‘Bezos: the Beginning’ is a made-for-television movie now available for streaming on Amazon Prime and Google Play. It details the rise, trials, and tribulations of Bezos’ early life in his attempt to start his now titanic e-commerce company. We witness Bezos (played by Armando Gutierez) start out as an endearing yet unconfident VP of a hedge fund company, then transition to creating an entirely online startup for purchasing books, then the polishing and repolishing of the idea of Amazon until it bears some semblance of how we know it today.
I was surprised that a biopic about his life hadn’t been made yet. To any given American citizen, Bezos is a wealth of mysteries and secrets. He represents our current economic system at its most extreme, and is as famous as any other famous tech giant (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey). Surely someone would have tried to make a film about him in the same vein as ‘The Social Network’. Somehow, not until now. Overall, it’s a fairly watered-down interpretation of the controversial tech giant’s early life, sticking to the basic facts and not too much more. The book the movie is based on, ‘Jeff Bezos-Zero to Hero’, provides a fairly neutral if not more positive image of Bezos. We occasionally see him get into fights with his two other employees, and an increasingly fraught relationship with his (now ex) wife MacKenzie Scott (played by Alex Mitchell). Still, there are things that an average person might not know about Jeff Bezos that were explored well in this story. Like the book, the movie tries to make room for moments that give a more complete and whole picture into who Jeff Bezos was and is as a person.
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With a Little Help from His Parents
One part of Bezos’ life that adds a lot to who he is that the movie touches on early in the story is the role his parents played in his life and career trajectory. After Jeff and MacKenzie decide to quit their jobs and begin their start-up, the first thing they do is ask around for loans. They drive to Bezos’ parents house, and he asks them for an enormous loan, to which they ultimately agree to the next day. To say this is generous is an understatement. It’s an incredible opportunity that his parents give him at this moment, and it’s not baseless either. The movie notes that Bezos’ parents care deeply about their son, and would do almost anything to help their son succeed.
This definitely adds an important layer to Bezos and his life story. For obvious reasons, the interaction plays a huge part in defining the entrepreneur: namely, his resourcefulness and his luck. He showed determination in taking the first step by trying to find money, which can be difficult for many reasons. The scene also becomes a commentary on the nature of what a person may or may not need when starting a business in our country. Three hundred thousand dollars is an enormous amount, but in terms of getting a business as ambitious as Jeff’s off the ground, it’s probably closer to what it would really take.
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Jeff Bezos is Complicated
One area this movie succeeded in when it did touch on it was the moodier side of Bezos. At times, the man comes across as mild-mannered, unwilling to step over other people to achieve his dreams. However, there are a few instances where a completely different aspect of him comes out. His relationship with MacKenzie starts out very supportive and without ego, but soon sours as complications pile up. While he’s kind to his employees’ faces most of the time, it’s also revealed that he’d purposely left out details of the plan he priorly discussed with Shel Kaphan that would’ve helped his career and finances.
To be honest, the movie could have expanded a little more on this part of his life. Some of the most important moments would arguably be Bezos’ early decisions that negatively affected the people around him and their greater implications. His competitors, his employees, and his wife are occasionally mistreated. The darker side of Bezos is mainly relegated to the end of the movie, when he tells one of his smartest and hardest-working employees that he should’ve cared about his future more instead of giving the employee the kind of share he had asked for.
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What Makes Jeff More Than a Symbol
Last but not least, this movie also attempted to flesh out Bezos’ specific relationships with the people around him. For instance, one of the most important relationships he has is with his wife, MacKenzie Scott. MacKenzie worked at the same company he did at the beginning, and both are very ambitious people being spiritually crushed by their mindless hedge fund jobs. Bezos had a drive to do something more innovative, and MacKenzie was extremely creative with larger writing aspirations. Another defining relationship Bezos had is with his future competitor and founder of Barnes and Noble, Len Riggio. Riggio is incredibly skeptical and mocking Bezos’ idea, and this skepticism climaxes to anger when he threatens to sue Bezos over calling his e-commerce store the largest bookstore.
The way the movie portrays how Bezos handles these interactions and their increasing hostility and disappointment is one of the most interesting parts of the story, and are defining moments that will shape the rest of his emotional life. At first, Bezos and his wife give each other grace when they make mistakes. This is true for his employees as well. Then, things take downturns when various obstacles come up: when funding is hard to come by, when no one else seems to like the idea, and so on. Once this stuff starts happening, Bezos struggles to balance the stress with handling his relationships with care. One helpful way to learn more about a person is how they treat others around them. How he handles this facet of life in all its complexity gives off a fairly nuanced understanding of Bezos’ strengths and weaknesses as an adult.
‘Bezos: the Beginning’ has its moments that make it worth watching. It delivers on expanding on Bezos’ early personal life, and how it intermingled (for better and for worse) with his professional life. In doing so, the movie successfully paints Bezos as more than just a character worth studying. He becomes a real person, with real problems and strengths and neuroses like anyone else. ‘Bezos: the Beginning’ is out streaming on Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, and as a YouTube rental.
Director: Khoa Lea
Writers: Allison Burnett, Tashena Ebanks
Cast: Armando Gutierrez, Kevin Sorbo, Alex Mitchell, Sasha Andreev
By Zachary DePiore
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