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The Wolf of Wall Street

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The Wolf of Wall Street is a minor work by a great filmic novelist. It's a long movie, like one of those tomes by Dickens or Balzac that had never even heard of the jump cut. The direct address to the viewer and the interior monologues which are novelistic modes of disquisition might also derive from the fact that the movie is based on an autobiographical work by Jordan Belfort (played in the movie by Leonardo DiCaprio). Belfort's scam was the underwriting and selling of so-called penny stocks. His career begins on Black Monday, October 19, l987, the day the stock market fell 508 points and the old line firm L.F. Rothschild, where he'd been hired for his first legitimate job, tanked. "I want you to deal with your problems by becoming richer," Belfort tells the employees of Stratton Oakmont, the auspicious sounding firm he later creates. Actually his story is one of addiction to both money and drugs, specifically Quaaludes and cocaine. There's an image that's used in the ads for the film, of DiCaprio on his knees licking the high heel of a blond. That blond turns out to be his second wife, Naomi (Margot Robbie), and the scene is one in which she takes her vengeance on his repeated infidelity with prostitutes by both depriving him of sex and threatening to increase the torture by walking around the house without underpants. There are a number of other scenes like this which tell the whole story in microcosm including one where Belfort is so paralyzed by Quaaludes that he can't warn his cohort Ronnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) that the F.B.I. is bugging their conversations. Here the particular little device has to do with a piece of telephone wire which acts as a noose. So what is Scorsese getting at as he flourishes these metaphors of submission and entrapment? Besides the addiction leitmotif, it's hard to tell. The canvas is large, but also unutterably small, reducing human existence to the striving for money and power. Scorsese triages his users, but the result is antiseptic and emotionless. There's something missing in this tale of avarice among the cast of outer borough characters. Maybe it's just the pubic hair on Jordan's second wife. Along with Black Monday, the advent of Brazilian hot waxing is another of the losses which the film records.

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}