The Wolf of Wall Street roars in from the first shot. Within five seconds of seeing a man do a drug from an orifice which I genuinely thought you couldn’t show on camera, I wondered if I’d picked the right movie for the early hour of 9 a.m. The Wolf of Wall Street shows the giddy success of Jordan Belfort, the self-titled wolf, as he swindles his way to the top only to blinded by his arrogance. We see the rise, but it’s the downfall that is more nebulous and harder to identify. The film doesn’t shy away from Jordan’s excesses: it embraces them and makes a three hour bacchanal solely dedicated to his lust for women, drugs and money. What’s not shown? The victims of his penny stock schemes and the women on the other side of the casual misogyny that constantly hits us in the face.
A film is a film. Some come at us with morality lessons and clear answers. Some veer into the abstract, leaving the audience to decide what happened, to derive some ending. Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t bother with any subtlety. I don’t seek morality lessons in films I watch and it’s a bit ridiculous to want an easy morality play out of Wolf. The film is outlandish; we’re supposed to spot the caricatures and terribleness of it all. There are some brilliant moments, namely the lunch between McConaughey and DiCaprio when DiCaprio is coaxed to the dark side. We see him leave the earnest joy of his wife and his blue-collar background to embrace the “fugazi” McConaughey praises. But the three-hour run time works against: it celebrates the victories of Belfort most of the time. The film fetishizes the very thing it was trying to pull down. Two and a half hours of glamour and drunken debauchery with twenty minutes of half-minded repentance didn’t give the intended message. The film has provoked uproar over what the intention of all of it was. Did Leonardo DiCaprio and Scorsese accidentally create a god out of Belfort? Or was it such an excellent parody that many audiences missed it?
There’s arguments for both readings but the film gives Belfort an undeniable charm. He’s cunning, therefore he deserves this win. Jordan Belfort was a good con man and one of the film’s feats is showing us how literally invincible he was. He survived things that definitely should have killed him. He solves an overdose from quaaludes by snorting a bag of cocaine. On his way to commit tax fraud, his yacht is sunk by a Mediterranean storm. He was stubborn, and the film is relentless in showing us how relentless he was. But one flaw that it can’t overcome is boredom. Drugs and their every day use becomes tedious to the person who isn’t under the influence. If I felt bored watching Belfort constantly down his cocktail of pills, I can’t imagine having to read the book it’s based on.
In the last scene, the real life Belfort has a cameo as the MC announcing the fictional Belfort as a motivational speaker. Just as people bought Belfort’s penny stocks, they’re now buying his wisdom on how to make it. And what does that make us, the audience, who also bought into this scheme? We’re buying Belfort’s product, a film that assures us that no matter what the human or personal cost, it’s worth that time on top.
Sounds like a lot of fugazi.