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Why are people mad about "The Wolf of Wall Street"?

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort in "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort in "The Wolf of Wall Street"

This article contains spoilers for the film "The Wolf of Wall Street"

Since its release a couple weeks ago, "The Wolf of Wall Street" has been polarizing audiences and critics alike, and not just on technical aspects of the film. The main complaint bouncing around the internet is that the film glorifies greed and excess, and does little to show the victims of Mr. Belfort's and his friends' crimes. But in a movie about greed and excess, is this really the film's responsibility?

It's a bit perplexing that this film is being singled out in a medium full of full murderers, criminals, swindlers, and other no-gooders. To point out, two notable shows that ended last year were about characters who were both murderers. On Showtime, Dexter had secretly been killing people since his first episode. "Breaking Bad"'s Walter White, good-man turned heartless drug lord, was responsible for the deaths of countless individuals, all for his own personal gain. Yet such an uproar about glorifying violence or greed never came up. So why all hubbub now?

Perhaps it's because both Dexter and Walter White were fictional, whereas "Wolf" depicts a real life man who ran a real-life scam that had real-life victims. And maybe because that man still hasn't paid all his restitution to those he so heartlessly scammed during the 1990s. But is a movie about a seedy character also supposed to lecture us on how they are wrong? Can the filmmakers not have faith that the audience might draw that conclusion for themselves?

Even though "Wolf" does graphically displays extravagant scenes of excess, it does not glorify or idolize it, nor Mr. Belfort or his materialistic pursuits. Sure, the characters seem to be having a great time, not a one of them could ever convince you they are truly happy or leading excellent lives. One such scene, in which Belfort urges his employees to "deal with their problems by becoming rich!", is subtly unsettling underneath all the cheering by his hungry army of stockbrokers. In another scene, Belfort is helplessly crawling to his car (which he will soon tear up) while high on Quaaludes. By some, the movie's been likened to a college-party movie, but we all know there's no graduation for these fools: only jail time. So, knowing this, why is everyone so upset?

And it's not like these men aren't checked on their morality in this film, either. Teresa, Jordan's first wife, asks if he feels bad stealing from people who can't afford to lose all their money. Another character asks when enough will be enough. Even Jordan's father warns him that, while this care-free lifestyle is fun, someday "the chickens will come home to roost." If anything, "Wolf" is a cautionary tale about greed, lying, and corruption. After dealing with his partying for long enough, the aforementioned Teresa says he is like "a complete other person". His second wife Naomi tells him to "look at himself" (he's a complete mess at this point) as he desperately snorts his secret stash of cocaine after a bit of bad news. Belfort crashes his car, loses his helicopter, his boat, gets investigated by three agencies, gets arrested a couple times, and has his family walk out on him, twice. How can a film with so much consequence be glorifying such activity?

It is true that rampant greed is a huge problem in this country, but a 179-minute film, and a bunch of actors and filmmakers, did very little to contribute to it, and the focus should be shifted to the ones actually causing the problems. If anything, "Wolf" has helped bring the conversation back into the mainstream. And what's so bad about that?

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