The podcast I host together, The 250, has just finished a season of coverage of director Martin Scorsese. The weekend before last, we talked about scorseses The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s a fun, broad discussion that goes into the film in depth. When I saw the film and talked about the film, I was thinking about portraying Jordan Belfort.
Martin Scorsese was seventy-one years old when The Wolf of Wall Street was released and had a filmography that spanned six decades.
As such, it’s encouraging that Scorsese had a movie like this The Wolf of Wall Street in him. The film runs for three hours, but moves with impressive and exhausting energy. Critic Robbie Collin described The Wolf of Wall Street as “A picture that would have exhausted a director half his age.” In fact, it seems fair to say that the film has exhausted some of its viewers. The Wolf of Wall Street was the highest grossing film of Scorsese’s career, but there is some evidence that it split among audiences – a controversial result “C” CinemaScore.
Indeed, the film deserves no lack of outrage. Scorsese himself was reportedly approached at a screening for the Academy of Arts and Sciences for feature films by veterans who sang “Shame on you!” The portrayal of greed and excess in the film sparked moral panic. Legitimate concerns have been raised about where the money to fund the film was coming from. There was also the sensible observation that Scorsese had constructed The Wolf of Wall Street in a way that obscures the victims of Jordan Belfort.
This, of course, is something Scorsese’s films have always done, and one way they have consistently made audiences uncomfortable by being effectively immersed in a world ruled by hostile and dangerous characters. taxi driver rarely ventured outside of Travis Bickle’s head, forcing the audience to confront “God’s lonely man.” Wild bull refused to pathologize or explain Jake LaMotta, and refused to reduce his psychology to mundane cause and effect. Henry Hill was the focus Goodfellasbut the film itself suggested that it should not be trusted.
Scorsese’s output is often framed in religious terms, and there is a strong spirituality that runs through his work. It’s obviously most obvious in movies like that The last temptation of Christ, Kundun or remain silent, but it’s a constant throwing line – even if religious authority is defined by its absence, with casino I feel like a story about what happens when man believes that God is not watching. However, Scorsese’s films are also about doubts, challenging audiences with fears that there may not be an outside referee to balance the scales.
The Wolf of Wall Street offers little emotional catharsis, little security that people like Belfort will be punished for their crimes or that the victims will be compensated. After all, it was clear in 2013 that no one would indeed responsible for the financial crisis would be held accountable. Scorsese stated in interviews that the anger is the The Wolf of Wall Street was part of the point of the movie. “It should touch a nerve!” He insisted on interviews around the film’s release and explained why he refused to offer a more moralistic film.
Of course taxi driver and Wild bull and Goodfellas before, The Wolf of Wall Street condemns his subjects. Of course, there are plenty of reports of stockbrokers on Wall Street loving the movie, just as much as many gangsters loved The Godfather. However, it is highly unlikely that any reasonable person would leave the company The Wolf of Wall Street might feel sympathy or warmth for Jordan Belfort, or anyone who pays attention to the film could imagine that even if they avoided jail or bankruptcy, their lifestyle would lead to something other than catastrophe and betrayal.
More than that, The Wolf of Wall Street is notable for his refusal to glorify Belfort himself. The film consistently portrays its subject as an idiot defined only by its cravings I would, all impulses and no control. Indeed, part of this Scorsian spirituality shines through. Belfort often seems less than human, incapable of the reasoning, self-control, and empathy that elevates a person. To frame the representation in Catholic terms, the elements that indicate the existence of a soul. The Wolf of Wall Street is it about an animal more than a person.
Belfort introduces The Wolf of Wall Street to the audience in the style of the infomercials he will later film. Specifically, the music and audio in the background of the scene where his second wife Naomi is introduced is the same audio track that later takes the audience through the luxury yacht that shares her name. Belfort corrects the color of his Ferrari – it was white, “Like Don Johnson in Miami Vice” – and pretty much the idea that Belfort is packing itself up for the home audience.
This introduction is linked to the film’s closing scene, which focuses on Belfort’s exploitation of his own narrative and fame in order to continue to exploit the gullible. In a gigantic seminar, Belfort commissions the first row with a seemingly simple mandate: “Sell me this pen.” Belfort always sells something. Mostly he sells himself and his lifestyle. The Wolf of Wall Street often feels like the sales pitch Belfort put together for itself.
