The movie “The Wolf of Wall Street,” directed by Martin Scorsese, begins with an advertisement for the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont. The commercial leads us to believe that the brokerage firm is a venerable American institution, a pillar of financial stability, as traditional, trustworthy, and established as if the Mayflower passengers had etched the very name into Plymouth Rock.
Cut to the nightmarish circus of a rollicking party on the trading floor of the company, not unlike what we’ve imagined went on in Rome before the fall, and then freeze frame on the billionaire brokers tossing a dwarf at a huge velcro target, verbally and figuratively abusing the little guy.
The story that follows the fictional commercial amounts to a nonstop barrage of drug-fueled decadence. Terence Winter adapted this story from the memoir of a real-life stockbroking con artist named Jordan Belfort.
It has been said that the film is a distant relative of the book, and it has also been said that the book is a distant relative of the truth. The film “The Wolf of Wall Street” was given the title “Scarface for Douchebags” on the poster that was designed by Uproxx. The poster is humorous and honest.
The framing of the film as a crime movie, despite the fact that it was obviously meant to be a joke, draws attention to the many parallels between Scorsese’s film and the gangster genre, and it begs the question of whether or not Belfort is even worse than the fictional mobsters from which the director appears to draw inspiration.
It’s possible that the director is the foremost expert on charismatic sociopaths in cinema, but Henry Hill or Nicky Santoro don’t stand a chance against Leonardo DiCaprio’s title character, the wolf.
The brokers in this movie represent an age of careless self-indulgence and greed. They are like thugs with fountain pens instead of guns; they will slice and dice your bank account and put your savings in a vise rather than on your head.
Ideology, genre, and auteur by Robin Wood begins with a definition of the American capitalist ideology, which can be understood as the set of principles and presumptions that are exemplified and supported by traditional Hollywood films.
The ideas that Wood presents can be summed up as a list of contradictions, ranging from the glorification of success and wealth to what Wood refers to as the Rosebud syndrome, which is the concept that money isn’t everything and that money corrupts; the ideal of marriage and family as opposed to the image of the perfect man as an unencumbered adventurer; the white picket fence small-town life as opposed to the sophisticated city career; and so on.
The ideology that has been presented is far from being monolithic; rather, it is inherently fraught with tensions that cannot be resolved.
The argument that Wood puts forward is that the development of genres is rooted in exactly this type of ideological contradiction, with each genre navigating a different set of characteristics, or a different facet, of the ideology. In other words, ideological contradiction was the driving force behind the development of genres.
In a similar vein, Robert Ray, in his book A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, argues that the primary function of popular American film is to reconcile values that are incompatible with one another.
Ray places his research at the intersection of various theories of overdetermination and transformation in order to provide an explanation for the development of the Hollywood film industry. Marxism, mythological research, and psychoanalytic theory are the three schools of thought that are brought together in his investigation.
Important to my analysis of the genre and the ideology in The Wolf of Wall Street is Ray’s engagement with Levi-Strauss’ idea that myths, as transformations of basic dilemmas and contradictions that in reality cannot be resolved, enable a single cultural anxiety to assume different shapes in response to an audience’s changing needs. This idea is at the heart of The Wolf of Wall Street. Putting forward the presumption that the myths are true.