What is the significance of The Wolf of Wall Street?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that there are several aspects of significance to the Scorsese film.  One such aspect is how the film displays the corrupting element in materialism. Belfort and his firm of Stratton- Oakmont are able to generate large profits at the cost of trusting individuals.  The excesses of materialism are shown in Belfort's indulgences as well as his disregard for the consequences of his means to accumulate wealth.  The film shows the destruction of individual ambition to the capitalist system as well as to individual notions of ethical conduct.  In a modern setting where questions about corporate greed and the dangers of excessive materialism plague the business community, the film goes far to demonstrating how these behaviors are dangerous for all concerned.

One of the major elements of the film is its depiction of the complexities that exist in dreams.  The ending scene in which Belfort is convincing people at seminar to sell him a pen reflects this condition.  Even after seeing how Belfort had behaved in terms of material excess, causing destruction to both himself and others, he is able to capture individual attention again with his allusion to a dream.  Belfort's ability to charm and initiate our desire to dream is evident in this last scene.  It was this ability that enabled Stratton- Oakmont to pump and dump stocks on the marketplace, leaving investors assuming the final cost. The significance of this final scene reflects how we, as individuals, have to be mindful of charming and charismatic individuals who capture our imagination and seek to manipulate it for their own benefit.  The lure of easy money is something that strikes at everyone.   The ending of the film illuminates the significant condition of this reality in all of our lives.

Finally, I would suggest that a significant aspect to the film is how it should our initiate the need to delve deeper into financial forces like Belfort.  Jordan Belfort is shown to be a destructive force in the film.  However, given the magnetism and charisma with which Leonardo DiCaprio portrays him, there can be a tendency to idealize the vision offered on screen.  When we examine the real Jordan Belfort and the people he deceived, it becomes clear that the film's ending significance causes us to raise questions about his actions.  It is essential that we balance the vision of Belfort on screen with the real- life vision.  For example, we should be asking how much of the millions of dollars that Belfort makes through his book deals and film rights are going to the investors who lost their life savings through Belfort's deals?  The film's vision should cause us to ask critical questions about what is being done for the retirees in Orlando who lost their pension on Stratton- Oakmont's stock deals. In the wake of the film's release, Christina McDowell, daughter of Tom Prousalis (who worked closely with the real-life Belfort at Stratton Oakmont), wrote an open letter that raised such questions:

You people are dangerous. Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals. We want to get lost in what? These phony financiers' fun sexcapades and coke binges? Come on, we know the truth. This kind of behavior brought America to its knees.

I would suggest that this is where the film is most significant.  The film's depiction and introduction of Belfort should cause us to raise questions as to who we valorize in our society.  The film demands that we take a closer look at the conditions that cause specific people to hold power and take power away from others.  This examination is one of the most significant aspects of the film.

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