People are mad about The Wolf of Wall Street. Their reasons aren't the same - some people are offended at the film's depiction of smut and debauchery; others are upset about how real-life swindler Jordan Belfort (played by Leo DiCaprio) is benefitting from the film; and other people are simply disgusted with the idea that Scorsese's pageant of excess and degeneracy hits all-too-close to the reality of the Wall Street world.
But no matter which camp you fall into, let me just say: I'm happy you are mad. I'm happy you are worked up about Wolf of Wall Street - and I certainly hope you stay that way. I hope the video interviews, commentary articles and awards talk all go viral to the point where anxiety begins to grip you if you haven't seen the movie yet. I want your every office or dinner party discussion to be hijacked by what is hopefully a long and honestly brutal and hopefully fruitful debate about the first big pop-culture movie topic of 2014.
Because the discussion is long overdue. And (personally speaking) I've been waiting patiently for it for a long time.
In fall of 2010, I went to see a documentary called Inside Job (read my review), which dissected the 2008 economic collapse on Wall Street. I walked out of that screening room furious and frightened, as the film clearly and succinctly showed that America's worst recessions have not just been caused by failed policies, but are rather a symptom of a more clandestine disease in the moral makeup of the people who flock to the financial services industry.
To quote a section of my review:
Truly, some of Inside Job‘s best moments come from the unexpected detours Ferguson takes into the psychology and seedy private behavior of high-ranking Wall Street types. A definite pattern quickly emerges in which the same people who are thrilled by high-stakes investing and ludicrous greed are equally thrilled by money, drugs and prostitutes, often at taxpayer expense. The two worlds – financial services and illicit vice – seemingly go hand-in-hand.
To me (and other people who commented on Inside Job via our website) this revelation was a source of outrage - and eventually, a source of bewilderment in terms of public reaction. As in, there was none.
The film won a 2011 Oscar for Best Documentary and netted $4 million domestically ($3 million overseas) - but for all that fanfare, the deeper implications of Charles Ferguson's film went unheeded: how an industry of money and greed (arguably run by madmen) has corrupted everything in US culture from politics to education.
But if I may borrow Heath Ledger's iconic Joker voice: "Let Marty and Leo make a movie about the same thing, and everybody LOSES THEIR MINDS!"
Search for The Wolf of Wall Street on the Web/social media right now and you'll find a hundred other op-eds like this one, written by more and more people who the film has provoked, one way or another. A few examples I came across (and liked):
- Watching WoWS with actual Wall Street guys
- WoWS vs. Misogyny
- WoWS: Why the filmmakers are (partly) to blame
People are talking and writing - and of course digitally yelling and freaking out - about this film, and I love it. If it takes a big movie star and iconic director rather than a thorough intellectual documentary, endless political debates and/or bloody social protests - so be it. I'm just glad this particular conversation about this particular value system and lifestyle at the heart of our "greed is good" culture is being had, and that people are getting involved.
As I said at the start: it's long overdue. Any way out of complacency...
Who knows, in the end it may be Marty, Leo, Jonah Hill - a whole lot of drugs and a WHOLE lot of nudity - that finally motivate us from apathy to debate; debate into some kind of a actual action. Wouldn't' that just be poetic? Jonah Hill could help save America.
The Wolf of Wall Street is now playing in theaters.