This is not a novel approach for Scorsese. His films are often very subjective. Goodfellas effectively, Henry Hill handed enough celluloid to hang himself and The Wolf of Wall Street does the same with Belfort. The film never purports to offer an objective or unbiased view of Belfort. Instead, it suggests to Belfort how he wants to be seen. The results are convincing and show how disconnected Belfort is from reality.
There is meaning everywhere The Wolf of Wall Street that Belfort tries to present himself to the perspective viewer in the best possible light, but he lacks the necessary empathy to fully understand how to do it. As a result, the film is full of transparent and contradicting, selfish anecdotes that Belfort seems to believe allow audiences to live with – and, as the film implies, allow Belfort to live with himself. Belfort, however, lives so far outside of human norm that even the curated “at best” Version of yourself is still monstrous.
In a way, this feels like an extension of what Henry Hill is trying to do Goodfellas. (In fact, it’s noteworthy that, while narrating the entire film, Hill only speaks directly to the camera during a literal trial.) Hill offers a variety of justifications for his life as a criminal, from portraying the mob as an essential social one Service to talking about how his career led some neighborhood kids to carry his mother’s groceries for them, “out of respect.”
It’s interesting to compare Belfort to Hill. Hill is a deeply uncomfortable character, but he’s allowed at least a touch of romantic fantasy. When the audience is initially asked to see Henry through the eyes of Karen, he looks like a charming figure of manhood; It is easy to understand why a woman is drawn to such a figure that offers an escape from the mundane. It helps that Hill exudes a very traditional and old-fashioned machismo, an elevated masculinity that can be tempting in the right situation.
The Wolf of Wall Street rejects even this fig leaf very bluntly. The characters in The Wolf of Wall Street aren’t hyper masculine men like the ones in Goodfellas;; they are figures of absurdity. Chester could dangle a man from a building, but he looks absurd. Rugrat tries to hide his baldness with an unconvincing wig, more Morrie than Jimmy Conway. Donny Azoff is a figure of camp absurdity. It is perhaps noteworthy that the only character in the film who uses a gun (and is filmed to make it look impressive) is straight arrow FBI agent Patrick Denham.
Instead the men from The Wolf of Wall Street are treated as inherently absurd. Whenever Belfort gets physical, it’s weird rather than effective. Even Brad, who is featured as the coolest of the set (Brad is “the guy [Jordan] really wanted “and it is noteworthy that he never did Really makes him do weights to impress the kids around him is instantly treated as a figure of fun. He’s creepy across from Zip and tries to get a pair of his sister’s underwear. He yells at his mother through the kitchen window like a sitcom character. (“Hey, Ma, we have chicken or what? Ma! “)
Likewise, Jordan’s self-rationalization is less convincing than Henry Hill’s. Early on, Jordan tried to present his linchpin, from rip-offing workers to robbing large companies, as one that had a moral foundation. “These stocks, these companies, are they like crappy companies?” asks his first wife Teresa. “Wouldn’t you feel better if you sold this stuff to rich people who can afford to lose all that money?” Of course, it would be far more profitable for Belfort itself to rip off rich people, as the film recognizes, but the design benefits Belfort.
Belfort later tries to soften Agent Denham’s heart with a sobbing story about how active he is helps his customers. “Take, for example, I have this one child, right?” Jordan begins. “Went to environmental science school, something like that. He was bogged down on student loans. It found his mother needed triple bypass surgery. “ He insists, “But we launched it at the right time and picked the right stock. We gave him the right guidance. Boom! His whole life changed overnight. I have to take his mother to the best hospital in New York City. “
Of course the beauty of The Wolf of Wall Street is that the film immediately makes it clear that this is it Not actually a story of Belfort’s selfless propriety when faced with the plight of a desperate man. Most obviously, the money didn’t actually save the client’s mother. “It didn’t work out for her, admittedly, she sadly passed away.” Belfort admits. “But we gave him this opportunity. Do you know what I’m saying?”
Second, it is implicitly an attempt to bribe Dunham, with the implication that with “The right instructions” The agent could generate a significant return on investment. “I would do this for anyone, you know, for anyone who needs the right guidance.” Belfort promises. When Dunham points out that Belfort tried to bribe him, the criminal immediately jumps to a technical defense. “The US Criminal Code requires an exact dollar number to be given in order to exchange services.” Belfort insists.
Perhaps most tellingly, though, Belfort ultimately benefited from even this seemingly heartfelt story of helping a young man care for his dying mother. Not just because he’s telling Dunham the story and presenting himself as a hero, but also “An exact dollar number.” On hearing the story, Dunham asks: “What does an intern do in such a business?” Belfort replies, “Well, in this situation, in this particular deal, and it was a deal north of half a million dollars.”
