Picture this: you have spent your entire year working hard, saving your earnings, making ends meet and now you have a rare occasion to spend quality time with your family. It's Christmas Day and you're looking forward to seeing a new film after a great dinner. You're a part of the working class and luxuries like this are as rare as they come in a nation that is plagued with high unemployment and downsizing.
You tell yourself, why not see something directed by a big Hollywood director like Martin Scorsese and starring actor Leonardo DiCaprio. So you sit back and watch this film with your family (who might not have another chance to bond like this until next Easter) and walk out the theater offended.
Before this happens, I will tell you in advance: don't see The Wolf of Wall Street this holiday season.
First off, the film is not poor in quality, but a disappointment in narrative execution. The visual aesthetics are great; cinematography and editing are on point. Yes, the acting is phenomenal and DiCaprio does not disappoint this awards season. But perhaps Hollywood chose the wrong time to highlight the grand excess of a corporate monster.
Jordan Belfort, played by DiCaprio, was a real life wolf on Wall Street. Unlike the various levels of consequence and evil portrayed by a fictionalized Gordon Gekko in the classic film Wall Street, this movie glamorizes Belfort. Throughout the film, the audience is put in a position to idolize and even be amazed by the cleverness of his boss-like nature. Even my fellow peers at Penn from Wharton are hyped by the commercials of his slick suits and raunchy flings. Some even seemed inspired.
But do you actually know who this man is?
The man that many moviegoers might accidentally root for in theaters this holiday season was the same man that defrauded a lot of working class people out of tons of money. Through his penny stock transgressions that many innocent people fell victim to, Jordan Belfort used that money to fuel a lavish lifestyle filled with cocaine, strippers, hot rides and caged animals (as seen in the film) to exploit. And if you watch this film, you might find yourself caught up in the Hollywood glitz of Wall Street and all of its handsome well groomed "protagonists."
But what you are not going to quickly recognize when watching this satire of a motion picture is the celebration of men like Belfort that are partially responsible for the weakening of this economy and the wealth disparity of our society. Men like Belfort are villains, not men that we should celebrate. As a nation that demands justice in the face of lower-class criminals, let's not ignore the white collared criminals that hurt us just as much.
Hollywood has made it a pastime with spotlighting and glamorizing the lifestyles of men on Wall Street. We are often told the famous lines "greed is good," and left with the awe and amazement of seeing a world that we often only dream of. "The American Dream" we are exposed to in this grand scale of expansive property and ultimate decadence. But what gets left out of all of this is how the actual crime and corruption impacts the victims...because that probably wouldn't be a box office hit.
In these films, you will not see the faces of millions who lost their life savings. Or hear how those corrupt "power moves" made the poor even more in debt and the rich wealthier than before. Hollywood does not want to give you a sad ending, but a fancied hero in a surreal satire. The Wolf of Wall Street is a silly biopic that only gives you the sweet end of Belfort's deception, but leaves out the actual core of what made him a wolf.
So instead of watching luxurious depictions of corruption, perhaps go see a film about a more realistic middle-class family that has their fair share of problems (August: Osage County) or admire a real life hero and symbol of bravery (Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom). For these films will not mock your inability to recognize that you are paying a ticket to cheer on a man that might have defrauded you in the past. Or mystify the direct impact that such criminal activity has on the state of our economic livelihood.
For it's high time we dismantle Hollywood's misguided perceptions of history and our projection of what success looks like. The real heroes and aspirations are the very moviegoers in our cinemas that work hard every day to survive the mess that these very Wall Street fantasy films are made of. So perhaps it's time to let the box office know that as well.
If this is going to actually be the season of giving, we must make an effort not to endorse the ideals of those movies that compel us to do the exact opposite.
Happy holidays and your welcome, Hollywood.