The Wolf of Wall Street Is a Propaganda Film
Editor’s note: For reasons of duh, SPOILERS.
The Wolf of Wall Street is nothing but a flat-out, unapologetic piece of propaganda.
But not in the way you’re thinking.
I saw The Wolf of Wall Street last night, and I really, really enjoyed it. I would argue it serves as the rich man’s version of Breaking Bad. Both Walter White and Jordan Belfort are sympathetic characters at first, people who just want to distinguish themselves in a way that ensures their legacy, but they are both overtaken by pride and greed. They were both given chances to walk away. In the first half of Breaking Bad‘s final season, Mike works out a deal that ensures Walt is compensated handsomely for the methylamine they stole from the train, more money than Walt could have ever dreamed of. But he refuses to walk away, because he’s in the empire business now. Same with Jordan Belfort. He was given a chance to leave Stratton Oakmont so that he would be protected, and in the middle of his speech he has an epiphany and immediately changes his mind. He doesn’t give a fuck, he’s in the empire business too now.
But here’s the key difference between Breaking Bad and The Wolf of Wall Street: Breaking Bad isn’t trying to convince you Walt’s path is the right one. The Wolf of Wall Street is going out of its way to show you just how great Jordan’s is.
My initial reaction to the movie was that it doesn’t glorify Wall Street, it just shows the depressing reality of what people on Wall Street are able to get away with it. But after thinking about it, I realized I was looking at it all wrong. Of course it glorifies Wall Street greed. Of course. That was the whole point. Because The Wolf of Wall Street is all about Jordan Belfort playing a much bigger con: on the audience. And that’s what makes it a truly stellar film.
Jordan Belfort, merely with the power of his own voice, was able to convince innocent people to give him money because of how he spun a turd into 24-karat gold. And so, over the course of the movie, Jordan Belfort is telling the story he wants, on his own terms. He wants to show you, the audience, that whatever mess he’s gotten himself into this time, he always bounces back. There are no real consequences at play here. Sure, you might lose your job! Just have the drive he did and you’ll be running the place one day! Sure, you might take one too many drugs and wreck your car, but there was no proof you drove it! You’re scot-free! Sure, you might end up going to prison for your financial crimes, but it’s rich prison! With a tennis court! Rich prison isn’t so bad!
So of course it glorifies Wall Street, because this is Jordan Belfort putting his rose-colored glasses on the camera lens and inviting you into the Land of Oz. And in the Land of Oz, you’re free to do whatever you want. Throwing midgets? Boom, we do that! Drugs? Oh man, do we do drugs! Sex? We fuck in the office all the goddamn time! This is why I don’t think the sex and drugs were necessarily that overdone. That’s the fun part of what he does, he is purposefully trying to emphasize the good (fucking every single hooker he can get his hands on and poppin’ a whole lot of quaaludes) and downplaying the bad (hence why you never see anything involving the victims of his crimes).
Now, of course, Jordan Belfort’s personal life goes down the tubes in a big way in the final act of the movie. But he never follows up on them. After the scene where he tries kidnapping his own daughter (which might ring a bell for those of you who followed my earlier analogy), you never see the family again, because to Jordan Belfort, the family is irrelevant. Remember, you never see any of Belfort’s victims suffering, so why would he show you whatever became of his family, Jordan Belfort’s final victims before his arrest? Remember the pitch Jordan feeds the others? Remember how he showed them how to cleverly pull rubes out of the “but I have to talk to my wife first because of the impact this might have on our family” moment of hesitation? That’s Jordan Belfort saying the consequences for your family aren’t important. They’re never as important as the bottom line.
As for the last bit of the movie, there’s some pretty clever fourth wall-breaking at work there. You see Jordan Belfort, out of prison and on the lecture circuit, starting off his whole spiel again. And that’s why the last shot of the movie is the audience listening to him with baited breath, to show us that this audience is us, the real audience, who just listened to Jordan Belfort spin things his way for almost three hours and were absolutely gripped by it. Because a lot of movies have first-person narratives. Fewer involve the main character breaking the fourth wall to talk to the audience. But Jordan Belfort does. And when he gets to uncomfortable subjects, he tells us not to worry about it so he can get to the fun part instead. We’re just another one of those people listening to him reading off a script in order to sell us a lifestyle.
Did he con you?
Because that is the point of the movie.
In my opinion, of course.