Repeated over and over again The Wolf of Wall StreetBelfort is trotting out these kind of anecdotes to present itself as a heroic soul who has done something good in the world. Later in the film, he gathers his troops and tells them the story of how he turned Kimmie “The beautiful, sophisticated woman she is today: a woman who wears $ 3,000 worth of Armani suits, who drives a brand new Mercedes-Benz, a woman who winters in the Bahamas and summers in the Hamptons spends! “
She showed up for an interview almost broke and was just trying to keep her son at school. She asked for a check for five thousand dollars, but Belfort wrote her a check for four times that amount. Again Belfort presents this as an act of selfless charity on his part. It is clear, however, that Belfort made its own investment. “I love you Jordan” Kimmie promises when he tells this story. Belfort uses this to rally the troops around him and to make sure he stays in business, despite having struck a deal that would have allowed him to retire without charge.
There are some other notable examples of this trend. In one sequence, his friend Donnie Azoff suffocates on Belfort’s floor with a piece of ham in his throat. Belfort seems to be considering letting Donnie die; He had just been on the phone talking about illegal business. He then betrayed Belfort by wearing a wire and rattling it to the authorities. Belfort portrays himself as a victim of this story, trying to warn Azoff that he is carrying a wire, only so that Azoff can hand him over and take him to prison.
This sequence was designed by Belfort to present himself as a victim. Belfort positions himself as the man who saved Azoff several times. It was Belfort who gave Azoff his job. Belfort pulled the ham out of his throat on the kitchen floor. Belfort refused to betray Azoff to the authorities even though Azoff had betrayed him. However, The Wolf of Wall Street makes it clear that Belfort is not to be taken at its word.
Azoff’s revival takes place in the middle of a sequence that almost immediately turns out to be largely fictional, and is comically juxtaposed with the cartoon logic of Popeye on television, as if to emphasize the unreality of everything. In addition, Belfort hesitates even in its most selfless moment. He thinks about letting Azoff die. He is only stimulated to action by Naomi, who begs him “Jordan, he’s a father! He’s got royal children!” (Again, Belfort seems to be outsourcing his conscience to the women in his life.)
The Wolf of Wall Street repeatedly draws attention to the extent to which Belfort controls the narrative. It does this by occasionally drifting towards something suggestive of introspection or self-reflection and then sharply moving away from it. This is most evident in the way the story occasionally drifts towards the idea of death and the darkness that lurks at the edge of the frame for the humans trapped in its orbit.
At one point, Belfort boasts of his sexual antics involving a salesman. When he recounts how he and Azoff had sex with her in the office, he casually confirms her marriage to Ben Jenner, a realtor with the firm. “Then he got depressed and killed himself three years later” Belfort explains that the film depicts the aftermath of Jenner’s suicide. Belfort does not allow himself a moment of introspection and turns sharply to another anecdote with a casual one “however …”
It happens again when he recounts his last interactions with his old friend Brad. “The sad thing was, two years later he was dead” Belfort states. “Massive heart attack. Thirty-five. Mozart died at the same age. Not that they have a hell of a lot in common, but … Anyway, I don’t know why that crossed my mind. “ That being said, it’s interesting what suggests Belfort isn’t quite Just as he has the narrative under control that occasionally a glimmer from the outside breaks through – and his reaction is also to quickly push this darkness aside in order to continue his sales pitch.
There is something interesting about all of this, as it is interesting to wonder who is trying to convince Belfort with those little flashes of conscience. Are they cynically designed to clumsily play with the audience’s sympathies, which are as transparently structured as any of its other rushes? Or maybe they are something more personal and deeper. Are these small and unconvincing selfless gestures, which often do not meet the bare minimum of human decency and reflect his self-rationalization, an attempt to convince yourself that he is a decent person?
This explains why The Wolf of Wall Street makes so little room for Belfort’s victims. After all, it is his Story. Belfort would hardly recognize the life he had ruined other than face the mortality of Brad or Ben. Belfort’s victims are recognized in the film, albeit not in rooms where they consider themselves victims. You will be heard on phone calls about how they are going to celebrate a deal with a beer. They insist that those who don’t hear Belfort are “lazy” and “Should get a job at McDonalds.”
