I know what you’re thinking… You’ve seen the film and think it’s hilarious/shocking, but I’m asking – weren’t you disturbed by something? Something was off, right? You might have even left the cinema, or turned away from Netflix, a little shook. Well that feeling was intentional. Great films make us feel surprising things in ways we can’t always recognise and that’s where The Wolf of Wall Street excels. Something dark bubbles underneath the laughter.
Most people know Martin Scorsese, his is a name that reverberates through the halls of cinema – he’s a man that reaches back through the archives of movies past . His love of classic film is embedded in his own creations, putting layers of story in between the scenes. Whether through allusions, homages or the occasional direct quotation. This is not news. Which is why when the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street was released I was baffled by the negative reaction. People claiming that it glorified the disgusting behaviour of money hungry, soulless villains. But to me this film is so clearly a horror film – it’s about a modern day werewolf. It’s about how that creature’s existence bypasses and laughs in the face of society’s norms and expectations.
The film follows the life of Jordan Belfort, beginning in the past (as a lot of horror stories do, aren’t we all so afraid of what came before us?), it continues until the monster’s capture. Belfort is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who apparently took acting lessons on what it looks like when people do drugs in order to add some realism to the performance (because otherwise he wouldn’t know!). Unlike the Vampire that whinges and moans all over recent television and film, we are not asked to relate or feel for this particular creature once his change begins. Herein lies a wolf beyond redemption, in the body of a man devoured by greed.
Like every werewolf, Jordan must be bitten before he can begin his transformation. The lead sleaze becomes infected by a joyous sire (Matthew McConnaughey during his superb acting renaissance) through an eerie and entertaining ritual of chest pounding and rhythmic chanting. Greed is contagious. Encouraged by his mentor, Jordan is a man made anew. Even though it’s facetious in nature, Belfort describes in detail a physical transformation that he undergoes at least once a month – through the atavistic imbibing of drugs and alcohol he begins to obey his most base instincts when it comes to desire. Historically, werewolves are never able to control their urges, their sexual desires. True to form, neither can Belfort.
Scorsese’s passion for cinematic history is obvious in almost every work, and although Shutter Island (2010) is a more atmospherically traditional horror film, The Wolf of Wall Street contains some whimsical allusions of its own. In an astounding moment of dark humor the characters reference Tod Browning’s 1932 classic Freaks. The ominous chant uttered by Belfort and his Beta wolves while he plans a work party (one that indulges the most idiotic of frat boy style ideas) is a direct quotation of the characters in Freaks. ‘One of us, one of us, gooble gobble, one us’…. In its original form, the quote is about a community rising up and recognizing the monster in their midst. They come together to take down and transform this intruder, society has reaped its justice.
However, the fate that befalls the heinous creature in Freaks eludes Jordan Belfort.
Therein lies the true horror of this film. With all its abject and disturbing images, nothing is scarier than the fact that the werewolves in this movie own all the silver bullets and are no longer subject to repercussions. As an indictment of a culture mired in greed and want, The Wolf of Wall Street stands above the vast majority in its honesty. Like The Big Short in 2015, it shows just how unjust the world has become. Some people may choose to see The Wolf of Wall Street as glorifying the prowling monster that preys on the average lambs ignorance, but it seems to me to be simply holding up a mirror to society’s darkest corners in a way that only the most successful horror movies do.
So that’s my take on this grotesque beauty. As an added note, I recently had a job interview where I sat opposite a money hungry Jonah Hill wannabe and I can honestly say, it’s scarier in real life. And for some reason, before the interview, the receptionist and his colleague were playing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ backwards while I sat waiting. Life imitating art, I couldn’t make this shit up.