There Are No Friends in a World of Greed

 

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THE WOLF OF WALL STREET — Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street is an indulgently voyeuristic picture of MORE, MORE, MORE, at every level. Money, sex, drugs – there’s no stopping the film’s main characters, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his cohorts, from their purely hedonistic pursuits. And, yet, that’s still not enough. Is Martin Scorsese secretly enthralled and glorifying debauchery, as some critics and viewers suggest? Or, is his three-hour film really meant to take us inside the depraved minds of men who are completely out for themselves and have absolutely no capacity for human concern?

What pushes someone, like Belfort, over the top, like this? Cut to the beginning of Jordan Belfort’s career. He’s a smart and hungry young man. Newly married and burning with a desire for success, he’s a natural born salesman. He has talent. He’s gifted at understanding the “ins and the outs” of the stock market. A motivational speaker of sorts – he can get people to do pretty much anything he wants. And, he’s especially brilliant at selling.

Remember the sales pitch about the pen? Do you sell a pen by describing how beautiful it is? What good qualities it has? No. You ask someone who doesn’t have a pen to write down something very important. They can’t. How do you sell almost anything? Appeal to NEED. Jordan Belfort knows how to prey on need. Isn’t this exactly the tactic behind one of Wall Street’s biggest scam artist’s success? If you want to call ripping off people in need, success.

What makes someone this way? What makes a reasonable desire for success turn the corner towards fraud and corruption, to concoct larger and more elaborate schemes? Not only that. Belfort is flying so high in his delusional drug-induced mania, that his certainty he can get away with anything is as big as his megalomaniacal ego.

No wonder he is so easily seduced by the swaggering Mark Hanna. What does Hanna do to initiate Belfort into the fold of “successful” stockbroker? He gives him the pitch: “Uh-Uh-Uh – follow me!” They’re modern day cavemen, manly men who go out for the kill and drag the woman back by her hair, right? The story is practically this primitive. Certainly all of the envy, jealousy, arrogance, wanton lasciviousness, and greed that run amuck in the film are fueled by the most primitive human emotions gone wild.

GREED and NEED are two different things. Sometimes deprivation, starvation, or desperate need can morph into greedy behavior. But, there’s no evidence in the film of such circumstances. We do see a father, Belfort’s, who seems to have a certain degree of immorality, too – or, at the very least, corruptly complicit enough to go right along with whatever makes his son happy. Belfort’s parents just look on rather proudly at their son’s excesses. Are they simply too naïve to fully grasp what he’s doing? Or, are they as immoral as he is, and just as happy to reap some of the benefits of their son’s misbegotten wealth.

What we don’t see in the film is the serious damage done to the people who unwittingly fall victim to Belfort and his cohort’s schemes. We witness only one shocking example of how close Belfort’s collateral damage falls to home. To avoid imminent financial calamity in Switzerland, he refuses to take his wife to her aunt’s funeral, and instead almost kills her and everyone else aboard his yacht when he recklessly directs the captain to sail across the sea in the worst of storms. Someone like Jordan Belfort just doesn’t care about anyone but himself, does he? Something insidiously poisonous takes over. GREED. And, he’ll take anyone down to get what he wants. There aren’t any real friends in that kind of world.