The Wolf of Wall Street is extremely entertaining, to say the least, for all of its 180 minutes. A narrative of Jordan Belfort’s life, the movie is exciting shot after exciting shot. Partying, sex, drugs, alcohol, money, oh and more drugs. This is the story of a man who worked his way to the top in unconventional and extremely illegal ways only to stumble right back down to the bottom again. It’s a story that’s been told again and again. Oh, but this time it’s different. Scorsese chooses to portray Belfort’s life in such an exaggerated and over-the-top style to emphasize how over-the-top Belfort himself exactly was. The funny thing is, as the audience, we get a sick sort of enjoyment and satisfaction out of observing this greed driven man who, quite honestly, shows no signs of remorse. This ultimately raises the question of who is truly at fault here; Belfort or the people of society who fantasize of living a life exactly like his?
Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) became a stock broker in 1987 at a well-established firm of Wall Street. That is, until he was let go after the stock market crash that would later be referred to as Black Monday. Again unemployed but with big aspirations, Belfort gets a job at a much smaller company that deals with “penny stocks” (stocks in small, public companies that aren’t worth much). Belfort not only succeeds here, but comes up with his own system in which he sells these pretty much worthless stocks to very wealthy investors by deceiving them into believing it will be worth it. This leads to what eventually becomes the creation of Belfort’s own firm, Stratton Oakmont, and Belfort himself becoming a millionaire from nothing but lies and corruption.
Let me just say that this role absolutely belonged to Leonardo DiCaprio. Yeah, I’m a fan of his work and acknowledge that he is a really good actor, but never have I been the huge advocate for him getting that Oscar that everybody seems to be obsessed with him getting. However, I can honestly say that this is the best I have seen Leo. We all know that his acting style could be described as “exaggerated” and in the case of Jordan Belfort that is exactly what works. Everything about Belfort’s lifestyle is extravagant, including his cars, his women, his vices, etc. They call him the “Wolf of Wall Street” not just because his alpha male mentality exhibits success and dominance in his line of work, but because that mentality also exhibits a certain animosity about him and everything he stands for. This is most prominent in the scenes in which we witness Belfort giving his employees these really outrageous and blown up “pep talks” that include lots of shouting and slobbering that closely resembles a rabid pack of dogs barking and drooling over a juicy steak. It is these scenes that make us wonder if this is the sort of lifestyle worth idolizing; a lifestyle where money is the pure motivator for everything and everybody’s goal is the exact same…to become filthy rich.
The saddest thing about this film is not in the disgusting way in which women are portrayed as objects or the way hard drugs are glorified and snorted off of every body part you could imagine or any of that other stuff that gave the film its well-deserved “R” rating. The true tragedy here is that people will see this movie and they will idolize Jordan Belfort. Never mind the fact that wealth was the only thing that was of worth of Belfort and once that was taken away from him he simply had nothing left. One of the scenes that really speaks on this is towards the end, in which Belfort is more than likely going to prison and his wife has just informed him that she is leaving and taking the kids. He is sitting in his car, which he has just crashed into some sort of wall, with blood pouring out of a cut above one of his eyebrows forming what resembles a bloody tear running down his face. He was the owner of all the money he could ever need in a lifetime but what good does all that do for him in this moment? Truly though, people will see this film and regard it as a fantasy for their wealth-driven dreams. They will not catch on to the fact that their own idolization of this story of debauchery and corruption itself proves the point that Scorsese seems to be making. Yes, we have all seen a movie or two or three about a man who has it all only to see it come crashing down but Scorsese does it this time in such a way that we aren’t left with just disgust or antipathy of Belfort but instead we actually kind of indulge in watching his journey to the top only to ponder lately about “why” exactly we loved it so much.
I’ll go ahead and spoil the ending by telling you that Belfort gets out of prison after only a few years and becomes a motivational speaker (suiting). The film closes with a shot of the audience of one of Belfort’s motivational speaking seminars. The camera pans over a crowd of silent faces of everyday people, looking towards Belfort with a certain awe and hope that they might become rich and live the life that he has had. I must admit, The Wolf of Wall Street is a highly entertaining ride. It’s funny, it’s exhilarating, and it seems that there is never a dull moment. Its three hours were barely felt by me, as my eyes were constantly glued to the screen absorbing everything that was going on. However, beneath the flashiness and adulterated entertainment is a dark message that sets this film apart from every other film about corruption and Wall Street. This message doesn’t put the blame on the wealthy, but instead shifts the blame to us. A society obsessed with money and becoming rich quick. A society constantly wanting more. As the film fades to black with the last image of those faces of average yet hopeful people burned into our minds we are reminded that the journey from rags to riches, despite stories like Jordan Belfort’s being told, is a dream that will always be desired.