness he’s been trying not to feel since birth, he begins obsessively going over intellectual algorithms in his head.

Being Human

Intellect versus feeling – that’s Jobs’ internal struggle. Joni Mitchell’s song, Both Sides Now, just might be the axis upon which a deeply hurt, seemingly indifferent, man can begin to change. Lisa, hungry to get through to her father, tells him she’s listening to two versions of Both Sides Now at the same time. She confides that there’s the “girly” interpretation (which we might call feelings) – and the regret.

Thinking about the lyrics to Both Sides Now, we’re left to wonder whether Fassbender’s Steve Jobs will be able to see the illusions he’s lived by. Will he come to realize that his ability to accept and give love is clouded by his history as a baby? Will he see what he’s done to his daughter? Will he finally say, “’I love you’ right out loud?”

At least by the end of the film, Jobs admits he has no idea why he didn’t help Lisa as a child. When she asks why he couldn’t acknowledge that he was her father, he simply answers: “I’m poorly made.” It’s a beginning. Here’s a Steve Jobs who doesn’t have to know everything; can admit he has flaws; and begins to feel regret.

Regret Is Hope

No one can go back and redo the past. But, there is the possibility of seeing how the past is still alive and affects life and relationships today. As he opens his heart and talks to Lisa, this is where Steve Jobs might begin to see that life isn’t either/or; that there’s more than one side. There’s feeling and intellect. There’s his side of things – and someone else’s.

Yet, what does it take for someone to keep open the barriers against love, constructed early in life? It’s not easy. When a baby isn’t loved and learns to live inside a shell of indifference, it’s hard to turn it around. For someone who’s afraid of feeling, each time he does there’s a seductive pull right back into those self-protective walls.

Usually, it takes considerable help in the form of therapy or psychoanalysis. It’s almost impossible to let down the walls alone. The seemingly safer choice of a life of intellect, indifference, or any other kind of escape is always held out as a luring temptation. One that seems the better bet – especially, over recognizing any need for love.

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