Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wolves Paralysed

I really don't think people are, by and large, consciously aware of how sold they are on materialism. I think the primary reason The Wolf of Wall Street is being criticised for glamourising the lifestyle of someone guilty of financial fraud on a massive scale is that too many people, whether they can recognise it in themselves or not, agree with DiCaprio's character when he asserts money makes you a better person. I truly feel this is Scorsese's best film since Goodfellas. It does the extraordinary thing of showing just hollow a life can be when all you want, as Mr. Bernstein said, is to make a lot of money.

It has a lot in common with Goodfellas--it's based on the autobiography of a criminal, in this case stock broker Jordan Belfort, played by DiCaprio in the film. The engaging, conversational narration sounds so similar to the one in Goodfellas I could have sworn it was Ray Liotta at times. And, like Goodfellas, the film portrays a society of men and their families comfortable supporting themselves with crime. It's an accepted part of their culture.

One difference is that one suspects there's little real love between spouses and between friends. After Jordan starts to hit it big, he does seem a bit hurt when his first wife leaves him after finding him doing blow off another woman's chest. But that doesn't bother Jordan for long because that other woman, Naomi (Margot Robbie), is incredibly gorgeous and about as obsessed with wealth as Jordan is. But aside from a sympathetic greed, the two never bond the way Henry and Karen do in Goodfellas.

There's a lot more beautiful naked women in this movie than in Goodfellas, part of the reason this movie is being called misogynist. It's strange how movies that portray misogyny are so often labelled misogynist but that can go hand in hand with a movie showing the hollowness of greed being called a movie that glamourises it.

The most effective moments for me are the raucous, booze, coke, and prostitute filled office parties. A marching band that performs in their underwear at one being one of the moments that seemed to be a reference to Citizen Kane. Where the office party in Kane showed Leland just beginning to realise how spiritually bankrupt their enterprise had become, Jordan's parties are of a tradition going back to the broker, played by Matthew McConaughey, who mentored Jordan and who told him with a straight face that in addition to taking drugs he also has to masturbate twice a day just to "keep the blood flowing."

There's no question Jordan's crew is having a good time. They also look pathetic and permanently stupid. Guys rubbing themselves against hookers with phoney smiles may not be many a viewers' idea of unflattering but perhaps it ought to be.

It's true the film doesn't show much of how Jordan's victims are impacted by his crimes. But that's because this is a film about Jordan's perspective. A man who's forced to seek constant stimulus from sex and drugs because without it there's a terrible void that he knows he can never face sober.

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