The Wolf of Wall Street: Afterthought

This is not, technically, a review. More of a general impression some weeks after seeing it.

Yes, it’s overlong and repetitive. While never boring, you often laugh and are disturbed at the same time. The lead character, Jordan Belfort, is – and this is saying something – the most repellant scumbag ever to be in a Scorsese film. He has NO redeeming attributes. None. He overwhelms you, but without charm. Is this DiCaprio’s fault? Or was it intended? I certainly felt unease while watching it, despite a few bravura set pieces, especially the quaaludes scene.

Yet the film has staying power and stature. Among many memorable scenes is this one: the roomful of traders has gathered to hear their boss, DiCaprio, who beams triumphantly. He reminds them – yet again – how lucky they are to be working for him, and how their future will be golden. Then he points to one of them, a woman, and tells the crowd her story. She had come to him to ask for help in a family emergency. She needed money badly. With extravagant compassion, he tells of his overwhelming sympathy and generosity by giving her much more than she even asked for. The room is dumbstruck.

This scene conveys a terrible truth. While Belfort’s need for more money is an addiction that can never be satisfied, like his need for drugs and sex, there is always another need, a hunger that grows along with success: the need to be loved. Belfort was using his power to demonstrate what a good person he was. All of the spoils that come from the ruthless pursuit of money and power can never replace the one thing that make it all matter: the approval and love of others. It was as if Belfort was waiting for the right opportunity, and he was going to grab it.

But behind this, and it’s the ugliest part, there is always a threat, a hidden message that I am sure was clear to everyone who applauded him for his selfless act: do not dare to cross me! If I can do this much to make you love me, I can do just as much to make you wish you were never born.

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