The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley
Many of Alex Gibney’s documentaries feel heavy-handed and use questionable methods to sway viewers, including misleading statistics and manipulative scoring to hammer their points home. It’s quite refreshing that his latest project, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, successfully navigates the tabloid pitfalls of its story.
The film traces the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her Theranos corporation, a medical testing business that took Silicon Valley by storm. Holmes’ charismatic flourish and promises of transformational scientific discovery dazzled many of the world’s most powerful investors, each buying into a cause that ended up being little more than flimflam.
The documentary delves into the thorny issues, from a fascination with Holmes’ stature as an iconic tech titan who was female among a sea of men, to those who jumped aboard her train. The disgruntled are given voice, but so are those that believed in the vision, their eventual betrayals cutting deep as the intended goals remain laudable.
Even documentarians themselves are made culpable, with footage by stalwart Errol Morris shown to buttress Theranos’ commercial appeal. This twisting of the mechanisms of truth-telling and scientific rigor grafted onto marketing and mythmaking gives the film much of its bite.
The connection to Thomas Edison and his own mix of fame and fabrication is particularly effective. Edison wove tales of the incandescent light bulb a half-decade before he could get a working device out of the lab, an easy echo for Holmes’ own vision.
Questioning the lust for advancement and the way emotion drives this kind of venture capitalist furor speaks to larger elements of the American experience. Ideas like these are fostered like nowhere else, but do so within an ecosystem as incestuous as it is often manipulated and corrupted.
Few come out clean in Gibney’s view, but the film’s gift is its subtlety and carefulness in explaining that this wasn’t some errant slip, but a fundamental part of this kind of boom-and-bust system. Some wonderful asides from the myriad of talking heads manage to provide context without resorting to over-simplification.
Eschewing some of his worst proclivities, The Inventor sees Alex Gibney at his best, using his gifts to tell a complicated story in a coherent yet provocative way, while avoiding his usual polemical drives. It’s a fascinating tale made all the more rich based on its cast of remarkable characters, and a stark look at the hype that drives so much of what comes out of Silicon Valley.