Walking Out Of Scorsese's 'The Wolf Of Wall Street'
Martin Scorsese’s new biopic, "The Wolf of Wall Street," claims to take aim at Jordan Belfort, a notoriously shoddy stockbroker who made fortunes while draining the life savings of others. The film’s star, Leonardo DiCaprio, told the Hollywood Reporter, “It is an indictment of this world. We don't like these people, you know what I mean?”
READ MORE: Film Review: 'The Wolf Of Wall Street'
Unfortunately, I’m not sure at all what Leo means since the film creates a global platform for audiences to participate in three hours of hero-worship, celebrating rich, white, straight, men of average height as risk-taking, money-making, drug-using bad boys.
While the filmmakers may claim that they are critiquing this economic excess, their actions tell a different story. Earlier in August, DiCaprio starred in a promotional video for Belfort’s latest moneymaking scheme as a motivational speaker. He endorsed Belfort, claiming, “Jordan stands as a shining example of the transformative qualities of ambition and hard work.” Interesting, considering that Belfort’s rampant ambition and resulting exploitive behaviors are supposed to be what the film puts under fire.
But, hey, Leo is hardly alone in his admiration of Belfort. The film’s screenwriter Terence Winter recently explained to the Boston Globe:
"I was there in the Ivan Boesky go-go ’80s years. A lot of cocaine. A lot of borderline insanity. I worked for Merrill Lynch… Everybody had custom-made suits and Ferraris and vacation homes in the Hamptons… I was in the legal department. But I certainly wanted to be those guys!"
His admiration and envy shine through in his screenplay, painting a picture of crime in which the criminal can take pride. When asked how Jordan Belfort felt about the movie, Scorsese told the The Wrap that he saw Belfort on opening night and “he seemed to be very pleased.”
It’s hardly the reaction you would expect from the subject of a scathing cinematic indictment, but Belfort proved to be prophetic in his satisfaction. Since the film’s premiere, stories have emerged of celebration among audiences. Business Insider reported that a screening filled with Wall Street bankers erupted in applause repeatedly throughout the film.
And it wasn’t just Wall Street cheering. As I slunk down in my theater seat in suburban Arizona, I found myself surrounded by people laughing as prostitutes were manhandled, gay slurs were thrown around, and people were driven into poverty. And, most upsetting for me, people burst into repeated bouts of laughter while the movie’s heroes used people with dwarfism as darts, referring to them as “it” and concluding in a formal meeting that they are nonhuman, making their potential injury acceptable.
Even reviewers of the film glaze over this sequence, often referring to it as a comedic high point of the film while using the derogatory term “midget” to refer to the little people involved in the scene. Of course, many claim that they are not laughing at the little people being thrown around, but that defense is hard to buy when the characters are unnamed and are the subject, rather than speaker of the jokes being made on screen.
But that’s exactly how the film was intended to function. The viewer’s perspective is Belfort’s perspective and so these actors and characters get exploited in the exact same way as their real life counterparts. Actresses are paid to appear naked on screen and to become sexual objects to be consumed by the audience. Actors with dwarfism are paid to reenact humiliating scenes when already the roles available to them in Hollywood are almost exclusively exploitive, treating them like a human punch line. Scorsese assumes the role of Belfort and the audience becomes the mark, getting conned out of another ten bucks while they participate in his oppressive, excessive, unyielding exploitation of women, of queer people, of poor people, and of little people.
Don’t agree? The movie’s author does. It’s how the story was always intended to function. As Terence Winter told the Boston Globe: "By design, you the viewer are taking the place of the people being duped by what these guys are doing and being seduced by them… You’re thinking, ‘Oh my God, he’s so funny, he’s so charming.’ And you’re laughing and laughing."
And laughing. And laughing. And so I left.
I walked out of the theater, knowing that I had just lost ten dollars to Scorsese, to DiCaprio, to Winter, and to Belfort himself who made $1.045 million off the movie deal while managing to only lose $21,000 in the same year to restitution, despite prosecutor’s complaints about his unwillingness to pay the $110.4 million he owes in total.
But, I suppose when you’re a limousine liberal with access to a multi-million dollar movie budget, global advertising, and both a critical and commercial audience willing to forgive even the most explicit bits of exploitation as “postmodern criticism”, then Jordan Belfort’s mindset begins to make sense. As he told New York Magazine, “Making money is so easy. It really is. It’s not hard to do.”
Watch the trailer below.
Reach Contributing Writer Jack Flynn here.