Wolf of Wall Street (part one)
There are no victims at the beginning of the movie. Basically, it begins with a lad finding himself in what turns out to be one of the engine rooms keeping a whole society running, that needs to be kept going smoothly lest – collapse. To their "customers," they flood confidence, their own ego, surety, and unflappability. Anything equivocating must be "other side" – on the side of those investing in stocks, who need to have every bit of wavering greeted with an immediate return of reassurance. To be this for them, for society, means affixing themselves with the right mix of chemicals so to be a stable base of relaxed bliss from whence confidence can be spurt out as required.
There are no victims, because the movie begins with a sense that this is just where society is. Whatever might have driven societies before then – which might in the past have been "righteous" war and sacrifice (the 40s), cautious but real growth and paranoia (the 50s), authenticity and the blossom of utopianism (the 60s), easy-living (the 70s), and attack-suits and piss-on-poor sobriety (the early Reagan 80s) – here it's about … perpetuating: keeping the man with money from sensing any relapse of your assurance.
There's an "earthquake" – the crash of '87 – and for a moment it looks like there might be victims: a whole culture of middle-classers keeping expenses down and yet still always at risk of losing all and going down. But as we know, this reality of being totally shut out was still fifteen years away. And so what we really had now was just a pause where those who could regroup fast enough would find what next to stoke on an age.
Jordan Belfort, encouraged by his wife, steps out into the boonies, a useless “Yukon” ramshackle before it had announced to the world that in furrowing away from the world it had furrowed itself up against the next huge mother-load. There are types there poking at prospects as if the best takeaway might fill a contented, pathetic half bail-full – there aren't any veins deeper than arm's length, ostensibly. Belfort estimates this may have little to do with what possible riches lie out there and more to do with the self-conception of those doing the mining: they're small, deflated people – nose-pickers and previously bullied – whom nobody has ever tried to inflate, and who should – proportionately – only find ongoing small troughs of treasure. Come at this territory in a big and presuming way, and who knows? Something massive might be expanded down into his and perhaps eventually, each and every one of these toad-investor's scooping throat sacks.
So even though Belfort's attention will soon move on to Wall Street again, the next large part of the film feels like it's the 90s and 2000s, where somehow people with, ostensibly, no money, became the source of the next long crazy boom. That small penny-stock shack that Belfort convinces a sap to invest several thousand dollars in … all that happened here was a reveal that these "garbage men," these middle class men, were no longer the 50s types who found contentment in something substantial yet still evidently middling, but people who only sought out the whole-hog: the brazen and disproportionate, the obscene – the eight-bedroom home with two eighty-inch TVs and a hemi two-ton in the garage, if it could all be gotten, when in fact their job-surety was slackening. What was so great about what had been discovered was that their appetites were as misshapen as those of the Wall Street wolves’; your delivery needed to be confident, but it could be sloppy, have "holes" in it, because of the gigantic need of these people to deflect away from anything attenuated in its promise. Belfort might make fun of them behind their backs, but somehow this isn't humiliating the victims so much as showing how these now-unleashed appetites can hardly be overwritten. If you piss into an oil-geyser you’ve proudly unleashed, attention is drawn, after all, to the power of something quite beyond easy ruin.
If you were to be decent with these people rather than readily exploit them, be the salesman from "Ruthless People," who regardless of how he starts his spiel ultimately attempts to caution away the youth with the pregnant wife from buying the stereo "that's as big as a Subaru and costs as much," you'd be blithely ignored, diluted out of field of vision, instantly a ghost scratching desperately at airspace and hopelessly thinning out into ever-thinning vapors, while a pompous salesman intrudes past you to offer the dance the volcanic-appetite customer expects. And so while the phenomenon is the same – massive bags of money are forked over – these small people losing on penny stocks were just as likely to have spent it all on “Subaru-sized TVs,” if happenstance had drawn down upon them a different cold-caller. And rather than thereby ruined – they’d in these instances keep and enjoy stuff that temporarily absolved them considering they might not be one of society's winners.
So once again, there are no victims, because as if collectively everyone agrees that this must be the last absurd story that an inflated age will tell before a Depression's big mitts masticates everything that went on before it into a humbled matt of pleat it would lay its own wretched story over, these people with no money somehow in a way I still don't quite understand, get it, get the money, in apparent abundance – enough for some to even buy McMansions, and as well most of them near every single electronic trick the economy unleashed. I know it’s about working triple hours as well; but a huge lot of it was being benighted by “otherworldly” powers quite beyond them but who saw in them ideal and necessary transduction for their own ongoing story – God, Jesus, Holy aerial spirits – Wall Street – divesting themselves of the exceptional to succor temporarily in the multitudes. So triple mortgages, grouped together into mutual funds, into every wealthy American’s portfolio, increasing in value each way up until collectively people shifted mindsets and the whole thing seemed insane – a nation of wealth built out of “Tulip flowers,” or rather – turd. Once again, a development that didn’t occur for a full decade and a half.
