On the Wolf of Wall Street

by Courtney C Horne @FireezDragon

Yar there be spoilers ahead.. best be turning back now if ya don’t wanna be knowin’ the details of the movie..

No seriously, I am about to talk about Wolf of Wall Street and if you are worried about spoilers you shouldn’t keep reading

I’ll wait..

Okay?

Everyone worried about spoilers gone now?

Alright.

Andrew O’Hehir at Salon was absolutely correct to call Wolf of Wall Street the year’s third gatsby film following Gatsby (of course) and then the less obvious Spring Breakers. While I didn’t make the connection to Gatsby until I read that article, I had connected the film to Spring Breakers upon seeing it. The displays of wealth in Wolf of Wall Street are not quite as blunt as James Franco screaming “look at all my shit” but they are much more disturbing. If Spring Breakers represents a cancerous American dream that is completely taken over by consumerism and excess, Wolf of Wall Street represents the system that grows up out of that dream.

It represents a system where “greed is good” and excess is how one displays success. Paul Constant at the Stranger wrote that if you thought the movie glorified Wall Street or you identified with the characters you were probably a horrible person. I would like to amend that to say if that is the case you are also likely part of the problem. You are likely contributing to an environment where no meaningful punishment is doled out to the Jordan Belforts of the world. And to the environment that brought about the ’08 crisis and our record inequality.

In fact, I think without the ’08 crisis this would not be nearly as powerful of a film. The desire for Belfort’s character to be punished is only enhanced by knowing that people just like him destroyed the world’s economy for their own gain. And because you know they were not punished for that, you know that he won’t be punished in any meaningful way either. The movie calls powerfully to a broken system where the wealthiest live largely outside the law and any punishment doled out to them is so minor as to lack any ability to change their behavior.

Lastly, watching him keep going on successfully at the end of the film speaks powerfully to the ongoing sense – that this isn’t over- that this is going to keep happening, people are going to keep destroying society for greed- that because nothing has really changed we are doomed to repeat the past again. The film looks backwards but it also offers a glimpse towards a future that looks like it may be no different than the past. A future where the Jordan Belforts of the world are inspiring others to follow them down the destructive path of greed that can too easily wreak havoc on the world around them.

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