The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2014)

We were somewhere around Wall Street when the drugs began to take hold
(spoiler notice)

The idea of Wall Street is a virus. Its vector is the human flaw of greed. The Wolf of Wall Street – based on a very real, very disturbing person's life – is a subtle but strong exposition of that contagion. The film starts with fresh-faced Jordan Belfort, here a youth still filled to the brim with ideals as much as a lust for fortune, out to lunch with an older shark. Cocaine is carelessly sniffed into a nostril, a hymn of ripping people off and making money, money, money pounded fist to chest. Jordan's eyes begin to sparkle. The film ends with the man, now himself the predator, before an audience of wide-mouthed aspirants, ready to believe. Greed isn't good, it's a plague.

But it's also the most ludicrously entertaining three hour movie you could hope for. In the hands of Martin Scorsese, teaming up once more with Leonardo De Caprio and aided expertly by the likes of Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey, this is a brilliantly wicked, funny picture. With the subject matter at hand you'd expect something along the lines of a Casino, or a Wall Street, with perhaps a smidgeon of The Devil's Advocate. You can feel the inevitable downturn coming and with that, surely a chilling descent. But if anything, it's Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. Not just in the drug-fueled, coke-addled, Quaaludes-drooling adventures of Jordan and his board of unethics, but specifically the carefree nature of it all.

This is a deliberate choice on the film's part: we never see the victims, and so any and all ramifications are for Jordan's personal and professional life. True, that's a hazardous landscape of its own, but it takes the sting out of the swindling of millions that typifies his Wall Street racket. The result is a fascinated look at the debauchery at Stratton Oakmont that neither glorifies nor condemns. Only afterward, upon reflection, do you realize how heinous it was. But during, the film sweeps you off your feet with crazy poolside parties, unimaginable airborne bacchanals and eye-popping sexual jungles in the office. Hell, even the broad physical comedy of Jordan, half paralyzed from over-aged narcotics, trying to escape a country club and enter his luxury vehicle looks like a damn lot of fun. The film seduces you, the viewer, luring you into this world with all the suaveness and forceful, honest passion its titular character (and his real-world counterpart!) uses on his clients and other such victims.

There's a dangerous thought in our world, or rather the absence of a thought, which is that the pursuit of money is the highest ideal in life. Though it has been overwhelmingly proven that having money doesn't make you happy above a certain, moderate income, the splendor of opulence draws vast hordes of people to cherish making a fortune over everything else. The real Belfort might warn as such as he tries to peddle his self-help get-rich-quick-schemes, but he oozes the disease, it overflows from him as it does from all the world's financial districts. It tempts otherwise solid people to become parasites upon the rest of mankind. In that respect, The Wolf of Wall Streets truest words are spoken right at the start, during that ill-fated lunch meeting which might as well have been the temptation in the nightly desert: “Nobody, and I don't care if you're Warren Buffet or Jimmy Buffet, nobody knows if the stock is gonna go up, down, sideways or in fucking circles. Least of all stockbrokers. It's all a fugazi, you know what a fugazi is? [...] Fairy dust. It doesn't exist, it's never landed, it is no matter, it's not on the elemental chart, it's not fucking real. We don't create shit. We don't build anything.”

Out of this nothing comes at least this richly humorous, dark comedy. Question is, was it worth all those millions and millions, the grinding of souls, and enough drugs on a daily basis to sedate Manhattan, Long Island and Queens for a month?

Roderick Leeuwenhart





7 comments:

  1. One powerful element to me in this movie is that their money-grabbing scheme is so obviously evil, that they never _need_ to show the victims. It may seem like they are hiding the evil by not showing it, but it is so obvious that I feel the movie still condemns this kind of business really strongly.

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    1. Oh, for sure! It carries its sinfulness on its sleeve while flaunting its opulence at you. That's what makes it so much more powerful than a straight-up morality play. Imagine a version of this holding up a warning finger...

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  2. I woke up from the fever dream right around the country club. I could barely stand to watch (but of course I did) the remainder of the film once the sheer force of Jordan stopped enthralling me. It was just horrific. And magnificent.
    Dibs

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  3. A touch too long, yet never slack, at three hours, TWOWS benefits from independent funding, Scorsese’s brass balls and an A-grade cast’s turbulent improvisations to emerge as an epic, boldly broad screwball comedy about the state of America, then and now.

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  4. Terence Winter's script is a natural and well-oiled machine that produces the words of a demigod. You couldn't make these things up.

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