The Wolf of Wall Street

 

Paramount Pictures

 

Rating: R

 

Reason for the Rating: Sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence.

 

Plot Summary: Stockbroker, Jordan Belfort, pursues a life of wealth and excess, experiencing a meteoric rise and subsequently devastating fall (based on a true story).

 

PopFam Recommends: Over-the-top graphic content makes it hard to recommend this one, but the film does have a few redeeming factors for mature, adult viewers.

 

OK, let's start with the obvious on this one. As advertised, The Wolf of Wall Street is rife with prurient content, including graphic depictions of sex, nudity, vulgarity, profanity, and copious amounts of drug abuse. Some of that content (not all by any means) is necessary to the fill out the story being told, and some of it is so self-destructive it's almost painful to watch. Regardless, this kind of content is constant in the film, including literal parades of naked women, orgies, drug paroxysms, midget abuse, and some domestic violence. It all contributes to the plot, but it's also often overkill. My guess is that if anyone other than the legendary Martin Scorsese had been director, this film would have easily earned an NC-17 rating instead of an R. So, you've been warned.

 

If you move past the surface vulgarities, however, The Wolf of Wall Street shows itself to actually be a somewhat thoughtful, transparent exploration into the soul of man. Well, into the soul of one particularly damaged man who experiences the highest highs this world has to offer and too late discovers those highs are also his lowest lows.

 

Supposedly based on the real-life experiences of former Wall Street broker, The Wolf of Wall Street tells the tale of the rise and fall of financial wunderkind, Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). (I say "supposedly" because some elements of this film carry events to James Frey-style extremes that're hard to believe. Still...) A fresh-faced, happily married 22-year-old when he starts out, Jordan is wide-eyed and awestruck when he encounters the open depravities of his new—very wealthy—bosses in the sweat room of stock-selling. He adapts quickly, and within four years he's running his own brokerage, employing hundreds of cold-call, hard-sell operatives whose only goal is to take money out of their customers' pockets and put that money into their own.

 

The result makes Belfort a multi-multi-millionaire at age 26—and an awful, criminally egocentric, sex-addicted, drug abuser. Needless to say his marriage ends (replaced by a new marriage to a gold-digging supermodel type) and soon he is unable to even function without handfuls of Quaaludes and lines of cocaine in his system. Surrounded by sycophants who are equally consumed by greed and excess...well, you can easily predict a fall is about to come, even though Belfort himself seems surprised by its inevitable appearence.

 

The bulk of the second half of this movie, then, becomes us watching young Jordan Belfort struggle with the consequences of his own self-destructive behavior, constantly shocked at the dismantling of his empire. In spite of the fact that he himself is the source of his own downfall, he can't do anything but shift blame to random, outside forces: God's out to get him; stupid Swiss banker got arrested in the United States; the founder of Benihana restaurants somehow screwed him over. Even the deaths of others in his service doesn't phase him; he can only view those tragedies through the lens of the inconvenience it causes him with his current schemes. In short—even though his workers cheer every time he enters a room—Jordan Belfort is not a nice man.

 

By the end of the movie, Belfort is a pariah. In order to shorten his own prison time, he's testified and helped to convict about two dozen of his so-called friends and co-workers. He's served a paltry three years in prison. His second wife, Naomi (Margot Robbie) has left him, taking their kids with her. He's a felon prohibited from returning to Wall Street and his previous wicked ways. The best he can do is travel around New Zealand, working as a speaker who trains aspiring, thick-headed people for a career in sales.

 

The story of Jordan Belfort's short and devastating career is often mesmerizing. Before long you realize you are watching a visceral, visual portrayal of the words Christ spoke two thousand years ago: "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8:36).

 

Every step of the way, we can almost see Belfort's losing it all while he thinks he's gaining everything. He gets a stunningly beautiful new wife, and thus loses the faithfulness, friendship, and honest love of his first marriage. At one point his new wife actually declares how much she hates Jordan—while they're in the act of making love.

 

He gets new cars and houses and even a mansion-sized yacht, and loses his inner strength and courage. He indulges is deepest desires for sex and drugs and money, yet can never be satisfied, never finally achieve contentment. And before long he is a literal slave to his indulgences, particularly to his drug addictions. He is lauded and applauded by crowds of adoring employees, but can never actually embrace significance because when his money runs out, he knows they will forget all about him and just applaud whoever the next guy is with a wallet. He counts himself a man of many friends, and yet finds himself desperately alone.

 

There is one scene in The Wolf of Wall Street that's particularly noteworthy. Trying to reclaim a small fortune caught up in a Swiss bank, Belfort and his closest "friend" Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) are sailing his yacht through rough seas. Before long, it seems clear they are all going to die, victims of the raging ocean. Both men immediately see this as a time of reckoning, when God has come to call for their souls. Donnie panics. "I'm going to hell!" he declares, for all the bad things he's done. Jordan doesn't say it, but it's obvious he has arrived at the same conclusion. His desperate response? "Go get the 'ludes! I'm not going to die sober!" Both men have weighed their lives in the balance and, despite their overwhelming worldly success, they'd judged themselves and been found wanting.

 

They do survive the storm, and quickly forget the abject fear they felt in that moment, anesthetizing themselves with drugs and sex and money. But from that moment on we all know they're doomed. Now it's just a matter of seeing how the end will come.

 

From an artistic standpoint, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are revelations as Jordan Belfort and Donnie Azoff. Watching them onscreen you think, "These are real men, caught in the real cages of their own greed and self-absorption." Both these actors richly deserved their Academy Award nominations.

 

Director Martin Scorsese is skilled as well, but the edges are fraying on his supposed "genius" as a filmmaker. At times, The Wolf of Wall Street stalls out, bloating scenes with speeches and depravity just because, well, Marty must have liked it that way. Also, if this film is any indication, it must be hard to be a woman in any Scorsese movie, because all women are portrayed as prostitutes at some level, or as simply pornographic window-dressing draped in a scene for titillation and cheap thrills. None of the women in this movie are real, relatable women. They are all a man's subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) misogynistic fantasies of people with female sex parts. That vision appears to be Mr. Scorseses alone, and honestly, it gets tiring. I'm surprised that Hollywood feminists aren't regularly offended.

 

Still, in all, The Wolf of Wall Street is fascinating in both a vulgar and inspiring ways. It's a straightforward morality tale with clear religious undertones. Though I think Martin Scorsese or Leo DiCaprio would resist the idea that they made a biblical movie, the result here is still the same. When the final credits roll and we're left thinking about what we've just seen, we really can doing nothing but ask the ancient Christian question:

 

"What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"

 

Let’s Talk About It

Use these questions to spark discussion among family members who are interested in this movie:

 

• What was your reaction to The Wolf of Wall Street? Explain.

 

• If you had met Jordan Belfort as a 22-year-old stockbroker, what advice would you have given him? What if you'd met him at 26?

 

• Jesus said, "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" Jordan Belfort is an example of that truth. What are other examples? Describe them.

 

• What do you think the filmmakers want you to take away from the morality tale that is The Wolf of Wall Street? What will you take away? Explain your thinking.

 

--MN

 

Tags: Wolf of Wall Street,Leonardo DiCaprio,Jonah Hill,Margot Robbie,Martin Scorsese,Jordan Belfort,Donnie Azoff,Naomi Laplagia,Steve Madden,Wall Street

 

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