This is the key to Belford’s philosophy. Nobody sees themselves as a victim, even if they line up for seminars that enrich Belford. Belford attracts its victims by constructing the basic narrative of capitalism: that they can get rich quick if they want it badly. Of course, there is a risk that this may sound like a victim’s fault, but instead it suggests broader social complicity. Jordan doesn’t necessarily make something up. He just takes advantage of the basic American myth and the greed of his fellow man.
Belfort may also position this as a kind of mirror image of Jake LaMotta Wild bull or Travis Bickle in taxi driver. The bot of these characters seemed to be manifestations of something further in consciousness rather than completely unique creations. Bickle was a taxi driver who seemed to be gathering all the anger, hatred, and violence that permeated the city of the era while bearing Vietnam’s ongoing trauma. Likewise, LaMotta existed in a violent world, but he just wasn’t able to rise above it.
Belfort is arguably a figure who is inextricably linked to a certain facet of American identity and who embodies a certain set of ideals. This is not to suggest that Belfort was a product of that environment or that it was not responsible for its actions. Instead, the relationship seems to be closer to the symbiosis. Belfort ended up in the right place at the right time to feed on the greed in broader culture. Belfort’s greed is only stronger.
After all, one of the great recurring tensions inside The Wolf of Wall Street is how skilled Belfort is at what he does. A cheater and a sucker, Belfort makes a sizable fortune by convincing other people to let him handle their money. However, the film repeatedly and deliberately suggests that Belfort is not extraordinarily clever, or clever, or wise. He’s not a genius or an artist. It’s just pure greed.
This is most evident in his interactions with Agent Denham. Belfort’s private investigator expressly states that “I told you, whatever you say to him, he will use it against you. Don’t you understand? He’s smart, you’re stupid.” Even outside of the fact that Belfort clumsily and repeatedly incriminates himself, he seems like an idiot. When Belfort offers Agent Denham a drink on his yacht, Denham explains: “You know what? The office doesn’t allow us to drink while we’re at sea.” Belfort replies, “Moron! Of course. “
This lack of intelligence is a recurring motive. During his seduction by Naomi, he tries to find a way into her apartment. “Come on Jordan, figure out a way to get to her apartment.” he pushes himself as the two sit in uncomfortable silence – Naomi is clearly waiting for Belfort to move. Belfort is later so disoriented and insane that he tries to sleep with Naomi’s mom and pop. He cannot even understand academically that courtesy (and some level of empathy) can exist outside of carnal impulses.
This portrayal of Belfort is interesting because it arguably undermines and eschews the conventional logic of scam stories and the myth of the state of emergency. Many stories of hustlers and cheaters offer some sort of Darwinian logic and insist that those who come out victorious triumph through ingenuity or wit. Often this intelligence is paired with recklessness and selfishness, but these types of greedy characters are often portrayed as smart and cunning – characters like Mister Potter in It is a wonderful life or Gordon Gekko in Wall street.
In contrast, The Wolf of Wall Street rejects such a Darwinian subtext. Belfort isn’t particularly smart or clever or clever. Indeed, The Wolf of Wall Street Perhaps he pioneered an approach to depicting the affluent elite on screen after the Great Recession, which rejected traditional narratives of intelligence for more chaotic and incompetent depictions of the upper class in films such as Knife out, Ready or Not, parasite and other. Belfort isn’t rich because he’s better or smarter. He is rich because he is shameless and because he lacks restraint or moral dignity.
Similar to Wild bull, The Wolf of Wall Street refused to pathologize Belfort. “Most of the Wall Street donkeys I break were born in the mansion.” explains Agent Denham, handily avoiding a convenient Freudian tale for Belfort’s greed and lust. “Their fathers are fools, just like their fathers before them. But you … you, Jordan, you have this path all by yourself. Good for you little man ” In fact, it’s no small irony that Belfort’s father is one of the most moral characters in the film, and is literally warning his son. “One day the chickens will come home to sleep.”
The film refuses to offer anything that corresponds to a traditional origin story for Belfort. In its earliest chronological appearance, Belfort gets off a bus to Wall Street. He is not completely formed, but its core self is largely already defined. “I always wanted to be rich” he tells. “So let me go back. I’m twenty-two years old, just married and already a money-crazy little shit. So what do i do I am going to the one place on earth that corresponds to my high-minded ambitions. “ That’s it. That’s all that The Wolf of Wall Street Offers explaining Belfort’s psychology.
