Three or four days ago N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott posted a piece called “What I Learned About Democracy From the Movies,” and subtitled “Seven films that paint a portrait of America in all its contradictions, inconsistencies and outright delusions.”
Scott singles out Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street for sending the kind of conflicting message that Hollywood has long excelled at.
“There are those who insist that Wolf is a ferocious indictment of the money culture, or at least of the shallow scammers who treat the serious business of capitalism like a casino. And there are others who can’t stop ogling the drugs, the cars, the boats and Margot Robbie, even if the spectacle makes us feel a little squeamish.
“Everyone is right! Disapproval of excessive wealth and unchecked avarice is Hollywood gospel. See Citizen Kane, It’s A Wonderful Life, Wall Street and the Godfather movies. But see the same movies for contrary evidence. Wealth onscreen is beautiful, exciting, erotic.”
I’ve never forgotten LexG saying at the time that he liked The Wolf of Wall Street “for the wrong reasons.”
On 12.13.13 I said the same thing that Scott wrote. The piece was called “Druggy Wolf of Wall Street is New Scarface”:
“I saw Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount, 12.25) for the second time last night, and it felt just as wild and manic as it did the first time. (And without an ounce of fat — it’s very tightly constructed.)
“And yet it’s a highly moral film…mostly. Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and all the rest are never really ‘in the room’ with these depraved Stratton Oakmont brokers. They’re obviously juiced with the spirit of play-acting and pumping the film up and revving their engines, but each and every scene has an invisible subtitle that says ‘do you see get what kind of sick diseased fucks these guys were?…do you understand that Jordan Belfort‘s exploits redefined the term ‘asshole’ for all time?’
“Why, then, did I say that Wolf is ‘mostly’ moral? Because it also revels in the bacchanalian exploits of Belfort and his crew. It broadly satirizes Roman-orgy behavior while winking at it. (Or half-winking.) Unlike the Queens-residing goombahs in Goodfellas, whom he obviously feels a mixed affection for, Scorsese clearly doesn’t like or relate to the Stratton Oakmont guys. But the 71 year-old director also knows first-hand how enjoyable drug-abuse can be for cocky Type-A personalities in groups, and he conveys this in spades.
“Wolf is clearly ‘personal’ for Scorsese. Like everyone else who came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, he is believed to have ‘indulged’ to some extent. (Whatever the truth of it, 1977’s New York, New York has long been regarded as a huge cocaine movie.) One presumes that Scorsese is living a sensible and relatively healthy life these days, but boy, does he remember!
“And it hit me last night that The Wolf of Wall Street is going to be enjoyed by audiences as a rollicking memory-lane drug party. Anyone who lived any kind of Caligula-type life in their late teens and 20s is going to get off on it. Because as deplorable and outrageous as the film’s party behavior seems, it’s also oddly infectious.”