Saturday, January 25, 2014
The Wolf of Wall Street (movie)
The Wolf of Wall Street is a stunning portrayal of a man who is so rich that he can live in any way he wishes - sex, drugs, boats, drugs, cars, drugs, houses - did I mention drugs? For three hours we are taken on the frenetic, mesmerising journey of a horrible but extremely persuasive man that sucked thousands of poor people dry of their money and spent it on himself. It is difficult to describe the absolute decadence of the lifestyle of this self-centred, hedonistic, true-life stockbroker who defrauded countless victims and lived to get away with it (he served only nearly two years in prison after providing the names of many of his associates to the FBI). Leonardo DiCaprio is riveting as Jordan Belfort. His presence on the screen is awesome from the opening scene (which I won't describe here). The story of Belfort (based on his own memoir) ploughs on like an unstoppable train and is completely over the top in its excess and debauchery. There are some very funny moments which catch you by surprise - surprise that you can be laughing at such outrageous and antisocial behaviour. The cinematography is brilliant and emulates the dizzying frenzy of people out of control.
But what does all this mean? Why tell this story? It's hard to know. There has been considerable controversy surrounding this movie. Some have argued that the movie is essentially promoting rather than criticising the lifestyle of Belfort - glorifying excess, greed, the objectification of women, drug use. Belfort never suffers any serious consequences for his crimes or his lifestyle. According to some, the movie seems to celebrate rather than condemn.
However, by the end of the movie we feel as though we have vicariously experienced the gluttony and excessive that it raises serious questions about the ethics of such a lifestyle. There's a powerful scene near the beginning of the movie where an employee of Belfort's brokering company humiliates herself by allowing her head to be shaved just to get $10,000. Money is everything and the vulnerable are abused and trampled on as if they are mere objects in the pursuit of riches.
Another telling moment is when Jordan Belfort's life is threatened during a storm while he's travelling on his yacht. He is desperate to find drugs to deaden the reality of what is happening and shouts, ’I am not gonna die sober!’ There seems to be a frantic panic underneath this exclamation as if, in that moment, the vacuity of his life becomes evident - at least that's my reading of the moment. It's as if a glimmer of reality broke through even if it was extinguished immediately.
Finally, throughout the movie, we never see any of the victims. It's as if they don't exist. And clearly, for Belfort, they don't. Humans are merely a means to an end. There are clearly some people who practice unethically, engage in criminal activity, all with impunity and without consequences. Belfort was obviously one of these.
But there's something fundamentally uncomfortable about all this. And that discomfort rescues this film from being a celebration of Belfort's life. Instead it's like those parents who taught the horror of smoking by forcing their kids to smoke a whole cigar until they were sick; or like chocolate factories who let their employees gorge themselves on chocolate until they can't eat anymore and they stop. Consuming this movie will make you feel bloated with excess and you'll recognise that ancient saying that the love of money is the root of all evil.
WARNING: This movie is R rated in Australia and the US. Believe the rating! There is explicit sex, drug use, and adult themes - and lots of them.
overall=**** ; acting=***** ; story=**** ; humour=**** ; soundtrack=*** ; cinematography=****