There’s a fine line between dedication and obsession. One can stay firmly rooted in reality, while the other can lead to delusions. In The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, famed documentarian Alex Gibney (Going Clear: Scientology & the Prison of Belief) turns his lens to the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, the CEO of Theranos who saw her socially revolutionary company go from a $9 billion valuation to less than zero. It’s a nuanced and fascinating look at how good intentions can spiral into something much darker.
The film stresses that Holmes’s story is not necessarily one of a scheming villain. It’s easy for audiences, who already know that the story ends with Holmes being charged with wire fraud and conspiracy, to assume that she was only out to make money. Instead, the filmmakers interview behavioral therapists, reporters who wrote features on her, and former employees to chart her course from do-gooder to scammer.
Gibney uses this mix of interviews, including available interviews with Holmes, to illustrate that no matter how our world changes, humanity remains relatively the same, a sentiment shared by Holmes and her adolescent obsession with classic epics like Moby Dick and The Odyssey. At 19, with heroes like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, she became convinced that she should start a business that would change the healthcare industry - running hundreds of lab tests from a single drop of blood, all done within a small, portable machine dubbed the Edison. And thus, Theranos and its mission were born.
It becomes abundantly clear that above all, she believes in the mission, even though she has no idea how to get there. And she’s an expert at selling it. She assembles a team of big name board members, mostly former top government and military officials like George Schultz, James Mattis and Henry Kissinger. The common theme is that each of these old men are incredibly impressed and charmed by the blonde-headed entrepreneur known for her intensity and lack of blinking.
Above all, Gibney spins a harrowing tale of what happens when you combine socially good intentions with the ruthless “fake it til you make it” mindset of Silicon Valley. With a runtime of just about two hours, it certainly feels a bit long, but it’s a compelling enough story that it’s easy to get wrapped up in the story, even knowing the ending.