Films Seen in 2013:
#256. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, Scorsese)
Brazen, bloated, maniacally funny, exhausting, redundant, and revolting. I don’t know how else to describe this film which is causing quite a stir and rightly so. If it didn’t provoke this kind of discussion and/or disgust than it would not have succeeded. It’s been said so many times but depiction does not equal endorsement. It’s an uncomfortable film for many reasons, mainly because Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter are constantly toeing the line between an unapologetic immersion into Jordan Belfort’s scummy lifestyle, in a way that is meant to feel infectious, and pulling back for that nasty transparency. Scorsese has always had a fascination with these types of hyper-masculine guys who turn their backs on the law in various ways. And that comes through, complicating things a bit, mostly for the better.
What the film lacks in layers it makes up for in audacity and a commitment to turning people off and on in fluid measure, and the experience of watching it is more than varied. Because this is a pitch-black comedy, a satire, and a film as ugly as they come. There are times we laugh at them and times we shake out heads in disbelief and times that we pull back in horror. But there are also times we laugh with them. Because we’re meant to. And you catch yourself. The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t just meant to condemn, to mirror the worst of man’s base instincts, and the mentality of American Dream as horror show. We are meant to enjoy watching them every so often. Not in a way that supports, but in a way that truthfully links us to these characters for being entertained on any level, even a critiquing one. The filmmakers and the audience are not placed above the goings-on no matter what our reaction is to what we see. That last shot couldn’t be more reflective of that.
And as a woman there’s an additional layer to watching all of this because this is a world where misogyny runs rampant, where women are either on Belfort’s three-pronged prostitution scale, or have (smartly I say) hitched their way to money through marriage or have fought like hell to become one of the boys. And then there’s the glorious Aunt Emma. But there really is no room made for us in the world of this film, and women are seen as objects to be defiled, put down, worshiped, or disgraced at every turn. Sound familiar? Because fucking seriously, this is the world we are living in. This is the mentality. And Wolf of Wall Street gives us a first-class ticket to a special kind of debauchery.
DiCaprio is blistering on a wavelength we’ve never seen from him (hell, never even come close to), and never thought him capable of. This is an extreme film with an extreme character and he’s been waiting to play this part for 7 years. He is all-in, unhinged in a way few performances are, keyed up for physical comedy and improvised distastefulness. It is both exhilarating and exhausting to watch him work; in many ways, it’s the performance I’ve been waiting his entire career for. In fact, this might be the most pitch-perfect cast of the year. Everyone is standout in their own way.
And as for the men, well, the funniest scene of the year might also be the most grotesque and pointed depiction of mankind I’ve seen since….ever? It’s the perfect example of Scorsese and the godly Thelma Schoonmaker committing to the subjective experience of Belfort but always, always, always pulling back the curtain in some way to reveal the pitiful reality. DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are higher than their characters have ever been, on Lemmons, are seen from a distance; slobbering, writhing, screeching, fighting between a kitchen island, unable to reach each other, unable to speak with any semblance of coherence. Literally conquered by a phone cord and a piece of ham.
Laughter is the best medicine and the only way to present this story. It goes down smoother but with an amplified potency which, though I wish it had more of the kinds of stinging moments depicted in the brilliant head-shaving scene, makes for a film that pitches us right into the heartlessness of a rotted mentality that supports the notion that having money gives you carte blanche to stop being human.