Instead, the early sections of the film focus on Belfort learning how to surrender to the part of himself that already exists, rather than actually changing as a person. His big revelation while working with Mark Hanna is that Beflort doesn’t even have to wear a mask to hide his ambitions. He doesn’t even have to wrap his greed in half-hearted platitudes like “When you are making money with your customers at the same time, everyone benefits.” Belfort does not create the monster in himself, he just learns to feed it.
That’s the irony of The Wolf of Wall Street. As Hanna explains, the stock market is so abstract that it is almost imaginary. “We can’t do shit!” Hanna explains her deal to Belfort. “We are not building anything.” As such, the product is immaterial and has no corresponding value. Hanna describes it as “Elven dust.” Throughout the film, Belfort makes vague allusions to the mechanics before suggesting that the mechanics don’t matter. The bottom line was they “Made more money than that [they] knew what to do with it. “
Hanna sums up the work they work as “All day, decimals, high frequencies” which is “Very sour mustard over the shoulders sh! T.” This idea of abstraction is interesting and often contrasts with the more visceral and material aspects of the film – the way Scorsese emphasizes hedonism in the game, often with slow-motion shots or intense close-ups during drug sequences that give a sense of texture for the world. Belfort describes money as a drug, and the film treats it as such. However, it is also clear that money is God.
The abstraction of the industry contrasts with the basic nature of the people who inhabit it. The Wolf of Wall Street is populated with images of animals. “The world of investing can be a jungle” promises to open for Stratton Oakmont. “Cops. Bears. ” Belfort adopts the nickname “Wolf” for himself, while Stratton Oakmont takes the lion as a mascot. At some point his father reprimands him “What’s that? Ramar of the jungle, for heaven’s sake?” As Belfort steps aside his deal, Denham receives a call. “He’s back in the ocean. Happy hunting. “
Indeed, The wolf of the wall Street even employs animals in several places to emphasize this. When Azoff discovers a young broker cleaning his goldfish bowl before a stock launch, Azoff humiliates the young man by eating his goldfish in front of the office. At another point, Belfort is walking across the floor with a chimpanzee on roller skates. It does this, of course, without delving into the less overtly animal behavior, from the frenzy on the camp floor to Belfort’s indulgence for his carnal impulses until Toby Welch smashes a baseball bat with an expression of strength.
Perhaps this explains why so much of The Wolf of Wall Street is fascinated by the idea of power, especially who has power in a certain scene. Indeed, The Wolf of Wall Street It is important that Belfort assert power over others in dangerous and reckless situations – especially with the helicopter pilot in the open scenes and with “Captain Ted” on the yacht. Logic dictates that the most qualified person should be responsible, but Belfort clearly has sufficient powers to assert his authority.
This power dynamic is evident in the relationship between Belfort and Naomi. In their early arguments, Belfort seems to maintain control over Naomi – particularly by streaming footage in which she exposes herself to security outside. Money is just one way of maintaining power. In their last scene together, Naomi wields her own power over Belfort in a particularly uncomfortable sex scene and uses her sexuality to humiliate and embarrass him. There is something very original and bestial in the dynamics in which it is played The Wolf of Wall Street.
In fact, this may be the reason for this small space The Wolf of Wall Street ensures that Belfort’s victims are treated as they are: as a power dynamic. Belfort’s cheating on customers on the phone is treated as a spectator sport in several places in the film. In a memorable sequence, he even mimes seduction as a sexual act. In the language of The Wolf of Wall StreetThis is an act of dominance. It is the strong prey of the weak. Belfort spends so much of the movie acting like an apex predator, and so it thrives in an environment that rewards it.
Indeed, it is noteworthy that Belfort’s true decline begins when other characters demonstrate the ability to take control of him. At the beginning of the film, he can turn the flight to his bachelorette party into a grotesque orgy in the sky. Later, when he is found unable to restrain himself on another flight, he is forcibly restrained with a series of seat belts. Belfort only understands power and such The Wolf of Wall Street works on a very brutal and very primitive logic – something below reason or logic or thought.
The Wolf of Wall Street repeatedly suggests that there is something fundamentally missing in Belfort, a spark of humanity completely defined by its absence. It is common to consider The Wolf of Wall Street in the context of Scorsese’s other films about masculinity and greed, such as Goodfellas and casino. This makes sense, and there is certainly a lot of thematic and narrative overlap. However, The Wolf of Wall Street occasionally feels like a much more spiritual movie.
It is a meditation on the human soul and what it must be like to live without one at all.