One Man’s Wolf

Wolf-of-Wallstreet-585x370When the Academy Award nominations were announced last week, I took my usual interest in the matter, which is to say none. That was, I didn’t care a bit until I heard that the Martin Scorsese vulgarity-fest, The Wolf of Wall Street, had been nominated for, among other things Best Picture. Granted, these days, virtually anything that doesn’t involve exploding world landmarks or Vin Diesel swiping every wheeled vehicle in sight can be nominated for Best Picture. Still, a film that had left me feeling like I needed a shower after I endured it shouldn’t make the list in my conception of the universe.

I wouldn’t complain as much about this film if its deluge of f-bombs and gratuitous sex had been tempered with some sort of quality. Instead, I just found the story tedious and highly cliched, a good forty minutes worth of narrative compressed into three long and repetitive hours. And what a message: Wall Street is greedy, immoral, and exploitive. What a vision! Is that a hearty enough recommendation not to see this film?

Imagine, then, my surprise this week when, flying home from Nashville, I happened to sit next to a guy in the investment industry. “Did you see, The Wolf of Wall Street?” I asked, curious if he’d found the film as dreadful as I had.

Indeed he had seen it. Twice. That’s six hours, about a hundred nekkid girls, and over 1,000 f-words. I’m sure that when the DVD is released, he’ll buy the director’s cut with nineteen hours of special features. His mother, he explained, couldn’t understand him sitting through the movie twice, since he doesn’t do movies. Then Mom saw it herself and understood. She must be so proud of him.

“That movie is everything I love: the selling, the partying . . .” Thankfully, he didn’t elaborate.

That’s when everything became clear to me.

Why should I be surprised that the Motion Picture Academy would embrace Martin Scorsese and his obsessive attention to the seamiest aspects of American culture? In a world where twenty-something investment shills boast of saying anything to make a sale, where the fruit of their labor is simply an ever more vast bank account, and where the best use of those funds is in conspicuous and profligate consumption, why wouldn’t Scorsese’s paean to avarice be admired? Scorsese’s Jordan Belfort makes Gordon Gecko look like a Salvation Army bellringer, all to the delight of a culture that loves to hate this sort of person.

We aren’t surprised that those who think Justin Bieber an artistic force enjoyed his latest silver-screen offering. We are not shocked that people who love baseball flocked into Moneyball. Why, then, do we find it amazing that people like my stock broker acquaintance would be attracted to a tale of excess and indulgence? The message of the cross is “foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). By the same token, the message of the wolf is foolishness to those who are not perishing.

What should be surprising, I guess, is not that this movie was nominated but that Hollywood’s toboggan ride into a moral cesspool has not proceeded at higher speed.