By: Larissa Couto
From genius to fraud, Elizabeth Holmes’s journey is one motivated by big ideas and the incapacity to know the difference between perseverance and stubbornness. Holmes believed in a product able to diagnose diseases with a drop of blood, all while reducing the costs of the testing and making health a more affordable (and less needle-frightening) right. From her “light bulb” moment to her years as the persuasive CEO of Theranos, The Inventor tries to tell the story of this dangerous fraud committed (maybe?) intentionally.
Is Holmes an evil genius that manipulated intelligent, respectable, powerful people into believing that everyone could have access to an optional form of diagnosis that could benefit all citizens? Or is Holmes actually a borderline naive idealist with more talent for persuasion and rhetoric than medicine? With these two intricate options to navigate during the documentary, the first part doesn’t disappoint. Holmes, the genius. Interconnecting Holmes’s idols with her own attitude and personality, director Alex Gibney explores Thomas Edison’s story as an inventor that also worked at transforming what would be more credible as wizardry than science; highlighting that Edison’s lies didn’t turn out as fraud only because, in the end, his light bulb remained on—literally. Edison’s impact on Holmes is not a mere play with the idea of the inventor by Gibney; Holmes named her blood machines Edison. The homage (or arrogance) of Holmes comparing, at some level, her work with Edison’s is the audience’s work to deliberate on. Not only was Edison part of Holmes’s persona, but her use of the same outfit everyday, the black turtlenecks, is a direct quote from Steve Jobs’s approach to fashion (even despite Holmes arguing that every morning since she was 7 she chose turtlenecks as the go-to item to not waste time picking her outfit). Other eccentricities like not blinking often and using a baritone voice also lead the public to believe that she has the potential to be a genius—as opposed to a lunatic.
With Holmes only being seen through footage and interviews not done specifically for The Inventor: Out For Blood in Silicon Valley, her wide-eyed face starts to deteriorate as the documentary starts to reveal the ruin of Theranos. Going from being worth $9 billion to less than zero, the interviews with journalists and professionals who worked at Theranos takes the protagonism from Holmes and makes the documentary about the announced fraud. As the film is called The Inventor, one might have expected to know more about Holmes, but we never have a full image of her story or a taste of her persuasion. What Gibney is really going for is the benefit of the doubt. We can decide for ourselves what to think about Holmes, and that’s a positive for a narrative documentary—that we could be hurt by Holmes’s charm if she had the chance to make us consider her version of the idea. Finally, Holmes is not a genius, but an inventor: she’s wrong until the next light bulb turns on and stays on.