What do we make of the wolf pack?
Wall Street never fails to make the headlines: in fact it ritually engineers the headlines of the days to come, shaping tomorrow in myriad ways of tweaking global capital. But when Wall Street is culture, and a piece of entertainment, a work of art, how are we supposed to read it? Martin Scorsese’s latest cinematic extravaganza, The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Hollywood heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, the penny-stock bigwig who makes a killing when the markets crash, poses exactly the kind of dilemma that sends critics and commentators in a tizzy over what is good and bad. Especially in the grey zone where art overlaps with morality, where what is definitely not done, legally and ethically in the real world, becomes the subject of a film’s visceral engagement – how are the viewers, public intellectuals and the aesthetic experts supposed to react? Falling back on film theories help little when the subject of a film is as controversial as Jordan Belfort’s life, one of transgressions, legally defined fraudulence and money laundering as well as that socially unresolved awkwardness that comes with sexual excesses. Belfort made millions of dollars by illegally transferring shareholders’ money to his own account in what is known as bourses, but should a well-crafted film about the acknowledged criminal be deemed good, particularly when the film almost catapults him to the level of a superhuman genius?
Of course, that has been the eternal conundrum in which art has found itself. Not only have there been brilliant, spectacular cinematic and literary explorations of the darker political inclinations, such as the blatantly Nazi films by DW Griffith, but Scorsese himself has shown a palpable fascination with the other side, say in a Travis Bickle in the cult film Taxi Driver. Given that Scorsese is presenting a no-holds-barred portrait, an insider account, as it were, of the Wall Street wolves, which oscillates from a glorified augmentation to a pitiless dissection of the cultures and circuits of money and the bodies, the men preying upon other men and women, the ‘libidinal economy’ of hot sex and cold cash, the numbers and the figures that make and break man for himself and others, calling the film an ultimate celebration of Wall Street might be a tad unfair. This film is not Hollywood falling back on the tired grammar of onscreen money and the off-camera money shot.