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Cinema in Focus: ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

1 Star — Degrading

Here is the perfect recipe for a degrading and degenerate life: Mix one part greed, with two parts sex and hookers, add three parts of four-letter words, drugs and alcohol, and you come out with The Wolf Of Wall Street. If you want a bonus flavor added, drop in all of the lives of others whose money was sucked into stock deals solely for the purpose of making these greed-mongers wealthy while they consider the investors pond scum.

Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), and directed by Martin Scorsese, The Wolf Of Wall Street is a difficult-to-watch look into a part of the world of high finance that most people don’t want to know exists. It would be easy to dismiss this view as someone’s anti-Wall Street propaganda, except for the fact that Belfort actually chronicled his own life in this story.

To watch this film you have to have a strong constitution and a stomach for every form of debauchery. Nevertheless, if you can sit through it, you will be amazed at how some people can wreak so much havoc on themselves and others and come out with so little consequence — at least in this life. We won’t spoil the story with its conclusions, but Belfort manages to always land on his feet.

Belfort started out as a nondrinking family man who wanted to climb the ladder of Wall Street. He is quickly indoctrinated into the world of drugs and alcohol as necessary additives to keep one’s energy flying high all day long while selling anything to the wealthy to get your commission. Unfortunately, his entry into the world of finance corresponded to the day in 1987 when the stock market took one of its biggest losses in history.

Out of a job, he discovers the world of penny stocks, a financial product that primarily attracts middle-income novice investors. What he quickly discovers is that penny stocks have a commission of 50 percent, compared to the 1 percent on regular stocks. He parlays this over a five-year period into a powerhouse company built on an evangelistic zeal for greed, greed and more greed. All of this is fueled daily by the additives of hookers, drugs and extravagant living.

Greed, like all drugs, goes up and then has to come down. The antidote, a user believes, is that more of the stimulant is needed, and the cycle continues. The more you use, though, the more it attracts attention, and in this case it is the FBI. Investigations are launched, people sell one another out, greed lets you believe that you are above the law, families and lives are destroyed on the battlefield, and life goes on.

If The Wolf Of Wall Street was meant to be a morality play, then it succeeds in showing the ultimate destruction of the soul caused by greed. If it was meant to be simply an autobiography, it could be seen by some as a recipe book for getting rich without much effort. In either case, for the viewer it is a descent into Hell.


» Society has long recognized the destructive nature of greed and called it one of the deadly sins. Why do you think people still surrender their lives to it knowing its consequences?

» Why do you think greed creates an extravagant lifestyle? What is the difference between greed and a responsible accumulation of wealth with its corollary generosity?

» Addiction experts call addiction “pleasure unwoven.” By this they mean that rather than finding the pleasure the habit or substance promises, the ability to experience pleasure itself is lost. How have you experienced this to be true?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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