[Sundance 2019] The Inventor Review: The Slow Motion Train Wreck that was Theranos

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley looks to examine how a company worth $9 billion dollars managed to completely flame out in a matter of years.

Director: Alex Gibney
Summary: Elizabeth Holmes arrived in Silicon Valley with a revolutionary medical invention. She called it “the Edison”: a small, hyper-sophisticated black box that performed 200 tests in minutes, all from a single drop of blood. Needles, laboratories, and the select few companies that controlled them would become instantly obsolete. Like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Thomas Edison himself, Holmes intended to tear down and revolutionize an entire industry. The hitch? All of it was a lie. The system was a hoax. And what began as one of 2014’s hottest tech companies—valued at nine billion dollars—dissolved into a fraudulent, bankrupt scheme that exposed Silicon Valley’s underbelly.

CEO Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos
photo by Drew Kelly, courtesy of Sundance Institute.

There is something to be said about the slow motion train wreck. Hindsight is 20/20 and we get a level of enjoyment by watching things slowly fall apart. Earlier this month we got not one but two documentaries on the Fyre Festival that showed how everything fell apart in that case. At Sundance, we got The Inventor, which shows a different type of train wreck. Instead of millennials, it was the health industry and several men of dubious importance. They believed in a machine that could change lives and gave hundreds of millions of dollars because they believed in the mission of Theranos.

In this case, the saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” applies, and CEO Elizabeth Holmes had the best intentions. She wanted to make it easier for people to get their blood tested. However, good intentions don’t negate the fact that the machine they were trying to sell doesn’t work. Director Alex Gibney is holding Holmes and her business accountable for what they did but he also lays the blame at the mentality of Silicon Valley in general.

The idea that you “fake it until you make it” is fine when you manage to deliver something. That was not the case for Theranos and the company lost everything because of it. Gigney takes the time to interview former employees, investors, mentors, and even psychologists as they try to examine how Holmes managed to convince so many people to give her money without anyone looking into her financials or her prototype.

CEO Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos
photo by Drew Kelly, courtesy of Sundance Institute.

As a documentary it is interesting but, unfortunately, it does run a little long. There is a lot to cover but the momentum stumbles with the two-hour run time. It’s not that things aren’t interesting, but shaving off some time would have helped keep up the pace.

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley has a lot of interesting moments and while Holmes is to blame, the idea that the mentality of Silicon Valley played a large part–just how much is more for the viewer to decide. Fake it till you make has worked for plenty of people in the past; it just really didn’t here.

About Kaitlyn Booth

Kaitlyn is the Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. She loves movies, television, comics, and political satire. She's a member of the UFCA and the GALECA. Feminist. Writer. Nerd. Follow her on twitter @katiesmovies and @safaiagem on instagram. She's also a co-host at The Nerd Dome Podcast. Listen to it at http://www.nerddomepodcast.com

twitter   facebook square   instagram   globe