Steve Jobs: Aaron Sorkin's Latest Father-Daughter Study

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From left, Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs talks to Lisa Brennan, played by Perla Haney-Jaredine, in a scene from the film "Steve Jobs." François Duhamel/Universal Pictures

Depending upon traffic, it may take less time to draw a link between Billy Beane and Steve Jobs than it does to cross the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Beane, protagonist of the 2011 Oscar-nominated film Moneyball and general manager of the Oakland A's, makes his home base in Oakland—yards away from his team's home base. Jobs, the protagonist of the eponymous film that opens to wide release this weekend and the visionary behind Apple, built his empire across the San Francisco Bay, in Cupertino.

Beane and Jobs, both of whom became leading men on film via the keyboard strokes of Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, are even closer in spirit than they were via a GPS metric. Both characters are brilliant and exacting, residing two exits past arrogant. Both are unabashedly contrarian and unapologetically difficult to work for. "We're not a pit crew," whines Apple engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) when a glitch threatens to disrupt the launch of the Macintosh in 1984. "This can't be fixed in seconds."

"You didn't have seconds, you had three weeks," barks Jobs (Michael Fassbender). "The universe was created in a third of that time."

"Well, someday," Hertzfeld replies, "you'll have to tell us how you did it."

A similar scene appears early in Moneyball as Beane (Brad Pitt) scolds the scouts of his impecunious franchise for failing to see the bigger picture. "Guys, you're just talking," says Beane. "Talking, 'la-la-la-la,' like this is business as usual. It's not."

"We're trying to solve the problem here, Billy," says chief scout Grady Fuson (Ken Medlock).

"Not like this you're not," counters Beane. "You're not even looking at the problem."

If Beane and Jobs were simply insufferable taskmasters whose genius just happened to upend the prevailing paradigm of their respective fields, that would be the basis for a compelling comparison. After all, Beane is credited, deservedly or not, for introducing analytics to the national pastime while Jobs, who passed away in 2011, is known as the father of the personal computer. Here are two Bay Area icons who peered far beyond the horizon, way past the limits of the pedestrian brain.

And for that reason alone Sorkin, himself a notoriously demanding CEO of the writers' room and an innovator in terms of dialogue, might have been drawn to them. Drawn to fleshing out their characters. There is another common trait, though, one that Beane and Jobs and, yes, even Sorkin, share: They are single fathers of a single daughter. In sketching the legacies of Beane and Jobs, Sorkin appears to some degree to be practicing therapy upon himself.

While Steve Jobs, a film in three acts, traces a partial arc of the Apple co-founder's career from the launch of the Macintosh to the 1998 debut of the iMac, it is also an odyssey of Jobs's coming to terms with his role as a father (with the added irony of Jobs having been adopted). When we first meet Jobs's daughter, Lisa, as a 5-year-old in 1984, he is openly denying his paternity to her mother in front of her. He then puts a hyperlink on the cruelty, informing her that it is but a "coincidence" that she shares a name with the Macintosh's forebear, LISA ("Local Integrated System Architecture").

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From left, director Danny Boyle speaks with writer Aaron Sorkin on the set of the film "Steve Jobs." François Duhamel/Universal Pictures

Beane, unlike Jobs, embraces his role as a dad throughout Moneyball. It is that facet of his being, not the A's late-season, 20-game winning streak that catapults them into the postseason, that is his most redeeming trait.

In one scene we may see Beane trading F-bombs with either Fuson or with A's manager Art Howe (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), but in the next a goofy grin of paternal pride is splashed across his face as he watches his child deftly strum a guitar in a store. Their bond is truer than David Justice's swing. "You're doing it again," Beane tells his daughter, Casey (Kerris Dorsey).

"What?" Casey asks.

"You're worrying about me."

"You're in last place, dad."

Innovation—nay, revolution—may be what makes Beane and Jobs great. Fatherhood, as illuminated by the scenes that Sorkin creates for both men, is what makes them good. "What you make isn't supposed to be the best part of you," Jobs's girl Friday, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), informs him at a critical juncture of his relationship with his daugher. "When you're a father...that's what's supposed to be the best part of you."

Sorkin divorced his wife in 2005 when their daughter was just six months old. But this is a theme he has been exploring since before he became a dad.

Ten years earlier, Sorkin wrote the screenplay for The American President. You may recall that Andrew Shepherd, the protagonist of that 1995 film, was a widower who each night went from the Oval Office to a set of rooms occupied by his precocious daughter, Lucy. She was the president's unofficial and perhaps most trusted advisor. "If you were a dork, you should say you're sorry," Lucy tells her father in dispensing romantic advice to the commander-in-chief. "Girls like that."

Midway through Steve Jobs our titular character asks his now 9-year old daughter what song she is listening to on her Sony Walkman. Lisa never explicitly names that tune ("Both Sides Now," by Joni Mitchell) but she does expound on the structure of the song: a trio of choruses that repeat the same theme using three different items—clouds, love and life—as the metaphor. Right then Lisa, i.e., Sorkin, is winking at the moviegoer, wondering if we appreciate that this is the self-same template he used to write this screenplay.

As the house lights come up on Steve Jobs and you power up your iPhone to check for texts and voicemails—you will not have been wired for 128 minutes, after all—you may ask yourself why this biopic ends, chronologically, before the introduction of his most famed creations, the iPod and the iPhone. Ultimately, you will realize that Sorkin crafted a screenplay based on the relationship between tech's most illustrious visionary and his greatest creation, not his best-selling.

"Being a father is the only thing that lives up to the hype," Sorkin told Men's Journal three years ago. Steve Jobs is the story of Sorkin's script nudging a genius toward that epiphany.

Steve Jobs: Aaron Sorkin's Latest Father-Daughter Study | Culture
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