We’re back to surety again; and though for being a perfect embodiment of the age he no longer needs one, a wiser version of his still-perspicacious previous mentor – a “Gandalf” Matthew McConaughey – would tell Belfort that “he’s lucky to be one of those feeling this couldn’t possibly be a better time to be alive. A time where it’s almost impossible to rightfully feel guilt, for everyone’s now clamoring for what their own personal equivalent of being in a perpetual chemical high is. And so if you think something’s wrong with what’s going on you’re not so much going to make your small helpful indent anyway, but rather be ignored, for decades – maybe the rest of your life. For who’s to say the next age – the Depression one, where no outbreak of the manic will be allowed to inflate society beyond what had been accounted for – might dislike your egoism even more than “late growth” resented your ability to get on outside of a drug high. Don’t worry about the prostitutes you’re screwing, or even the recruits you make office-whores – every gloop sucked down from the men of their time makes them belong that much more to it. They’re actually growing in stature, not being be-felled. Watch, the girl giving the blowjob to every man in the room will end up claiming one of your ringleaders in marriage. It’ll happen. Feel lucky; live guilt-free; and only tamper down the masturbation so you’ve more for the whores!”
Then in the film, suddenly, it’s as if post-2008, post the real estate crash, post when there now was no recompense for people with poor jobs and little money but to wait at least another half decade for unions to tease into relevance again, post when everyone in a company and everyone who supplied it could rightfully be thought of as sharing in the same crazy-high times, had stepped in, and there are victims. Post this crash, which took us into our current Depression, people don’t cling to the boss to claim his potency – they’re not the eager recruits crashing down on Oakmont after the “Forbes” article, who if they’re lucky, and in, will garner a decade of debauch from him before they have to wake-up – but rather like Mae from Dave Eggers’ “the Circle,” who as Margaret Atwood says, has “recently been an Everygirl stuck in her own version of purgatory, the humiliating McJob in the gas and energy utility of her small hometown in California that she took out of the need to pay off her crushing college debts. Now she’s called back from the living dead.” These are people who draw close for reassurance that they do belong, that they won’t find themselves back where they came from. They’re trying to nail their feet more securely to the floor so they can’t be removed, which actually taints them as an alien element maybe-to-be-detected by those who feel the bond more assumingly.
There are two instances where individuals within the company get singled out. One of them probably gets categorized in the mind as just comic – a bow-tied dandy cleaning a fish bowl is handed a torrent of abuse by Belfort’s number one, Jonah Hill’s Donnie Azoff. It’s comic, for the scene’s “Where’s Waldo” element – since here’s about the only bow-tie amidst the rest of the company’s power-90s regulars – and of course for Azoff descending down on him like some death-harkening vulture. But it counts nevertheless as someone within the company getting crushed for something ostensibly obvious and horrifying but objectively innocuous and inconsequent. An instance that could freeze and terrify anyone in the company who saw themselves in him.
The other instance brings us very close to the situation in most companies today, where people trying to join the debauch can’t help but be exposed by the trepidation their outside lives continue to imbibe in them. An office girl agrees to have her hair shaved off in front of everyone for ten thousand dollars. This event is to cap off a staff celebration; and as with all these that end with attention to women, it’s about women divesting themselves. However, while strippers being introduced are of the party – nothing that’ll go on will be much of a surprise, nor especially a grievance to them – she strikes you more as someone who’s innocent to how much denigration will drive everyone on. As Stephanie Zacharek says, “she submits cheerfully to the electric shaver, but we feel humiliated for her as locks of her lustrous hair fall to the floor. She's playing the boys' game, tossing her own currency into the pot, but it's all just a big guffaw for them.” Indeed, though the guys afterwards focus on a range of things, if their focus was allowed to rest longer on her they might have tossed dollar bills over her – another lending of feedback for her to eventually wrap into her awareness, that though she hoped to further belong, the moment had left her less the game employee and more someone who’d let herself be sacrificed for a momentary egging-on of the hoard.
At this point in the film every time I watched Belfort and his friends entertaining themselves, or being good friends to one another, I did enjoy vicariously experiencing their adventures and how they showed how their time together has lent to genuine, supporting friendships between them – but I brought along throughout the ghosts of those not so lucky. Most notably, when Belfort decides he won’t forsake his company and in a frenzy re-pledges his allegiance to the people he loves – most particularly the senior female recruit who’s been there since the beginning – I wasn’t just shedding a tear for his sincere and loving tribute. I did note his love, and I appreciated him for it – and as well her own heartfelt re-pledging herself to him. But here really are the management types you see in every company nowadays who fete one another constantly, who can do really kind things for one another, be generous to each other, and then switch into killers when they interact with everyone else. They become those who wonder why you’re not sufficiently enthused about and championing the firm, oblivious to how concertedly the firm has shaped conditions so that genuine enthusiasm would mark you as the kind of ready-to-toss-out human garbage who smiles more after you kick it.
So I certainly wasn’t quite where the reviewer Richard Brody was at, who in his review of the film remarked that in this departure speech “[he] bet that some viewers won’t be able to resist some embarrassing tears,” and just left it at that. I shed some, which I thought was quite remarkable of me, because I was aware they were effectively for the pigs of “Animal Farm.” And was prepared to battle those like Brody surely preposterously upbraiding those with qualms about reveling in their adventures.