On the surface they couldn’t be two more different films. Spectre is the latest James Bond blockbuster starring Daniel Craig, and Steve Jobs, starring Michael Fassbender, dramatizes the life of the genius behind Apple, the biggest computer company in the world. One is action-adventure, the other a typical Aaron Sorkin talk-fest.
Still, at their core both films are about the same thing: the crisis of fatherlessness. Both James Bond and Steve Jobs are adopted, and in both Spectre and Steve Jobs, fatherlessness and its effects are at the core of what drives both men. Taken together, the films offer provocative insights into what is arguably the modern social problem that is at the root of all other social problems: fathers abandoning their sons. (Warning: spoilers ahead).
As Steve Jobs shows, Jobs was adopted twice. The first family changed their minds after a month and sent him back. This experience of being unwanted created deep resentment in Jobs. In Steve Jobs the protagonist spends most of his life trying, and failing, to control this rage. The story focuses on a woman who claims to have given birth to Jobs’ daughter. Steve Jobs is less about iMacs and memory boards than about Jobs’ fractured relationship with this daughter, Lisa. For years Jobs denies that Lisa is his daughter despite a blood test that says she is. Jobs is almost psychotically stubborn in denying support for Lisa or her mother, and is so traumatized by the idea of having a child that he has to emotionally amp himself up for any kind of encounter with them. With his black turtlenecks, sly verbal assaults and cold facial expressions, Jobs – or at least Jobs as played by Fassbender – resembles nothing so much as a classic Bond villain. You have to admire Sorkin and director Danny Boyle; it took guts to make their lead, a genuine America icon, such a seething, arrogant creep.
Sorkin is a Hollywood liberal, but the engine driving Steve Jobs is an old and tenacious conservative argument: parents have a huge impact on their children, and fathers have an irreplaceable, irreducible role in shaping the lives of their kids. Remove dads and you get gangs, man-children, troubled daughters and lots of rage. Social science backs this up, human psychology backs this up, crime statistics back this up, even sitcoms back this up.
Like Jobs, James Bond is adopted. But the circumstances of that adoption are quite different from those of Jobs. Bond was orphaned when his parents were killed in an accident. Unlike Jobs, Bond was never rejected. He was abandoned by fate, not choice. Furthermore, Bond was adopted by a man who, according to Spectre, gave the orphan fatherly time and attention. Bond was also raised by Kincaide, a kind of bearded Wild Man who served as caretaker of Skyfall, the Bond family Scottish estate. Unlike so many young men today, Bond had strong male role models.
This is why Bond’s life goes in the opposite direction as Steve Jobs. With firsthand knowledge of the capriciousness of the world and how tragedy can strike at any time, Bond becomes a modern warrior, the bulwark against chaos. Again and again when civilization is on the brink agent 007 returns, a Cold War King Arthur who saves the day. Whereas Steve Jobs won’t acknowledge his own daughter, being too busy creating machines that will turn people into petulant narcissists, Bond ventures into the world, throwing himself into danger and accepting the mantle of father figure – and not just for one child, but for an entire civilization. Beneath his cynicism Bond loves Britain and Western Civilization. In his designer suits and gold watches he is a brutal but sophisticated guide for the soft boys and weak Millennials of today. It’s fitting that one of the villains in Spectre, a computer-obsessed weasel who wants surveillance on the entire world, resembles a young Steve Jobs. The other villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, is driven by a hatred for Bond, a hatred that was triggered when the villain’s father adopted Bond, thus depriving Blofeld of fatherly attention.
In his novels, Bond creator Ian Fleming gave 007’s family a motto: “The world is not enough.” This reflected Bond’s Scottish-Catholic roots – the idea that the things of this world are not sufficient to attain happiness or salvation. Our modern culture can offer boys therapists, drugs, Internet porn, ESPN, and money. But the world is not enough. The wound of fatherly abandonment runs deep, and both Spectre and Steve Jobs argue that no amount of money or power will make the pain go away.