Wolves in Sheep's Clothing: A Commentary on "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Martin Scorcese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” starring the ever-talented, Leonardo Dicaprio, is one hell of a movie. From its three hour run time, to the 506 F-bombs, the drinking and pill popping, lavish homes and luxury items, this film is a thing of excess in every way. Scorsese is not shy about drugs and sex and money, which is fitting, because neither is his protagonist. Jordan Belfort is the epitome of capitalism and displays all the selfish, greedy, money-grubbing behaviour one expects from a dirty white collar con artist. The film exposes (again, as it’s been done before) the wild and unsavoury underbelly of Wall Street, something many audience members may not have known was quite so ugly. So of course, you’d expect that some people wouldn’t like the film. In fact, I’m sure that some people hate it. More conservative audiences are bound to be offended by the strong language, frequent nudity and scenes of debauchery. The film is in some ways gaudy, and over-the-top, and really in-your-face, but to suggest that “The Wolf of Wall Street” it is glorifying the kind of greed and excess that the it portrays, and that it might encourage people to take similar actions, is absolutely ridiculous.
Firstly, if an individual watches this movie, and thinks to themselves, “Hey, I should rob innocent and unsuspecting people of their life savings, so that I can fill my pockets and live a lavish life,” I’d say that person’s moral compass was broken long before they even entered the theatre. A person with any of sort decency is not going to watch “The Wolf of Wall Street” and read it as a step-by-step manual for happiness. While I enjoyed the film, at no point did I think that Jordan Belfort would make a great role model. Sure, I aspired to his wealth, because like most North Americans, the idea of a private yacht on which I could sail the Caribbean appeals to me. But I didn’t wish to get to the top by stepping on the heads of average Joes and Janes, like myself. I, and I’m certain most other movie-goers, don’t wish to climb the ladder that way. Because, as we’ve been taught time and time again, the higher the climb, the harder the fall, and (SPOILER ALERT) fall is exactly what Jordan Belfort did.
With that being said, how can we call this film a glorification of white collar crime and the luxuries it affords, when the protagonist eventually has to face the music? It isn’t as if he robs all these people, makes love to his girlfriend on a bed of their money, and then rides off into the sunset, never to bear the consequences of his dastardly deeds. Like most villains, the ride comes to a crashing end. It’s so with nearly every Hollywood movie. The villain, no matter how good his plan or fantastic his life, at some point, comes face-to-face with what he’s done and pays for his crimes. I don’t know about the rest of you, but a few years of living the life, is certainly not worth a few years of life behind bars. If Scorsese is glorifying theft and deception in his film, he’s surely highlighting the consequences as well. The pros and cons are clearly presented, and it’s up to the viewer to weigh them up.
larger problem is not that people could actually perceive this film as a promotion of greed and selfishness, but the very fact that people look to a thing like a Hollywood movie for moral direction in the first place. Hollywood sells us dreams and fantasies. And lies. It isn’t real. Haven’t we seen enough standard love stories and fantastical adventures by now to figure out that movies are meant to entertain? Certainly, we can learn things from film, as film is art, and art intimates life and vice versa, but if you’re counting on finding all the answers to life’s question in a movie theatre, you have some re-evaluating to do. If a movie about debauchery and crime makes you want to pursue that kind of life, that’s a reflection of the person you are, not of the film’s intent. That’s the thing about art: what you get out of it has an awful lot to do with what you put in. So if “The Wolf of Wall Street” gave you the green light to pursue what is so obviously a problematic lifestyle, then you were already at the starting line, engine revving. And if you worry about others seeing the film in this light, you ought to reconsider how negatively you judge the morality of your fellow man.
The simple conclusion: don’t see the film if you don’t want to. It really isn’t an “E for everyone” type of movie, and you’d be wasting your money if you’re going to spend the entire three hours entirely appalled and not the least bit entertained. But if you can handle the sex and the drinks and the drugs and the profanity, and you want the theatrical ride of your life, go see “The Wolf of Wall Street.” It will keep you perched on the edge of your seat, and your mouth slightly ajar, either in awe, disgust, or utter disbelief (or perhaps a bit of all three). It’s controversial, it’s brash, it’s irreverent and it’s honest. And that my friends, is brilliant art.