The work of Martin Scorsese isn't exactly synonymous with virtue, as his films tend to center on morally questionable figures like mobsters and corrupt cops. So moviegoers shouldn't have been too surprised when his latest film, The Wolf of Wall Street, narrowly avoided an NC-17 rating for its raw depiction of sexuality.
The film – which stars Leonardo DiCaprio in his fifth collaboration with Scorsese – chronicles the rise and fall of stockbroker Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) and serves as a portrait of white-collar crime and hedonism in the 1990s. Upon its release, Scorsese's film has been met with a mixed reaction (read our review), with some critics going so far as accusing the film of glorifying the excess it depicts.
Now, in an interview with HitFix, DiCaprio himself has commented on the controversy surrounding The Wolf of Wall Street. Here's what he had to say:
"I think anyone who thinks [that the film glorifies excess] missed the boat entirely. I grew up in a generation of watching [Scorsese]'s movies and when you come from a standpoint of being someone who is so influenced by him and De Niro's work, to hear specific reactions they had to films that, now, as the years roll by — we're all desensitized to those things, you know what I'm saying? To hear that there were any type of reactions that weren't — I'm not saying people should particularly praise this film for that reason, but I think it takes a while to permeate into the culture a little bit.
"When I see his movies now, it's a shock to me that there was ever any kind of — I mean I listened to stories of 'The Last Temptation of Christ.' I listened to stories of 'Goodfellas' and 'Taxi Driver' and even 'Mean Streets,' but to me they're a classic part of American cinema history that have influenced so many other filmmakers and so many other genres. It's insane."
The actor – who will likely receive a fourth Academy Award nomination for his role in The Wolf of Wall Street – certainly has a point regarding how time can affect the way films are perceived. Some releases fail to connect with audiences or elicit a negative response, only to be revisited as modern classics years down the line. After all, films like Blade Runner and The Shining struggled upon their initial runs (the latter was even nominated for a pair of Razzies), and both are now considered influential pieces of cinema history and masterful examples of filmmaking.
DiCaprio went on to say that the divisive reaction to The Wolf of Wall Street is, at least in part, due to Scorsese's specific approach to the material.
"It's exciting to be a part of a film, in a way, that is kind of bold and is taking a chance like that, and I think that anyone that thinks this is a celebration of Wall Street and this sort of hedonism — yes, the unique thing about Marty is that he doesn't judge his characters. And that was something that you don't quite understand while you're making the movie, but he allows the freedom of this almost hypnotic, drug-infused, wild ride that these characters go on. And he allows you, as an audience — guilty or not — to enjoy in that ride without judging who these people are.
"Because ultimately, he keeps saying this: 'Who am I to judge anybody?' I mean ultimately I think if anyone watches this movie, at the end of 'Wolf of Wall Street' they're going to see that we're not at all condoning this behavior. In fact we're saying that this is something that is in our very culture and it needs to be looked at and it needs to be talked about. Because, to me, this attitude of what these characters represent in this film are ultimately everything that's wrong with the world we live in."
Regardless of what message audiences are taking away from The Wolf of Wall Street, the film is far from the first to heavily feature a character fueled by greed, and likewise, DiCaprio's Belfort is only the latest in a long line of Scorsese protagonists to embody the director's fascination with the dark side of human nature. Furthermore, the film is proving to be yet another box office winner for the unstoppable duo of Scorsese and DiCaprio.
Do you think The Wolf of Wall Street promotes the lifestyle it features so prominently, or is the film, as DiCaprio says, intended to be viewed as a more satirical social commentary? Sound off in the comments section below.
The Wolf of Wall Street is now in theaters.