Bohemian Buddhist Review

The Wolf of Wall Street

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo diCaprio deliver a one-two punch, but is anyone gonna feel it?
 

The Wolf of Wall Street . . . is probably one of the more iconic recent American movies, though it's a good hour too long. The camera's depictions of the hooker-booze-quaalude-cocaine-cash "perks" of high finance are over-the-top, but the scenes are hard to watch. Out of control, avaricious, addicted, arrested adolescents wreaking havoc feels too much like America of late.

Wolf is the true story of a poor white male, Jordan Belfort, ably-played by Leonardo diCaprio, in a heart attack-inducing role if there ever was one, whose goal is to get rich, and who has no scruples about how he gets there. At least he didn't turn to murdering people, I thought after the movie. The strong meme of sociopathic tribalism in Belfort's dealings with his male drug- and sex-addict stockbroker cronies is ample testimony to the need for gender equality on Wall Street -- and all halls of power. Not that I'm holding my breath. 

Matthew McConaughey, as the original snake oil salesman, shows diCaprio the ropes -- including advice on how many times a day to masturbate. McConaughey must not mind being Hollywood's main cringe factor actor, but he does deliver illumination from on high:  no one but no one knows how stocks will perform; good, bad, or worthless, the only real way to make money is to sell them. Over and over and over again. And never mind about conscience, or legality, either.

Jonah Hill, as diCaprio's messed-up sidekick, does an exemplary job of fleshing out an essentially empty character; he also supplies DiCaprio's most chilling moment, in which the latter visibly swings towards homicide of his supposedly best friend.

Some cool cameos include the lovely Joanna Lumley and the literary Fran Lebowitz, but while the movie's other, younger women, all shaved, oiled and tanned to perfection, do yeomen service in servicing the men, they come off as bad as their male counterparts because they have little to motivate them beyond keeping their Barbie-doll looks. Tray sexiste. But then this is a movie about a drug-drenched, testosterone-fueled, dysfunctionally functional man's world, not a woman's. (We go crazy in other ways.)

Though it was hard to care about any of the characters -- Jordan Belfort's notable charm and charisma turn crazy-creepy in the end -- the movie does serve as a metaphor for the current state of American morals. Or should we say the particularly bankrupt state of American morals from the 80's until today, when greed has become the name of the game and compassion is considered only for suckers.

Political, military and corporate sociopaths are running amok in their various fields, variously addicted to adrenaline, money, power, sex, and drugs. Llike the characters in Scorsese's movie, they appear stunningly unaccountable, even to themselves. Wolf does, however, exemplify the Buddha's First Two Noble Truths: existence is suffering, and if you really want to maximize that suffering, go for whatever you crave the most and hang on until it destroys you.

The upshot of the movie is a disturbing one. Even after watching his family and his life go up in blow, Belfort serves only a short prison term and re-emerges -- ta-da -- as a marketing guru. A truly cynical U. S. success story. Though it comes close, The Wolf of Wall Street doesn't quite deliver the goods about the slo-mo suicide of casino-corporate capitalism. The story of an unrepentant sociopath is the definition of a feel-sleazy movie, but if you go from the specific to the general, the lessons are there to be learned. I'm just frankly apprehensive that instead of being a cautionary tale, it will turn millions of desperate young Americans into Belfort wannabes.

So here's the take away from The Wolf of Wall Street: amorality is in; crime, if it's big enough, does pay off; and it all goes on for far too long.