After much skepticism, I finally succumbed to seeing the current blockbuster The Wolf of Wall Street last weekend. Knowing little of what the film was about, I was excited for its arrival several weeks ago, but when I read a letter from the daughter of a colleague–or rather accomplice–of Mr. Belfort’s, the mixed feelings began to pour in. Her points about Hollywood’s constant endorsement of greed and everything monetary, sometimes regardless of how it is achieved, were completely valid and accurate. The letter details Christina McDowell’s (the writer) life with her criminal father, noting that she drove a Range Rover at age 16 and “snorted half of Columbia” whilst in high school. McDowell later tells of the negatives of having the father that she did, such as the various times he attempted to steal her identity or subject her to fraud investigations when he transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars into her account in order to save some of the stolen money. So, she got to me. Everything mentioned in the letter was totally valid.
Seeing the Oscar-nominated “best film” confirmed many of my doubts, but it also made me realize that it wasn’t really about that. And by “that,” I don’t mean that it wasn’t about Jordan Belfort and his short-lived reign over the financial world. It totally was. Rather, I mean that the film was not all about endorsing unlawful behavior as a route to prosperity. That just came as a side effect of Hollywood. I came to see that it wasn’t just The Wolf of Wall Streetthat glorified greed. Perhaps it did so more than others, but all of Hollywood, both on screen and off, is about wealth. Now that I’m writing this, I realize that it seems a bit naive not to have seen this before, or rather not to have seen it in more of an economic and realist light. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio–bless his cute little heart–weren’t to blame! They were just doing their jobs. And if you ask me, they did them pretty well. As did Jonah Hill, speaking of whom, as embarrassing as it might be, I’ve always had a bit of a puppy crush on him. Weird, I know. I digress! Truly though, it seemed as though Christina McDowell just needed someone(s) to scapegoat. And who could blame her? I mean the girl went through a lot. I honestly just don’t think that anyone behind the film was trying to or succeeding at justifying and/or glorifying the actions of her father and his colleagues.
I do, however, have some problems with the real life Jordan Belfort (the non-Leo version), apart from just his treacherous behavior and his nearly non-existent reparations to make up for it. I picked up a copy of his book The Wolf of Wall Street, which happens to be one of the only books that is worse to the movie, and became pretty enraged. First of all, who the hell gave him the right to write such a poorly-executed, bullshit glorification of a memoir? Ok, the first amendment did, sure, but still! And the wolf of Wall Street? Are you kidding? He spent all of five seconds on Wall Street, right until the firm he worked for closed. The rest of his scam of a career was spent somehow coaxing millionaires into buying penny stocks. I won’t even begin to talk about his personal life because if I were to, I don’t think I could ever stop. I think most awful of all, though, apart from the terrible effects his actions had on hundreds of lives, was the misogynistic ways in which he conducted business. And he certainly cannot blame the times–not that that is ever a completely valid excuse–because this was just over twenty years ago! I mean, rewarding his employees with hookers? C’mon! Then what the hell did he give his female employees? Birkins? He should have! At least in that case, he would have made one correct long term investment! Ugh, it angers me so.
I believe it to be utterly preposterous that a man who ruined the lives of so many, a man who has such poor character, a man who, to this day, has not apologized directly to his victims, served under two years in prison. And in a federal prison, nonetheless. Most drug dealers serve more than that! But a man who had an extensive history of crime got away with 22 months? What bothers me so much, though–perhaps this is where any possible resentment towards the Hollywooders comes in–is that he is profiting so much off of this film, and I don’t just mean monetarily. Since its release, Mr. Belfort has appeared on countless television shows, including Piers Morgan Live on CNN, his book sales have soared to new heights, and he continues to make money by selling his “techniques” that allow him to “turn losers into millionaires”–his old habits with an ethical twist. The fact that many Wall Street-ers who went to see the film were reportedly “laughing their asses off” because of the accuracy of the Wall Street habits displayed is beyond worrying.
The Wolf of Wall Street proved to be a very good and entertaining movie, but it failed to show any empathy toward Belfort’s schemes’ countless victims. DiCaprio is fabulous, as is Hill, and gorgeous newcomer Margot Robbie. My mixed feelings of the film led me to further mixed feelings about the entirety of Hollywood. The film was and remains a hit at the box office, though, so I suppose all’s well that ends well, right?