The Wolf of Wall Street
In 1987, the year that The Wolf of Wall Street begins, Michael Douglas starred as Gordon Gekko, the ultimate symbol of Reagan-era self-indulgent avarice in Oliver Stone’s cautionary tale Wall Street. Gekko became a symbol for materialism and coined a mantra for the ravenous, gluttonous, self-obsessed, win-at-all-cost quest for money. It was simply this: “Greed is good.”
Of course, in the world of Wall Street (and its significantly weaker 2010 sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) greed led the character of Gordon Gekko to spend years in jail for insider trading. Nonetheless he became a hero to a certain type of person, and his kind of insatiable need for money laid the foundation for the kind of income inequality which has turned the US (and world) economy into the mess it is today. Earlier this year, it was estimated that 1% of all the people in the world control 40% of the combined wealth on the planet. By comparison, the poorest 80% of the planet controls a mere 7% of the world’s wealth.
Greed is good, indeed. At least for that 1%. It kind of sucks for the rest of us, though.
Gordon Gekko is name-checked briefly in The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorcese’s epic (and surprisingly funny) look at Wall Street greed and decadence. However, that character’s influence suffuses the proceedings. Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, who rode junk stocks to unbelievable wealth and a Bacchanalian lifestyle, Wolf of Wall Street is a veritable orgy of materialism, greed, drugs, hookers, crime, sports cars, yachts, dwarf tossing, self-indulgence and anti-social behavior.
Like it’s protagonist, The Wolf of Wall Street believes in making everything bigger and better (including its running time, which clocks in at an astounding three hours), a celebration of extravagance and high living. While you know that the filmmaker is trying to condemn the lifestyle, he can’t help but luxuriate in the over-the-top consumerism and misbehavior in which his characters indulge. It may be shallow, superficial, criminal and reckless, but you have to admit it looks like a hell of a lot of fun.