A blood-spattered Theranos machine nearly punctured an employee struggling to fix it. This gruesome graphical rendering is what will steer you away from HBO’s “The Inventor.” Finally, it gives a visual look to the startup lab fraud detailed in the words of John Carreyrou’s book “Bad Blood.”
The documentary that premiered tonight at the Sundance Film Festival explores how fast moving and breaking the spirit of Silicon Valley is “really dangerous when people’s lives are in the balance” as former employee and whistleblower Tyler Shultz puts it. in the movie. Theranos promised him a medical testing device that made a single drop of blood from his finger more accurate than a painful syringe in a vein. What the patients ended up wearing was so inaccurate that it endangered their health.
But perhaps even more terrifying is the willingness of Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes to deceive herself and everyone around her in the service of a seemingly benevolent mission. The documentary captures how good ideas can make people do bad things.
“The Inventor: Out For Blood in Silicon Valley” juxtaposes truthful interviews with employees who eventually rebelled against Holmes with images and media appearances of his blatant lie to the world. He manages to keep the thrill of the story going instead of getting lost in the scientific discrepancies of Theranos deception.
The film opens and closes with close-ups of Holmes, demonstrating how events change his very bright smile and big blue eyes, from innovative potential to that of a sociopathic criminal. “I don’t have many secrets,” he tells the camera from the start.
Although the movie mentions early that her company worth more than $ 9 billion would end up being worth less than zero, it does a great job of building empathy for her that it can destroy later. You see him telling stories of death in the family and repeating his line about having to say goodbye to loved ones too soon. You hear how she’s terrified of needles and how she grew up, “my best friends were books.”
But then cracks begin to emerge as powerful old men, from professors to former cabinet members, pass over Holmes and become captivated in his cult of personality like snowballs of validation. Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney has a knack for being spooked by his experience making “Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room” and “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.” He portrays Holmes’ delusion of grandeur with his Portrait shots alongside Archimedes, Beethoven and his idol, Steve Jobs.
The first red flag comes when Holmes names his initial device Edison after the historic inventor of the film claims you were a fraud yourself. Soon sources inside the company reported how the Edison and later Theranos hardware never worked well, but those demos were faked for customers and investors. Rather than stick to a firm timeline, Gibney bounces back to arm employees’ emotional arcs from excited to doubtful, and Holmes from confidence to paranoia.
Carreyrou’s “Bad Blood” meticulously chronicled every little warning sign that worried Theranos staff about building a case. But the Wall Street Journal author’s work bled out, sapping the book of emotion and preventing it from tapping into the grandeur of history’s highlights.
Gibney fills in the blanks with indifferent scenes from Theranos’s faulty hardware. A blood “nanotainer” spills out of a table and fractures, a biohazard that awaits whoever tries to pick it up. The description of working in the unregulated laboratory at Theranos got the biggest buzz from Sundance’s audience. Former employees describe how Theranos recruited drifting people they suspected of hepatitis as guinea pigs. His stale blood evaporates into the air around machines dripping with red ink, covered in broken test tubes. Gibney nails the graphics, focusing a needle spraying droplets while a robotic arm splashes through a malfunction. I almost had to look away when the movie shows a hand reaching for the machine and just dodging an erratic syringe.
Sometimes Gibney goes a little too melodramatic. The flashing toy music box heralds a dream that turns into a nightmare, but after an hour it becomes maddening. The pace feels uneven, sometimes bogged down in Holmes’ personal relationships when he later appears to hasten the collapse of the company.
Elsewhere, though, the director takes advantage of former employees’ nervous laugh response mechanism to inject humor into the grim story. With such low precision, Shultz jokes that “if people are testing for syphilis with Theranos, there will be a lot more syphilis in the world.” The visual dramatizations of the audio recordings of Holmes’s journalists and eventual legal disputes bring this evidence to life.
The most poignant scene sees Fortune’s Roger Parloff on the brink of implosion as he grapples with giving Holmes his first magazine cover story – the boost he used to eventually have the useless hardware of Theranos in front of real patients who depended on his results. .
The Inventor manages to instill the lesson without having too much preaching. It’s okay to be hopeful, but don’t ignore your concerns, no matter how much you wish for something to be real. It takes an incredibly complex sequence of events and makes it both exciting and informative. If you haven’t read “Bad Blood” or found it drab, “The Inventor” conveys the gravity of the debacle with a little more sparkle.
However, the documentary also gives Holmes too much benefit of the doubt, suggesting that, at the very least, she was trying to do good in the world. On the post-film panel, Gibney said: “She had a noble vision. . . I think that was part of the reason that she was able to convince so many people and convince herself that what she was doing was great, which allowed her to lie so effectively. “Carreyrou followed up that” she didn’t have the intention to perpetrate a lengthy scam. “
However, it’s easier for both the director and the author to say when none of their work really investigated the health impacts of Theranos false positives and negatives. If they had tracked down people who delayed critical treatment or whose lives were affected by fear of a disease they didn’t have, I doubt Holmes would be so distracted.
Some degree of ‘fake it’ til you make it ‘could be essential to building tech startups. You have to make people believe that Inc is something that doesn’t exist if you want the funding and talent to make it happen. But it’s not just medical, hardware, or “atoms not bits” startups that need to be true to the truth. As the role of Facebook and WhatsApps in spreading misinformation that led to the murders of gangsters in India and Myanmar demonstrated, having a big mission doesn’t make you incapable of doing harm. A line must be drawn between optimism and dishonesty before drawing chalk outlines on the floor.