Criticism

The Wolf Of Wall Street
Scorcese dissects the American Dream and lays it bare once more.

Telling strangers that you’re going to see The Wolf of Wall Street tends to elicit strong reactions. Many of those reactions feature talk of breasts. Such was the take of the girl at the candy kiosk below the cinema we visited:

“I hear that it has an R-rating because of all the nudity. But I want to know if Leonardo gets it out, you know, it’s such a double standard in Hollywood – seriously, there are all these boobies in films but you know – Leonardo – like, take off your pants”

Beyond the slightly manic patter, the Sugar Station attendee had a decent point. Leonardo does take his pants off, but you don’t see much – certainly in comparison to his female counterparts.

And yes, there is so much nudity, gratuitous sex and swearing — from the opening monologue to the frenzied drug-addled crescendo. I also feel like an authority on the various kinds of vaginal deforestation — the landing strip was a popular choice for women who bedded monied men in the 90s, apparently. There were quite literally too many breasts to count and yes, most of the women are largely powerless objects of sexual fixation.

It was a Women’s Studies lecturer’s worst nightmare, basically.

But, for the sake of deeper understanding, you have to get past the breasts and accept them as a (titillating) veneer. Jordan Belfort begins life as a middle-class kid and ends it a millionaire ex-con who is selling back his own squandered dreams. Our insight into how he reaches this point births our own subtle meditations on the moral structures we inhabit and the lives that those of us who are lucky enough to choose have chosen.

The seemingly simplistic execution of this sordid existence — from the cons to the booze and drugs — belies the complex moral questions such a lifestyle exposes. Once he figures out how to fudge margins by selling penny stocks and defrauding the rich the door is opened and it’s only a matter of time before he can have (and generally gets) anything he wants – but at what cost?

It’s not very long into the film when you ask yourself: “Could I do this? How badly would I have to want something to act like that?”

They’re questions that rise because Belfort’s life of sex, high-end real estate and very public success epitomises the aspirations of many, and certainly more than would openly admit it.

None of these characters could tell you why they love the stocks they sell because stocks are, as Matthew McConaughey’s chest-beating mentor points out, fictitious ideas with no concrete value. There is no craftsmanship, no honesty and no pride in Belfort’s hazy world of quaaludes, coke and pussy.

So if you really want to see this movie, you have to prepare yourself to look beyond the nudity and profanity to see the real meat (no pun intended). The Wolf of Wall Street gives Scorcese the power to use his lightness of touch to expose our own deeply flawed obsession with largesse.

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