04 January 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street and Moral Outrage

How anyone can find the movie anything less than scathing is beyond me. Most of it is uncomfortable enough to watch, but the increasing stakes (and grotesque excess) wind up the tension even more tightly. As the movie continues, it puts you off more and more thoroughly. As if the amount of money generated to create these bacchanals isn’t ridiculous enough, the men behind the parties create the most distance. Who would even want to celebrate with them? The movie shoots it all so quickly that it hardly creates a lasting impression beyond the momentary high that these men feel. The stakes and the consequences create the only sense of gravity. Even then it doesn’t last long as an act of God makes Belfort barely change his tune for longer than a minute. He fights against everyone and everything in his way until he’s truly cornered. Even then he tries to escape with no thought for those around him. I don’t know how Scorsese could make the man more contemptible. The voiceover narration almost does it all single-handedly! In many instances, he wasn’t all that subtle. Belfort at his club late at night drugged out of his mind is a notable example. It’s not funny or light or ironic. It’s physically uncomfortable to witness as his motor functions are utterly reduced. This really is Jerry Lewis in extremis. His struggle seems impossible, but consumed with saving himself the scene continues excruciatingly as he manages to get into his car. Belfort is never more degraded than here. Still, he keeps swimming through the garbage with many proudly beside him. It’s a disturbing picture of mankind. At first, rather than being swallowed by his environment, Belfort wades into it. Two scenes early on indicate the sort of scumbag that will stand by his side. Matthew McConaughey as Mark Hanna offers advice that indicates the hedonistic wherewithal needed to thrive in the business. Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff is even more absurd as a man who marries his cousin because she’s too hot to be left around for other men to fuck her. The competitive acquisitiveness of such a man says it all and from there only gets worse. Belfort himself barely looks better. He’s not some genius analyst at all. He just wears people down and dares others to be just as overbearing. If you find that kind of man respectable then there’s not much to say. The movie certainly doesn’t make him relatable or likable. It’s a long, exhausting movie that makes the business world look like a total jungle. That the man who made Taxi Driver and Goodfellas has a cast of characters who look even worse than men in those earlier films is a sad enough commentary on our times.

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