The Wolf of Wall Street is a shocking film that plunges viewers into a life of excess— full of drugs, sex, scandal, and money. This film has been controversial claiming the director, Martin Scorsese, is endorsing Jordan Belfort’s fraudster and immoral behavior; however, this film is actually a cautionary story on Capitalism. The film contrasts the public image of Wall Street with the internal debauchery that goes on within the office walls. The audience follows Jordan as he goes from selling penny stocks to being one of the most wanted brokers in America.
Jordan represents America’s addiction to success as he lives out everyone’s internal dream of getting rich, very quickly. Like society, Jordan’s desire for pleasure seems bottomless. Even when he is in the midst of being interrogated for fraud, in serious danger for his life, or on the brink of divorce, it never stops him from wanting more drugs, more sex, or more money. Inside Jordan’s company Stratton Oakmont, it is a similar to a premodern society where Jordan is the all-ruling king.
He calls his followers his “stratenites” and creates a cult who worships him, all in awe of his wealth and what he says he can do for them in return for their time. Although the film, The Wolf of Wall Street, seems to be highlighting the perks of immortality and fraud that takes place on Wall Street, this film is actually a visionary allegory about the human nature of being constantly unsatiated, and in turn, always being greedy for more, more, more.
Jordan Belfort is introduced to a number of conflicts throughout The Wolf of Wall Street; however, the first conflict he is introduced to is when Black Monday hits and he loses his first job on Wall Street. Jordan is forced to find a new job and the only place he finds one is called “The Investment Center”—very far away from Wall Street, selling penny stocks. This is where Jordan realizes that he can make something out of nothing. He vows to scam as many people as he can into buying these useless penny stocks, robbing his clients from their money without the them realizing.
Jordan represents greed, at this point he doesn’t care about any of his clients making money; all he cares about is getting his 50% commission of the stock. Scorsese sets up the shots of Jordan making the fraudulent phone calls by only showing Jordan’s side of the phone call, never cutting to the clients on the other line and never letting the viewers see all of the innocent people he is scamming. Scorsese hides the innocent on purpose in order for Jordan to have a greater emotional appeal to the audience. If viewers saw the people’s lives that he was greedily ruining they would begin to hate him.
In contrast, the audience becomes fascinated with Jordan’s schemes, in awe of the power he holds. In the essay, “Wall Street Scandals: The Myth of Individual Greed,” Laura Hansen and Siamak Movahedi say that not only the people on Wall Street, but all people, are filled with some sort of personal and selfish greed. “One may argue that greed that—if not kept in check—which seems to afflict almost everyone, transcending social classes and status boundaries, may be a public issue—a structural problem—rather than a problem within the character of the individual” (367).
Greed is not just an issue that people like Jordan Belfort struggle with but a societal problem. People are able to sympathize with Jordan because every person has a piece of Jordan’s greed within them, wanting to take from other people in order to gain something for their self. Conflict reversal is found when Jordan starts to make serious money and decides to create his own company, Stratton Oakmont. Stratton Oakmont represents excess to the extreme. While working, Jordan and his employers do a surplus of drugs, have tons of sex, and make and spend an overabundance of money.
Jordan manipulates the stock market through his firm, all well living a Gatsby-esque lifestyle, full of partying and not caring about anyone but his self. He ditches his old less-attractive wife only to be with a more beautiful one, he moves out of his apartment into a bigger mansion, and is constantly on the hunt for a more intense high. Stratton Oakmont is similar to a premodern society in which Jordan is on top of the hierarchy. He acts as a modern day king ruling his giant empire he built.
In one scene, Jordan gets up on stage to give a speech to the whole floor about the glories of being rich. Jordan preaches, “There is no nobility in poverty. I have been a rich man and I’ve been a poor man and I choose rich every f***king time! ” Jordan is the ultimate salesman, using his lifestyle as an example for what people can become if they scam hard enough. Jordan fuels America’s addition to Capitalist success and while he is giving his speeches to his workers he is also preaching to the viewers in the audience.
In the essay, “Koros: From Satisfaction to Greed” by James Helm, he states how humans have long been ambivalent to be satisfied. He says, “Critics of the current generation point to unbridled consumption and the desire for immediate gratification as behavioral defects”(5). Our current generation is all consumed with wanting more. The Wolf of Wall Street is so shocking because everything that is shown in Stratton Oakmont is so extremely excessive.
Jordan Belfort rules his kingdom in a chaotic and outrageous manner such as renting midgets to throw at dartboards, spending $26,000 on dinner, and shaving his worker’s head in exchange for a boob job. Jordan’s lifestyle of drugs, sex, and wealth comes to a brief halt when he is found out to be laundering money by the FBI. For a moment, Jordan considers backing down and quitting his firm, however, he cannot live with giving up Stratton and his success. In turn, he decides he is going to fight the battle against the law and try to keep his power.
Jordan’s life takes a downward spiral, but his need for excess never ends. Even when he is on the brink of divorce and about to die on his yacht during a huge storm, he still feels the need to get to the bank in order to secure his overseas laundered money. Once his wife finally divorces him and the FBI realizes all of his corruption, he is arrested, only to soon realize that since he is rich, his version of “jail” is not like any other sort of jail. Even in his three years in prison, Jordan lives a life of excess and we see him playing on a pleasant tennis court.
The final resolution is when he is shown bouncing back after his time in jail, acting as a mentor to an audience who share the same dream of getting very rich. In the final shot, the camera takes a look at the audience in which Jordan is teaching his sales techniques to; the audience represents the movie viewers reflected on the screen. It is a portrait of the American society, everyone from different backgrounds, yet sharing the American dream of gaining success and wealth.
Hansen and Movahedi say, “Not to be greedy within the contemporary social and economic system may be considered pathological, and instance of personal trouble” (367). Even though The Wolf of Wall Street is full of unrealistic excess, Jordan Belfort’s ups and downs yet constant desire for money and power is relatable to every viewer. Everyone internally has the desire to succeed, and therefore are always on the hunt for acquiring more. The Wolf of Wall Street is not glorifying a life of excess, crime, or scandal but rather it is showing what Capitalism and greed can do to our society.
Jordan Belmont goes from selling penny stocks to becoming one of the wealthiest brokers on Wall Street. He rises from rags to riches out of his drive to succeed and become wealthy, however, his success only comes from robbing others. Helm states, “The 1980s have been widely described as the ‘decade of greed’ in America. Can you have ‘too much of a good thing? ’ Does the good life consist of fulfilling as many desires as possible? ” (5) Today’s society is never satiated. Everyone always wants more, but that is not necessarily a problem.
Desire for more is what fuels people to come successful, however, in Jordan Belfort’s case, greed overcomes him and he doesn’t care who he screws over as long as he gets money, drugs, or sex in return. The Stratton Oakmont workers represent our society as a whole, all striving to better our lives. As Jordan preaches to the his followers, he is in turn preaching to us, teaching us his “life lessons” and how to be more successful. As Jordan stands on the stage, everyone looks and admires him as if he were a God.
People are so entranced with his success and pleas that they believe he will change their lives. Jordan claims, “Stratton is the land of opportunity, it is America. ” The Wolf of Wall Street is a hypnotic vision of a fascinating adventure deprived of any sort of morality. This shocking ride is in a sense relatable to everyone’s deep desires of wanting to succeed no matter what the consequence, because as Jordan says “You can deal with your problems by becoming rich. ”