The Wolf of Wall Street

Director: Martin Scorcese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie et al


Excessive and funny, but soulless and morally suspect.

If I remember rightly, the first 18 film I saw was Personal Services (Harrow ABC, with my friend Vashti). I can't help thinking that it would barely scrape a 15 these days, so tame is it by modern standards.

The Wolf of Wall Street is not tame. In fact, it seems to be designed to see how far you can stretch the censor's limits. It's got multiple different drugs being consumed constantly, it set the world record for the most times "fuck" is said in a film, and has more full frontal nudity than any other film I've seen (not that I've done a lot of research into this).

I don't have a problem with any of this - except maybe the nudity, or specifically, the fact that it's nearly all female nudity. I get that the film is about a world of excess and no morals, and women being treated like inanimate playthings is (sadly) a realistic portrayal of this, but it seems very convenient for the film makers to be able to have so many very beautiful, very naked women throughout the film and still claim they're just being true to the source material.

As ever, there are a couple of questions that have to be asked. Firstly, could the story have been told as effectively without so much flesh on display? Yes - at least, the nudity could be implied with the same effect, I think. For example, Margot Robbie apparently refused the offer to film one of the most notorious scenes with a robe on, because she felt that the character would be naked. I think she's right, but it's easily possible to make the audience realise that the character is naked, with all that says about the character, without the actress actually being naked.

Secondly, are men being asked to do the same thing (as Caitlin Moran asks in How To Be A Woman)?Unsurprisingly, no; certainly not in this film and I don't believe generally. Sure, there's plenty of sex scenes, but apparently men don't often fuck naked - although, fair play to DiCaprio, we do see him "full back-al" (to quote Steven Moffat's fantastic Coupling) - and of course it would be completely unacceptable if there were any good-looking men showing their genitals. The one (in)famous scene where Jonah Hill (no offense, but not handsome) supposedly gets his cock out is so obviously done with a prosthetic that it's almost insulting, not just to all the women who are expected to really bare all, but to the audience, who presumably can't cope with the real thing. (If my memory serves, this is one thing that Personal Services does have in it at one point - an actual, real penis.)

My point here is not that I dislike nudity in films - I don't mind it at all. I just think that in real life, men get naked just as much as women do, and films should reflect this. Maybe the film makers here would claim that the balance in The Wolf of Wall Street is correct, for this story - and maybe they're right. And of course there are societal double standards at play here, since if you showed as much male nudity as there is female nudity, it wouldn't get past the censors at all.

Anyway, that extended point aside - and I am fairly certain that The Wolf of Wall Street is far from being the only film guilty of exploiting this particularly cultural loophole - I enjoyed the film (yes, even the naked women). It's very well made, entertainingly told, and even if it didn't need to be three hours long, it doesn't drag. DiCaprio is superb, and you get a sense of how charismatic the real Jordan Belfort, whose story this is, was to achieve what he did (although bearing in mind that Belfort's book was the source, and he was involved in the making, I think it's fair to assume that some of this was exaggerated).

However, ultimately, despite the participants' strenuous claims to the contrary, this is a film that glamourizes excess. There's very little sense of any ramifications for their selfishness and unpleasantness: Belfort's jail sentence occupies only a couple of minutes of screen time and is mainly shown as a pleasant summer retreat, with added barbed wire. More importantly, there is no acknowledgement at all of the thousands of real people who got swindled by these jerkoffs. Meanwhile, Jordan Belfort gets a cameo in the film, publicity for his current real-life business (motivational speaking) and will be regarded by many more people now as a man who achieved the kind of success they aspire to. I'm pleased I watched the film, but it's morally suspect and it seems obvious to me that it was made in the same spirit as the story it tells - to make money, regardless.

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