The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated film of 2013, follows former stockbroker Jordan Belfort from the time he starts his career in 1987 until he is finally sentenced to jail 11 years later. This movie clearly isn’t for everyone. Those uncomfortable listening to discussions of sex and drugs should stay away. Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have paired to bring Belfort’s real-life accounts to the big screen, while 2008 is still fresh in many viewers’ cultural mindset.
The Wolf of Wall Street has been widely praised by critics for its accomplished cast, faithfulness to the autobiography it’s based on, and portrayal of wild antics, despite the explicit language, drug use, and sex. However, some audiences have expressed complaints that the depiction of these hedonistic exploits was glamorizing wealth and excess. Perhaps we’re scared of this lifestyle now, or are quicker to complain when wealth is unabashedly pursued. However, that doesn’t mean the filmmakers condone such behaviour or are telling us to pursue such lavish lifestyles ourselves. There’s a thing called satire, and The Wolf of Wall Street uses it.
To properly show the lifestyle of wealthy, fraudulent stockbrokers taking “enough drugs to sedate greater Long Island” on a daily basis, Scorsese needed to put the audience into that atmosphere by including all the hookers, Quaaludes, and cocaine he could find. Perhaps it was over the top, but that’s what Belfort’s lifestyle was. With most other directors, this story could have turned into a parody, but Scorsese was able to keep the comedy in check.
Satire uses humour, irony, and exaggeration to point out the flaws in an issue. Jordan Belfort (played by DiCaprio in the movie) comes off as humorous because of his outrageous antics and the unbelievable things he says, yet there’s still believability to it. It may be hard to personally imagine thinking like him, but it’s easy to expect that that’s how CEOs and Wall Streeters lived their lives in 2008.
Showing Belfort’s wealth required a certain amount of exaggeration. Without seeing the insanity of his lifestyle, we wouldn’t have felt repulsed by his greed. When his aunt-in-law—who holds onto one of Belfort’s Swiss bank accounts—dies, he doesn’t console his clearly distraught wife. Instead he orders the captain of his yacht into dangerous open water, putting all their lives at risk to head for Monaco and drive to Switzerland.
This film isn’t trying to tell us this lifestyle is good; it shows the ridiculous extravagance and what comes of it. Even in jail, Belfort lived in luxury due to his fraudulent wealth. We aren’t supposed to wish for this excessive lifestyle, but note the irony that he never had any real hardship, despite stealing millions from the wealthy and middle classes. We’re meant to consider the recent economic recession of 2008 and how we look at stockbrokers and other wealthy men manipulating the system. Have the ones responsible received the due punishment? Probably not.