The big bad wolf of Wall Street?

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The Wolf of Wall Street has just been released in cinemas and has already polarised opinion. For those unaware, the film is based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, a man who sets up his own Stock Brokers company and over a few years makes obscene amounts of money illegally. Through the money he makes we see Belfort and his colleagues embark on a life of drugs, sex and alcohol as they spend their money in excessively lavish ways. Some say it is glorifying a life of crime and hedonism and ignoring the victims of said crimes whilst others argue that it is simply depicting the truth.

The film has actually been banned in countries such as Nepal and Malaysia due to its depictions of greed and immoral behaviour, however British critics hailed it as the best Martin Scorsese film in 20 years. The film follows a trend of Scorsese films where some of the main characters are criminals, Goodfellas, Casino and The Departed to name a few. Yet the audience is still expected to root for these law breakers and want them to succeed. These films usually portray the criminals as being rich, powerful and successful, though most of them ultimately pay for their crimes.

The Wolf of Wall Street is no different, though the film has drawn criticism because it makes the lives of Jordan Belfort and his fellow fraudsters far more attractive than that of any law-abiding citizen. I will not be writing any spoilers for those who have not seen the film, but from the trailer alone we see extravagant parties being held in offices, monkeys wandering around in clothes and a glimpse of a bizarre scene involving Jonah Hill and a goldfish. I personally found the film to be incredibly funny and this immoral lifestyle was shown to be rather enjoyable, however I’m yet to plan how to embark on a life of crime.

Some critics have argued this point, saying that the film glamorizes this lifestyle so much with a lack of an impactful ‘comeuppance’ to show that Belfort’s crimes were ultimately worth it. It’s true to an extent, though again, this is not the focus of the film. The film’s focus throughout its entire three hour running time is Belfort’s time as the ‘Wolf’. Barring a relatively short introduction to stock brokering as a whole, the vast majority of the time is spent with Belfort as head of his company and how he chooses to spend his wealth. The film does not pretend to be a film about punishment for crimes, neither the trailers nor the book itself particularly focus on that aspect of Belfort’s life. The reason for that is clear, it is far more entertaining as a viewer to see Belfort’s extravagant spending and lifestyle because it is far removed from ordinary lives. The film shows what it would be like to have so much money that you end up taping it to semi-naked women. And it didn’t really look all that pretty. The film shows a whole new aspect to life that people do not get to see and therefore should be viewed as extreme escapism, rather than an advert for a life of illegal stock manipulation.

Interestingly, there are some who even say parts of the film are fabricated. Danny Porush, the man whom Jonah Hill’s character is based on, has said that many parts of the film were in fact fabricated and that Belfort’s book, the film’s basis, is far more over the top than the reality. If this is true then this gives a better view to understand the film. It should of course not be forgotten that films are made to entertain and this film achieves that by showing the viewer almost unbelievably extravagant parties and scenarios in order to make us laugh or simply amaze us. It would perhaps be best if every viewer took the events in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ with a pinch of salt, rather than viewing it as a completely faithful re-telling of events, it should be seen as an over the top account of what really happened.