I just wrote an article for The Huffington Post about my feelings about “The Wolf of Wall Street” and am reprinting it here as well because a) it’s about the transmission of toxic societal values and b) Wall Street has so much to do with our film. Looking forward to hearing what you think as well.
Here’s the post…
Years from now, after the human race has been mostly wiped off the face of this planet, some surviving anthropologist may look to the film “The Wolf of Wall Street” for clues as to what happened to us.
This future anthropologist will likely have an ‘a-ha’ moment as the demise of western civilization becomes evidently clear from viewing this artifact.
Don’t get me wrong, as a filmmaker and a filmgoer I think Mr. Scorcese’s film is a masterpiece of cinema. The characters are rich (pun intended), the situations spontaneous and entertaining and its three hours running time moves like an MX Missile.
However, let’s be clear what this film really is: a glorification of the worst in us, an advertisement for Dionysian values, a cheerleader for our demise. It’s like watching a snuff film – but with you and I being the ones who are killed.
Harsh, huh? It’s only a movie, right? And the filmmakers and Leo keep telling us that it’s a cautionary tale of gross excess or a reflection of our own chiseled souls. And they’re right to a point. Certainly, my ambivalence stems from the fact that good art makes us reflect on our own condition, as this film does magnificently when viewed by people of intelligence pokies online and thoughtfulness.
But then I think of the myriad of people who have been poorly educated and brought up by a cynical system that perpetuates the value of dollars over people and I worry about how this film will reverberate in their brains.
These people will not get the subtleties of this comic/horror masterpiece. They won’t get the forlorn conclusion that to live as Jordan Belfort did is to lead to personal and societal doom. No, they will want to be Jordan Belfort. To live as he did and even perhaps to desire his ultimate fate as psychologically that’s what they’ve been told they deserve anyway.
Just like in the scene in the film where Belfort’s company was swamped by inspired, wet-eared, young (mostly) men who had read the Forbes article that damned Belfort, so too will more young people watch this film and be craving to drink from Belfort’s Dionysian well. The ‘Wolf’ will be awoken in these people and the toxic, vampire machine that is Wall Street will be given yet another much needed injection of new, disposable blood to satisfy its greed-addled arm.
A few years ago I remember speaking to a vet from the first gulf war. He told me that when he wasn’t in action, he and the other soldiers would watch war movie marathons:
“It didn’t matter,” he told me, ”whether we were watching a gung-ho John Wayne war film or an anti-war film like “The Deerhunter” or “Born on the Fourth of July.” We didn’t get the subtle messages, only the rat-a-tat action that would get us pumped.”
The filmmakers behind the remake of “Scarface” were horrified when Al Pacino’s character, Tony Montana started being printed on T-shirts worn by gang members in LA and New York and real life gangsters began emulating the lifestyle. That film was intended as a cautionary tale as was Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street,” but unfortunately, by nature of the needs of cinema to make subject matter as exciting as possible, any moral message in the end is pulverized by the likes of charismatic characters like Gordon Gekko, Tony Montana and now Jordan Belfort.
The moral message at the end of “The Wolf of Wall Street” is flimsy at best. Spoiler alert beware, forget about the fact that Belfort loses his wife, his fortune and goes to jail for a brief stint at a tennis club/ low security prison. No, the film’s final message is in the credits in which we see that this film is based on Jordan Belfort’s sensational book: if you shit on people, break the law and ultimately rape the American Dream – but do it with sufficient panache and sensation – then the likes of a filmmaker like Martin Scorcese might very well be interested in making a movie about your utterly useless, scum-sucking life.
In “The Wolf of Wall Street”, greed is no longer just good. It’s phantasmagoric. So move aside, Gordon Gekko. You and your antiquated movie are no longer needed. Now we have Jordan Belfort for Wall Street’s new recruitment poster.