I cried in horror three or four times in the theater, and a couple times afterward at the fresh and bitter memory of having experienced the three hour ordeal so recently. I would say I am relatively innocent, but I never thought of myself as a person easily shaken up. After watching The Wolf of Wall Street, I was so obviously horrified that my boyfriend had to stop his car in the middle of a Pet Co. parking lot to hug and console me. He liked it. I hated it.
To be clear, I hold nothing against my boyfriend (or anyone else) for liking it for the movie it is, artistically speaking. Nor do I begrudge the actors (except perhaps DiCaprio, and you’ll see why by the end of this post) and film makers (who all did a great job). The Wolf of Wall Street certainly accomplished what it meant to, as a movie that transforms the theater screen into a glass window through which we, the movie goers and citizens of a capitalist nation, can safely and openly look upon the mess of a zoo that was (and is?) Wall Street at its basest. Ugly.
I get it, I think. I’d wager this movie was meant to show how unappealing – no, revolting – this Jordan Belfort character is. As it turns out, Jordan Belfort is a real person, who even has a cameo in the movie. He wrote the two books on which the movie’s based. Google tells me that, “Jordan R. Belfort is an American motivational speaker and former stockbroker. He was convicted of fraud crimes related to stock market manipulation and running a penny stock boiler room for which he spent 22 months in prison.” Great. That’s basically the plot of the movie. It makes me shiver to think that the scenes from the movie are autobiographical at least. Anyway, the point is that the movie is supposed to be vastly unflattering albeit entertaining.
But here’s where my gripes begin. While it does entertain and repulse the viewer, The Wolf of Wall Street also manages to paint Belfort as something of an antihero, so that you almost wish he wouldn’t get caught cheating on his first wife or his second wife with hookers and coworkers, nor go to jail for fraud, nor die from taking a shocking amount and variety of hard drugs, Middle Eastern gavage style. After all, he’s been so generous with his money, especially with his co-workers and friends. You laugh as his voice over makes jokes as he twitches on the floor from near overdose at a nearby country club, and pity him when, after a loud fight, his second wife literally waves her vagina before his face, then puts her shoe on his forehead, to punish him for lying to and cheating on her. Not to mention, all of that happens with their baby daughter in the room.
I felt pressure to like his character, or at least laugh along with him, but instead had a full body allergic reaction to the spectacle.
What bothers me further about this glossy antihero image is that there are people in the world who try to live like this and will actually relish at the thought of this straight-up baller gaming every system and treating hoes like they should. It boils my blood. This is everything I do not want in my life, packed into a three hour nightmare and I know there are people who will appreciate it not only for its cinematographic brilliance, but also for its confirmation of their depraved life goals. Fine – maybe it’s silly, uptight, naive, unnecessary and possibly judgmental to be upset over the thought that people out there like the movie for this reason, I know. But I am.
And one particular theme of the movie compounds my dislike and discomfort. The drugs? No. The murder? No. The fraud? No. Though these did upset me, not because of the topics, but because of the way they were presented. For example, in the opening scenes Belfort snorts cocaine out of a hooker’s ass hole. We’re not talking nose pickers and hard candy eaters… But no – it was the treatment of women that really overwhelmed me. Every female role in the movie involved something degrading, and left every woman powerless, weak in some (often significant) way. (Come on, let’s make a guy’s guy watch some movie with power-crazed (or at least powerful) women that depicts every male in an absolutely degrading way, filled with pushovers, broken hearted husbands, and token characters, and ask him to like it.) Granted, it’s true of that time in history and fits Belfort’s M.O. Women are objects of infatuation and lust for him. A commodity to be bought and dispensed of as he pleases. Even at the end, after he has sobered up from his unhelpful drug and alcohol habits he manages to rape his wife – after which she asks for a divorce. He works up such a rage that he slaps her, punches her in the gut, pulls a bag of cocaine out of the couch cushion and proceeds to snort it like a pig with a gargantuan appetite.
The most upstanding woman in the movie is featured near the beginning: Belfort’s first wife. She is beautiful, trusting, hard working, and supportive. But Belfort cheats on her not only with hookers and so on, but also with his future second wife – who encourages and enjoys the affair regardless of the ring on his finger. Not an uncommon real-life occurrence I’m sure, but horrible to me nonetheless. Belfort divorces his first wife, who leaves with a broken heart, and within a few days he marries the second. But marriage, of course, does not stop him from ordering out a constant stream of hookers even at work, during and after business hours. Men snarl and fight each other for naked women, who are carried around and humped like war prizes. (On a side note: eighty percent of the movie has non-stop screaming, snarling, yelling. The faces pulled to make those sounds are just as brutal to watch as the sounds are to hear. It’s an incessant grating at the senses.) Anyway, on some level I understand men have primal, sexual urges, but this movie is disgusting, an attack on the eyes, the ears, and the heart.
Let’s list a few more warm moments from the film, most of which actually happened according to Belfort and his co-conspirators. Belfort pays one of his female employees $10,000 to have her head shaven in front of the whole company – so she can get D-cup breast implants. And she does. Belfort and his money-laundering drug dealer friend tape stacks of money to the drug dealer’s wife’s naked body during a laundering idea session. Belfort tries to bribe the F.B.I. agent in charge of investigating him with two scantily clad, totally complacent, catnipped women who give coy sheeple smiles and say things like, “Let us know what we can do for you” and “We’d love to help in any way we can.” As Joanne Lipman puts it in this article, it’s ‘casual misogyny.’ It’s infuriating. Lipman, who was a recent college grad in the era the movie features, says, “for those of us who were there in the 1980s, especially women, the film doesn’t begin to capture the absurdity of that era. The experiences my female Wall Street friends and I had would be considered outrageous today.” The comments section of Lipman’s article is horrifying. But isn’t practically every comments sections on the internet today? …
If you’re wondering whether the movie is only a dramatization of the truth, you’d be wrong. According to the F.B.I. agent who took Belfort into custody in real life, “though the movie and Belfort’s memoir might seem like gross exaggerations of the truth, depicting heavy drug use and sexcapades in the office during trading hours, they’re not exaggerations at all” (historyvshollywood.com). He goes on to say, “I tracked this guy for ten years, and everything he wrote is true.” In fact, the movie softens Belfort’s character by adding pet monkeys (not true to life) and omitting things like a head-on car collision during a drug induced stupor, “that actually sent a woman to the hospital” or the fact that Belfort not only slapped and punched his second wife, “he actually kicked his wife Nadine down the stairs while he was holding his daughter. She landed on her right side with “tremendous force.”” What a low-life.
Belfort earned millions from his books and the movie, and is sometimes paid upwards of $30,000 per speech as a motivational speaker, so let’s not pity him for getting caught and serving time. Moreover, and what’s perhaps most upsetting, is that Belfort, like any good scam artist, is apparently likeable in person. I mean, just look at the twinkle in DiCaprio’s eyes at the end of this short clip:
What a hero. So honest, and a shining example indeed.
P.S. If they really wanted to make a film discouraging that insidious behavior, they would have made it about the victims of the fraud, the families affected, and so on, in the same smart and funny style somehow. But this was a glory film. A regular
Bonnie Clyde and Clyde, without the love.