The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley is a 2019 documentary about the entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes, who claimed to have invented a revolutionary blood-analysis machine and was eventually revealed to be a fraud. The story chronicles her building her company, her marketing of the Edison (despite the fact it didn't work), and repeated attempts to fix the problem before her fraud was discovered.
The documentary has been both praised as well as criticized for its handling of its subject matter. Many believe the work was too generous to Elizabeth Holmes, suggesting that her motives were good and she genuinely believed in the project versus was simply engaged in the long con.
Out for Blood had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 24, 2019. It was produced by HBO Documentary Films and Jigsaw Productions with a television premiere on March 18, 2019 on HBO as well as its streaming platforms.
See also the nonfiction book, Bad Blood that covers the same topic.
Contains examples of:
- All for Nothing: A massive amount of research and time was devoted to trying to make the Edison work as intended, even when most experts were able to tell from the concept stage that what people wanted from it was impossible. Averted if you believe the whole point was to make money and it never had to work. Either way, Theranos disintegrated as a company and is valueless today.
- Arc Words: "Fake it until you make it" is a Silicon Valley expression that is taken to its logical conclusion here.
- Becoming the Boast: A short segment on Thomas Edison focused on how he initially lied about being able to create an incandescent light bulb for months. He only succeeded shortly before his financial backers would finally demand to see the finished product. Edison's actions and success would set up Silicon Valley's "fake it till you make it" culture.
- Believing Their Own Lies: The reason so many people buy into Elizabeth Holmes' belief that she can change the world is that she seems to believe she can change the world. Her refusal to acknowledge the mechanical flaws in her machines makes it difficult to prove that she intentionally lied at various points.
- Broken Ace: Holmes is a brilliant, fearless entrepreneur who conquers male-dominated Silicon Valley and has the backing of people like former Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. She's also amoral and absolutely insane.
- Broken Pedestal: Many of Holmes's supporters and employees believe very deeply in her work, at the beginning at least.
- Bullying a Dragon: Elizabeth went after Henry Kissinger's grandson as well as attempted to force Rupert Murdoch into killing a story by the Wallstreet Journal.
- Con Man: The technology just plain doesn't work, and Holmes is covering that up from everybody.
- Contralto of Danger: Many viewers have commented on Holmes' unusually deep speaking voice.
- Establishing Character Moment: There's more than a few, but one that stands out is an incident recalled by one of Elizabeth's former employees who later became a whistleblower: she desperately tried to get Holmes to listen to her complaints that their blood testing machine was no where near capable of doing what they publicly claimed it could do (and which tech experts in the documentary point out are physically impossible). But she had to struggle to even get Elizabeth's attention, because she was far more focused on an upcoming marketing meeting for designing the machine's business logo. This sums up in microcosm all that Elizabeth Holmes ever actually was: a flashy presentation with a media-savvy PR campaign...wrapped around a non-existent product.
- Everyone Has Standards: Rupert Murdoch was a major Theranos shareholder but refused to kill a story about them that would lead to their demise. Possibly Subverted as he's just as likely as anyone to be upset at getting conned.
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Discussed. One of the former Theranos employees believes that the company's rise and fall began with one little lie that snowballed into a mess. Dr. Ariely compares it to a research project that proved people were more likely to cheat (or fudge the medical test results) when they believe its for charity. Emphasis on believe.
- Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Elizabeth Holmes stated her primary motivation was to help people be diagnosed for diseases earlier. Heavily Subverted in the end.
- Ignored Expert: Doctor Phyllis Gardner gives a Only Sane Man response in several segments, pointing out that none of Elizabeth's invention ideas could ever work.
- Implausible Deniability: Elizabeth Holmes claimed that she had no knowledge of her technology not working at one point.
- I Reject Your Reality: Holmes seems genuinely unable to accept anything she doesn't want to hear, mostly around how the invention she's been hyping up is simply not going to work.
- Karma Houdini: Elizabeth Holmes still has not been put on trial for her many crimes as of 2020 and is engaged to a billionaire.
- Limited Wardrobe: Regarding how she's always wearing black turtlenecks and pants, Elizabeth mentions In line with designing my life to be able to give every bit of energy I have to this, I have a closet that has a very large number of the exact same clothes and every single day, I put the same thing on.
- Loophole Abuse: The Theranos lawyers threaten to sue Tyler and Carryrou from the Wall Street Journal for "leaking trade secrets." Carreyrou is quick to question if that applies when Tyler has revealed that most of the Theranos tests are done by third party materials, not Theranos tech.
- Metaphorically True: Theranos used conventional laboratories with her competitors' technology to do the vast majority of her blood tests.
- Paper Tiger: Theranos essentially collapsed after one news article. It had only the Edison to justify its existence and no other technology or investments to keep it going.
- Ponzi: A non-money based example where Theranos worked by doing blood tests using their competitor's technology while pretending that they were using their better known but nonfunctional technology.
- Reality Ensues: The Edison was sold on lots of Artistic License Engineering, which turned out to be very hard if not impossible to execute by Theranos' engineers (i.e. a single drop of capillary blood is not as helpful as a vial of venal one, or the machine would freeze, break or downright explode!).
- Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Holmes and her company cozies up to people like George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Joe Biden, and various other people with big political connections, likely in the aim of bypassing FDA regulations that would prove their testing doesn't work.
- Stepford Smiler: Elizabeth Holmes is very good at seeming like nothing bothers her.
- So Proud of You: It takes George Shultz years to believe his grandson Tyler's insistence that Holmes' speeches don't match the hard data collection. Once he's realized he backed Theranos over his family, he praises Tyler for sticking to his morals in the face of such overwhelming pressure.
- Spiritual Successor:
- To Fyre, another documentary about an unhinged entrepreneur destroying people's lives through fraud.
- Also Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room which had some of the same production staff.
- Teen Genius: Elizabeth was nineteen when she made her groundbreaking "invention." Subverted in the fact it was science fiction.
- Tempting Fate: After a Theranos device received FDA approval for a herpes test, a scene is shown in the company where Elizabeth enters the break room while MC Hammers U Cant Touch This plays. This 'untouchable' status will be revoked soon...
- The Unblinking: The receptionist of Theranos commented that Holmes' intense, unblinking gaze was the first thing that she noticed about her.
- Unfortunate Names: Theranos was named as a Portmanteau of Therapy and Diagnosis. It also, appropriately, sounds a lot like the greek words for tyrant and death: tyrannos and thanatos.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Elizabeth Holmes was the darling of the media due to being a beautiful young entrepeneaur who looked like she'd broken the glass ceiling with her genius.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Any employee who questions Holmes or the company.