“Steve Jobs,” Aaron Sorkin’s latest screenwriting effort, is the story of a very special
man and the noble men and women who, whether they like Jobs or not,
slavishly orbit around him, lapping up the rays of genius that flick
off of him like a wet dog shaking himself dry.
synopsis sounds familiar, that might be because if you Madlib the names
and dates, every Sorkin project starts to sound eerily
familiar. Even if you love Sorkin’s work, it can be hard not to notice
that — to borrow a beloved Sorkin metaphor — the chess pieces never
The Tortured Genius
type: The Tortured Genius lives at the center of the Sorkinverse. He is
very good, maybe the best, at one specific job, and
all that drives him is the desire to get even better. Yet the Genius
is also pretty much just a more eloquent version of your basic procedural star: He may be great at his job, but his personal life is a
Fassbender), duh. In the film, the original Apple genius’ bold
vision for the future of computers is understood by few people and
shared by less. He imagines computers as closed systems encased in
perfect packaging, which is most certainly a metaphor. With his clean turtleneck aesthetic
and underlying daddy issues, Jobs is a lot like the computers he
produces, especially insofar as they are, like most geniuses, brilliant
but initially misunderstood.
analog is another antisocial tech visionary: the twirpish Mark
Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in “The Social Network,” who has plenty of Facebook friends but few real ones. Additional Tortured Geniuses include Will McAvoy (Jeff
Daniels) in “The Newsroom,” Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) in “Studio 60 on
the Sunset Strip,” Dan Rydell in “Sports Night” (Josh Charles) and any series regular
in “The West Wing” before lunch.
The Decoy Feminist
type: Sorkin has long been a subject of feminist ire, and the Decoy
Feminist is largely why. The Decoy Feminist is ostensibly set up as the
intellectual equal of the Tortured Genius, a kind of in-house service
for anticipating and answering your feminist objections. But she is a
straw woman who, with no warning, forgets a vital piece of historical
trivia, has frivolous feminine interests, or goes on a Machiavellian
power trip, ultimately ending up utterly degraded.
(Katherine Waterston), Jobs’ ex and the mother of his child. Chrissann
rides into “Steve Jobs” on a wave of self-righteous fury, confronting
Jobs for being so much the absentee father that he won’t even admit his
paternity. Yet as Jobs criticizes the parenting that he refuses to do
himself, the film ends up backing him up, rendering Chrisann as a
desperate woman, a neglectful mother and a dummy who is bad at haggling
over the prices of antiques.
but ultimately gossipy and vindictive Nina Howard (Hope Davis) in “The
Newsroom,” Hallie Galloway (Stephanie Childers) in “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” Sally Sasser in “Sports Night,” and Mandy Hampton (Moira Kelly) and
C.J. Craig (Allison Janney) in “The West Wing” whenever they disagree with one of the men.
The Good Woman
Paternalism’s favorite daughter, the Good Woman is extraordinarily
competent at her
job, especially when that job involves tending to the neuroses and hurt
feelings of the
Tortured Genius. The Good Woman is paid in pats on the back. She was
also voted “most likely to slip on a banana peel” in high school.
in “Steve Jobs”?: Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), a marketing guru and
Jobs’ self-appointed “work wife.” Even as Jobs jumps from venture to
venture, deliberately concealing his master plans, Joanna never gets mad
at Jobs for his professional conduct. Joanna does get truly upset with
Jobs once for personal reasons, but she seems mostly content to rattle off vital expertise while
an inattentive Jobs plays blackjack with her livelihood.
else?: An early episode of “The West Wing” is honest-to-God called “The
Crackpots and These Women,” though you’d be understandably confused
about which is which in any given scene. Besides every female staffer in
the White House (Allison Janney’s C.J. Cregg is the prime example), there’s Merilyn Delphy (Rashida Jones) in “The Social
Network,” Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) in “The Newsroom,” Suzanne
(Meritt Wever) in “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” Natalie Hurley
(Sabrina Lloyd) in “Sports Night” and Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette
Bening) in “The American President.”
The Father Figure
type: The Tortured Genius is almost always tortured in part by the fact
that his daddy didn’t love him, and so he seeks love and approval from
the Father Figure. The Father Figure is a throwback to the mythical days of
gentlemen. He dresses cleanly, makes lengthy speeches about what “men”
do and most definitely spent his metaphorical son’s birth in the
waiting room, smoking a cigar.
Sculley (Jeff Daniels), the eventually ousted Apple CEO. If Sculley’s crinkly, approving smiles and fancy wine gifts aren’t evidence enough, multiple characters actually refer to Sculley as
Jobs’ “father figure,” including Sculley himself. And like any good pop, Sculley more than once
says that he is “proud” of his boy.
Skinner (Sam Waterstone) in “The Newsroom,” Wes Mendell (Judd Hirsch)
in “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) in “The West Wing” and Isaac Jaffe (Robert Guillame) in
The Wonky Wonk
type: There’s no real evidence that the Wonky Wonk is less of a genius
than the Tortured Genius, but so sayeth Sorkin. While the Tortured Genius
is calm and cool, this guy needs approximately 1,000 more words per
minute to say his peace. The Wonky Wonk works so hard that he’s literally sweating effort, giving you the sense that he’d have an Albert Brooks in “Broadcast News” moment if he ever got top
billing. He is also liable to walk into a door.
else?: Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.) on “The Newsroom,” Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) in “Moneyball,” Josh Lyman
(Bradley Whitford) and Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) in “The West Wing,”
Jeremy Goodwin (Joshua Malina) in “Sports Night,” Lewis Rothschild
(Michael J. Fox) in “The American President” and presumably most of the
coding nerds in “The Social Network.”
The Great White Hope
type: Ostensibly a real live human person, the Great White Hope is more
accurately characterized as a giant plot device with the words “legacy”
stamped across his/her forehead. If you listen closely, you can hear
this person spreading tell of the Tortured Genius all through the land.
Lisa Brennan (Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo and Perla Haney-Jardine),
Jobs’ daughter. After being neglected by Jobs for the majority of the
film, Lisa is an unlikely candidate for this mold. But after a moment I
won’t spoil involving Jobs, Lisa’s Walkman and some very
meaningful eye contact (or should I say, iContact), it becomes clear that even Lisa can’t resist the
intoxicating lure of genius.
Who else?: In “The Newsroom,”
Jennifer Johnson, aka Sorority Girl, a woman who newsman Will McAvoy has
publicly mocked, explains her desire to become a “Greater Fool” in Will’s righteous “mission to civilize.” She is joined by
Darius Hawthorne (Columbus Short) in “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”
and Charlie Young (Dule Hill) in “The West Wing.”
The Right Hand Man
type: Will kill for the Tortured Genius. Will not ask questions. More loyal than a yellow lab, the Right Hand Man is fervidly protective of the Tortured Genius and lives life with “We’re
All in This Together” from “High School Musical” as a personal mantra.
a tightly wound film that Joanna plays this part as well. Her role as
Jobs’ closest confidante marks something of an improvement for women in
Sorkin’s work, but it also speaks to just how good Jobs was at
alienating all of his would-be-FFs.
Who else?: Eduardo
Saverin (Andrew Garfield) in “The Social Network,” Danny Tripp (Bradley
Whitford) in “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” Leo McGarry (John Spencer) in “The West Wing” and A.J. MacInerney (Martin Sheen) in “The American President.”