The Wolf of Wall Street is a story about excess. It’s unavoidable. Every aspect of Martin Scorcese’s true (ish) tale of greed, sex, drugs, lies, power, even redemption, oozes with the kind of over embellishment you’d expect from the self-made author, Jordan Belfort.
Sourced from his own memoir, the Wolf of Wall Street plays out like former jock recalling his best tackles in high school football. The entire time I watched, I couldn’t help feeling that nobody could have lived that life, not to that level. And in that level of dubious facts and lionized ideals, there is a certain kind of truth. Jordan Belfort is absolutely the man we see on screen not because of the realism of each scene but because the story in which *SPOILER* a bad man loses everthing, doesn’t tell the story of a bad man hitting rock bottom and coming to terms with what he wrought.
Instead, Jordan Belfort’s exploits, which lose him his wealth, family, friends and business, comes across like a mere bump in the road; no more significant than the crash of 1987 which cost him his first job but lead him to his next endeavor as a con man, selling worthless stock to gullible people.
And in truth, his present day job as a “motivational speaker” and “author” which we see him transition too after his time in federal prison, is no more than another version of what he did before. The people who pay him to teachthem his secrets as a salesman, forget that rather than giving them the inside track to success, the Wolf is merely rounding them up for his latest slaughter.
After watching the movie I thought, as any good movie about Wall Street will make you think, about how our country is founded on aspirational people who want more power and wealth. They seem to take the kinds of risks we cringe at. In films like this, we watch in anticipation as they almost get away with it until their pride ultimately causes them to go too far.
Then I think about the boom and bust of legal Wall Street and how greed can hurt everyone, even the ones who don’t play the game.
Sadly though, the reason Belfort was able to sell gullible people worthless stock is because a lot of hard-working, play-by-the-rules Americans have been fed the fable that the only barrier between them and success is their willingness to take educated risks. It takes money to make money. That’s why Belfort’s clients practically begged him to take their hard earned savings at Stratton Oakmont and that’s why aspiring investors beg him to give away his “secrets” now.
What we fail to see (or maybe don’t want to see), is what is obvious. Belfort is a bad person. He wasn’t just willing to gamble to make it big. He was willing to gamble other people’s money knowing they would lose and he would win. He didn’t really care about much except getting caught which took years and some missteps on his part to happen.
We also forget that Belfort is most likely a very, very smart person. He seemed to understand basic human nature and desire to the point that no matter what he had to sell you, he always had an advantage. In the movie Belfort asked his friends and later the people at his motivational conference to sell him a pen. It was a demonstration of the mind of a true salesmen, a zen-like lesson on how to create desire. But the true measure of Belfort’s genius is that in each instance he was actually selling himself to those groups and they didn’t even realize it.
In the same way, by seeing and enjoying The Wolf of Wall Street I was joining the multitudes who had been swindled by Jordan Belfort. Martin Scorcese masterfully crafts a movie that seems like a blunt and repetitive expose on unbridled greed and excess. But subversively - to the audience, cast and director - I feel that we all may have played a part in another one of Belfort’s schemes.