Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb….
Ryan Gilbey, writing for New Statesman tackles the opinionated tweets and comments regarding the morality of The Wolf of Wall Street:
“The sticking point is whether the film celebrates its objectionable characters rather than decrying them; it’s a simplistic argument that leaves no space for anyone who isn’t demanding that Scorsese should follow either of those options, or who thinks the flaws in the movie lie outside that domain. One UK critic, tweeting in a personal capacity, declared that “Anybody who thinks it glorifies anything is a…” Well, he didn’t put an ellipsis there, I can tell you that. He mentioned a part of the male anatomy to which it would not be flattering to be compared.”
Read the full article here.
Akin to Gilbey himself, I don’t want to turn my own response into a review of the film but I do believe than many stylistic choices (for better or worse) make the film uncomfortable watching. I would argue that this is Scorsese’s intention and bolster the artistic prerogative whereby to show the difference between good and evil, you need to show evil.
Viewing The Wolf of Wall Street yesterday forced me to consider two things. One – comparing The Departed with The Wolf of Wall Street made me realise that I preferred the Oscar winner of 2006. While The Departed (and Hugo and Shutter Island) is a definitive Martin Scorsese film, utilising Leonardo DiCaprio to the best of his ability, The Wolf of Wall Street is DiCaprio’s film, utilising Scorsese to the best of his ability. Secondly, I didn’t laugh as much in The Wolf of Wall Street as I should’ve. A second watch may be easier to digest, but on the first viewing it was difficult to separate the repulsive and deeply repugnant attitude of the characters and the jokes they made. Throwing a human with dwarfism is funny for the same reason the bankers find it funny – and I couldn’t comfortably laugh alongside these perfectly-played, but definitively despicable men.
This relates to Gilbey’s article as therein lies the rub. Scorsese (or is it DiCaprio?) intentionally tells us a story whereby we are conflicted as we watch. If you are offended, then you stay offended. If you relate, then it doesn’t tell you categorically that you’re wrong. If you are inspired, there is no effort to deter you from aspiring (like the many students at the seminar in the closing moments) to be like him.
The Wolf of Wall Street should shock you. It should force you to reconsider your own politics – three years? Three-f*cking years!!?? – that’s all he got. His lifestyle, in the politics of today, isn’t wrong. The type of person who works in the cut-throat banking sector is animalistic and hungry for financial success. Jordan Belfort is a role model to these people.
When I watch the rich and affluent of Mad Men, Jon Hamm’s Don was neatly placed in a box sealed with the term “The Perfect Man of the 1950’s”. Yes, he womanised, smoked and drank to excess. But he had class and style – women wanted him; men wanted to be him. The intrigue is how time changes and though Don is the perfect man of the 1950’s, we know he will inevitably fall from grace as he is far from the perfect man of the 1960’s.
Like it or not, DiCaprio portrays Jordan Belfort as the perfect man of 2013. Granted, set in the 1980’s, Belfont’s well-groomed, social drink-and-drug taking, happily-addicted-to-sex man is a real person in the 1990’s – but in 2013, this is who we are told to aspire to. We see music videos as multiple women dance with Robin Thicke and Pharrell, not unlike the hookers in Belfort’s stag party; drug-taking is less risqué with marijuana and cocaine seen commonplace amongst every social-strata. The media sell this image and the government are lenient on those affluent enough to live it. What is uncomfortable is how millions are still granted bonuses in Wall Street, while the public sector is cut further. What is uncomfortable is how no one has been held to account for the recession – and no arrests have been made. What is uncomfortable is how billions is lost through tax evasion and legal loop-holes the government fails to control – while Benefits Street is played on repeat to instigate tension between those who find it difficult to pay the bills and want to blame the free-loaders down the road.
What is uncomfortable is that The Wolf of Wall Street still exists. The billions that continue to be clawed back from honest workers are effectively paying a debt that currently sits in mansions and properties, expensive cars, yachts and helicopters. Audiences and critics are aware of this and those who don’t “get it” are ignoring a class war that continues behind closed doors. If you think it is too explicit and are insulted by the film, wake up. “Filmmaker and actors highlighting lewd lifestyle” versus “actual, powerful people who live the lifestyle” – I know which angers me more. If you think it celebrates a reckless life, again, the reality is worse than the film as it is multiplied. Jordan Belfort isn’t the only white-collar criminal – not to mention those who don’t get caught and successfully bribe others. Scorsese and DiCaprio have shown us an ingrained culture of greed and excess that, though beginning in the 1980’s, continues to this day – the question is whether you agree with this western world we have set-up because it ain’t changin’ yet.