Director Alex Gibney's choice to follow this spring's Scientology slam Going Clear with the fascinating portrait Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine might seem like an about-face. But this is practically a sequel. Both Scientology and Apple were founded by now-dead gurus who commanded devotion. Both are corporations that claim to stand for something purer than greed. Neither pays fair taxes. And neither functions openly, speaks freely, or tolerates critics.
Where the two films differ is us. Dismantle Scientology, and audiences will cheer. Chink away at the cult of Apple, and we all feel accused. I imagine that people will slink out of Steve Jobs keeping their iPhones guiltily stashed. When they make it a safe distance from the theater, they'll glide their smartphones in front of their faces, swipe the black monoliths awake, and disappear into the dream machines of their own desires. That's why we have this documentary about their creator, and not docs about the inventors of the subway, the shower, the fridge. Gibney's film asks Why did Jobs's death make us mourn?
Like a ghost, Jobs -- the man in that machine -- rattles our world from beyond the grave. As Gibney argues, the iPhone is his spirit made silicon. His trim, spartan devices were portable rock gardens, physical evidence that he was on a higher mental plane.
Emotionally, not so much. Gibney dissects Jobs's image with the calm curiosity of a coroner. A staggering number of former Apple insiders agreed to speak. One describes his tense exit interview with Jobs like a last meal with Vito Corleone. Gibney may not like Jobs. But he respects him. That tradeoff would suit Jobs fine.