10DoO #10 – The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

by Jaime Grijalba.

This review/essay is a translation of something I wrote for the amazing blog “El Agente Cine”, which you can read here.

There’s a curious effect produced on the spectators of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (2013). At the end of its screening, one can be confronted to the classic dilemma of the projection of the actions represented on the screen. This is because the protagonist, Jordan Belfort, is maybe one of the biggest finance criminals in the history of the world, with million of dollars in many accounts, all received via illegal means, that also proceeds with excesses of every kind, which are glorified by the delicated, detailed and fun way in which they are filmed.

The actions presented in the Scorsese film, per se morally reprochable, the only thing that cause in the spectator is laughter and funny commentary, among other reactions that you could consider “positive”. For example: illegal drug effects, cons to thousands of people, fascist speeches that would make any dictator be ashamed of those they’ve written on this side of the world and most than anything the objectification of women in every context of the plot. All of this elements are source for laughs, jokes and most than all, entertainment.

Is because of this that in some way, in spite of how tired and repeated that the theme is found in certain circles, the theme of the identification and the response of the spectator are very interesting when it comes to the morality of this picture, a thing that also was talked about a lot last year when ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (2012) came out.

Just as Kathryn Bigelow (director of the before mentioned film) in its moment said and now is repeated by Martin Scorsese when he is confronted with the same reiterative questions: “depiction is not endorsement”.

In ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (2013), every representation of the personality, accumulation of riches and crimes that the protagonist Jordan Belfort and his companions commit, they’re all part of a process of recreation of a factic reality (non-theorized), as if it was a presentation of evidence, those that produce no ambiguity towards their categorization, they produce a clear answer: the diversion from the part who sees it. This could produce that the same events could be taken more lightly, but what really happens is that the viewer is taking these data and is memorizing them in a more affective manner, so that when finally the debacle happens and the consequence of it all, the blame is not only of Jordan Belfort, but ours as well, we feel guilty for enjoying that.

With this movie, Scorsese repeats again one of his favorite themes: characters that are at the top and we see how they fall into the void. A theme he had semi-abandoned and that he now recovers masterfully, this time in a clear comedy tone, at the same rythm of the constantly descending ‘After Hours’ (1985). Nevertheless, I think that until this moment, there’s never been a fall from the top as satisfactory as this one, after seeing all the evil that the character commited, the moment in which it occurs is one of liberation, where there’s a mixture of guilt in spite of the enjoyment of before, but also a satisfaction for the destruction of the life of Belfort. The catharsis of a sadic viewer.

The catharsis doesn’t ruin what was an enjoyable experience, quite the contrary, it comes to augment the tension, to deliver the expected moment of failure, because we know that after all he’s done he couldn’t possibly get away from it, and we know that the moment will come when his party will end (almost literally, since one of the most interesting elements of the film is the way that the director films and frames the parties). But before that happens, nothing impedes us from enjoying a season in hell, and who tells us that hell has to be bad.

There’s a key moment in the film, and here’s the point that I want to make finally arrives. Jordan Belfor (Leonardo DiCaprio giving one of his best performances) has received the counsel of his lawyers, friends, family and practically the whole FBI that if he resigns to the company that he founded, it’s probable that he would get away from trouble only paying some fines, without the need of going through a trial that would signify years in jail, a possible separation from his wife, not being able to see his kids and losing all the money that he had been storing after years of cons to people who believed in what he was selling. Belfort does a speech in front of his employees, about how it is the moment to step down and make others take charge of the situation, and in that moment, remembering what he has done for his workers (because he considers himself the good guy, by giving them opportunities), looking at his audience, repents and decides that he has to go on.

There’s a famous (almost a popular culture thing) saying amongst drug dealers, it says something like “never do your own stuff”, and that’s exactly what Belfort has trashed away, he has reached a moment in his life in which he’s so high on his own success, with his own dreams of grandeur, with the success of others, with the idea of impunity, the absolute power that sorrounds him… and that’s what he sees in the people who buy from him, his employess buy his success model of instant millionaire, in that they seen the fruits, and want to go back to be like them: innocent and absurdely rich, that’s why he continues, and that is his doom.

But attention to waht I said, the audience appears again, because Jordan Belfort is a being that requires the attention of public, like when the character itself talk to us (the audience who sees the film), telling us the drugs he takes every day, or when he inaugurates his company, congratulates his workers, or when he wants to retire, always in the search of the big crowd, and that’s why this film is more than anything about the audience who is watching it, and that’s why a discussion on the issue of identification was what Scorsese was looking for when he made the movie.

In some way you could infer that when Jordan Belfort comes back to his looting after announcing his retirement and repenting, he does it because of the audience, who wants more, they want to see him have fun, come back to the parties, having sex with 1000 dollars hookers, snorting cocaine from the most ridiculous angles, not because that entertain us (it does, but it’s not about it) but because he knows it’s an spectacle that people want to see, and they want to see him fall.

The movie closes with a shot of an audience looking and listening at Jordan Belfort. I don’t think there’s a bigger clue to talk about other thing than the grandiose nature of the movie, and it’s much more complex than what it seems at a first glance. This is major work in the filmography of Martin Scorsese.

So, the 10 Days of Oscar are over! As always I leave you with a ranking of the 10 movies reviewed. Have fun and enjoy the Oscars today!

1. Her (2013, Spike Jonze)
2. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013, Peter Jackson)
3. 12 Years a Slave (2013, Steve McQueen)
4. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, Martin Scorsese)
5. Nebraska (2013, Alexander Payne)
6. Gravity (2013, Alfonso Cuarón)
7. Captain Phillips (2013, Paul Greengrass)
8. Dallas Buyers Club (2013, Jean-Marc Vallée)
9. Philomena (2013, Stephen Frears)
10. American Hustle (2013, David O. Russell)

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