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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Dialogue and Dissonance in The Wolf of Wall Street

Most fascinating about this movie is its diction. It switches from elevated to vulgar in a beat. It mixes money, sex and drugs with the financial markets that move the world. Perhaps the film's game is to serve up what the nightly news revolves around (a subject likely to bore many) with something that will titillate some yet repel others.

The film opens with a brokerage-firm's commercial advertising "Stability, Integrity, Pride." Then the film contrasts the real firm throwing a dwarf-throwing contest with $25000 on the line. In an off-angle shot, Belfort (the narrator/protagonist) is shown having sex in a Ferrari while driving, and flying a copter while under the influence of cocaine. But Belfort has his own definition of those terms.

A person might be interested in ethical finances may not be interested in vulgar living. Looking at Amazon's unusually U-shaped reader-rating statistics makes the divide in audiences clear.

Try on this brilliant opening monologue that spells out what you're in for in this movie (and whether you'll want to watch it):
"On a daily basis, I consume enough drugs to sedate Manhattan, Long Island and Queens for a month. 
"I take Quaaludes for back pain Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, pot to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me up again, and morphine, well, because it's awesome. 
"But of all the drugs under God's blue heaven, there is one that is my absolute favorite. You see, enough of this shit will make you invincible, able to conquer the world, and eviscerate your enemies. [Sniffs coke] And I'm not talking about this. I'm talking about this. [Snaps one hundred dollar bill and tosses it in trash.] 
"See money doesn't just buy you a better life, better food, better cars, better pussy. It also makes you a better person. 
"You can give generously to your church or political party of your choice. You can save the fucking spotted owl with money."
Some of the film's best parts were these monologues. Belfort is told and appears to accept he's an idiot. If so, he's a uniquely clever one.

Martin Scorsese's movie is written by Jordan Belfort, the movie's protagonist, and Terrence Winter, writer for The Sopranos. This movie critic supposed the audience hated the movie because it was 1) too excessive (even for a movie about excess), 2) released on Christmas, and 3) marketed with the wrong tone. (Caution for slow internet users: The link is packed with videos and advertisements.)

Spoiler: The ending, too, may feel like a let-down. The viewer has to ponder what Scorsese was up to. Audiences expect change. When Belfort walks out on stage as a motivational speaker, we don't think he's changed. He sobered up and then rushed back to the drugs. When given opportunities to turn around, he passes them up. It's just a new game: different players, different rules but the same con. At least, so the film suggests. Leonardo DiCaprio in an interview thinks differently:

Observe Scorsese's reaction shot. I'd be curious to hear/read Belfort's thoughts on a film he co-wrote.

Here's a list of other memorable quotes.

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