The Wolf of Wall Street: Scorsese’s Surprisingly Fun Takedown of the American Dream?
The trailer for the fifth Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio collaboration The Wolf of Wall Street recently came out, and it looks just as fantastic as you would expect it to be. Inspired by the rise and fall of real life stock trader Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street also stars Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey. The trailer can be found here:
What immediately struck me upon watching this trailer was how fun the movie looks. When I first heard about the movie, I expected it to be Martin Scorsese’s take on a Gordon Gecko type figure, drawing on what Oliver Stone set out to do in 1987’s Wall Street and updating it for the modern day. And the movie does seem to examine that “Greed is Good” philosophy. What I did not expect were images of Leo tossing dwarfs at a target like a lawn dart.
At one point he also brings a monkey into the office:
It all looks so lively and energetic. Of course most of this will be in the ‘rise’ section of the movie, with the ‘fall’ only hinted at towards the end of the trailer with quick cuts of cops and guns. Until then, we are treated with dwarves, monkeys, parties, women, drugs, fast cars, luxurious boats, and an always charming Matthew McConaughey. It looks like everyone is at the top of their game here, delivering a smart and socially relevant movie, yet with extreme entertainment value and wide audience appeal.
It must also be noted how perfectly the trailer is edited to Kanye West’s new song ‘Black Skinhead.’ The use of Kanye West brings about comparison to Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, another movie featuring DiCaprio in ultra-rich party mode. I enjoy the idea of this trailer as an almost rap battle response to Luhrmann by Scorsese, with Kanye and Leo as the primary instruments. Both movies are about the recklessness of the wealthy, and how one man essentially sells his soul to achieve such an excessive and extravagant lifestyle.
These films are about the American Dream, an increasingly pervasive topic in movies this year. The American Dream is one of those themes than you can read into as the subtext of almost any story, like “class struggle” or “the emptiness of the human condition”. They look good on paper and sound insightful, so students love them and employ them frequently. Yet this year more movies are making the American Dream the actual subject matter of the film, with characters openly discussing it. Just look at Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers and Michael Bay’s Pain and Gain. These movies turn the American Dream into the very text of the film, something rarely done since Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Terry Gilliam’s movie adaptation in 1998 lost the subtitle of Thompson’s original book published in 1971: “A Savage Journey into the Heart of the American Dream.
With events like the Occupy Wall Street movement still fresh in viewer’s minds, the 1% vs. the 99% idea seems to be the hot topic for filmmakers today. Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring follows a group of thieves who steal from the ivory towers of celebrities in Hollywood. Neill Blompkamp’s Elysium pushes the concept into the future by placing the 1% in outer space, literally looking down on the rest of us from their orbiting utopia. The recently video game Bioshock Infinite established a similar society by venturing into the past, again featuring a floating city of the wealthy out reach from the “vox populi” below.
The core message is that the American Dream is flawed, and the system is rigged. It’s a message especially relevant right now, and audiences seem to want to hear it. The question becomes whether or not Scorsese will be able to bring something new to the table with The Wolf of Wall Street. Villainizing the corrupt stock trader isn’t a new notion by any means, and it’s especially easy in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. It was even done fairly recently (and quite effectively) in last year’s Arbitrage, yet where Arbitrage was so serious and solemn The Wolf of Wall Street looks comical and vibrant. And maybe that’s enough to keep it fresh.
Based off this trailer, it’s tough not to start thinking about Oscar nominations already. DiCaprio has quite the following these days, with people practically rioting for the guy to finally get his statue. Of the two, this seems more likely to get the Academy’s attention than The Great Gatsby, which got a tepid reception from critics and audiences. Jonah Hill, who now gets to have the label “Academy Award Nominee” above his head, could be in for another nomination even though Moneyball is only two years behind us. Finally McConaughey, who has had a string of great performances recently with Magic Mike, Bernie, The Paperboy, Killer Joe and Mud, could finally get some recognition for the excellent work he’s been churning out over the last year. With these major players and Martin Scorsese at the helm, The Wolf of Wall Street should connect with critics and audiences, even if its subject matter has already been done before. Maybe audiences will never tire of artists exploring the so-called “dark underbelly of the American Dream.” We’ll find out when The Wolf of Wall Street comes out on November 15th.
What do you think? Leave a comment.