The Wolf of Wall Street: misogynist, adolescent but entertaining

It's fast becoming one of the most divisive films to be made in Hollywood. Some have loved Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, based on the real life experiences of motivational speaker and former stock broker Jordan Belfort.

Deepanjana Pal January 03, 2014 10:00:07 IST
The Wolf of Wall Street: misogynist, adolescent but entertaining

It's fast becoming one of the most divisive films to be made in Hollywood. Some have loved Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, based on the real life experiences of motivational speaker and former stock broker Jordan Belfort. But when the film was screened for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, one screenwriter apparently ran towards Scorcese (who was about to go on stage for the Q & A session following the screening) and yelled, "Shame on you!"

While the American media is busy debating whether Scorcese makes adolescent excess seem awesomely heroic, we in India have a far more basic problem. We're not getting Scorcese's cut of the film. The Indian censor board has snipped off six minutes off The Wolf of Wall Street, which doesn't seem like much when it's a three-hour film. But you can feel those cuts, and sharply at that.

Jerky cuts appear throughout the film to ensure you don't see scandalous moments like the following:

1. a gay orgy (the butler did it)

2. public masturbation (Jonah Hill did it)

3. nude female bodies

4. a bachelor party

5. the artist (Jean Dujardin) as a sleazy European lover

5. a prostitute named Venice and a candle strategically positioned in Jordan's bottom (yup, diCaprio really did it).

The Wolf of Wall Street misogynist adolescent but entertaining

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. IBN Live.

You do, however, get to see a woman, sans panties, caressing her clitoral region. However, you see more of her hand than her clitoris, which is perhaps why that shot has been allowed by the Indian censor board. What the effect of realising women can (and do) masturbate would be upon the cinema-going Indian public is still unknown. There is some speculation that much like the Supreme Court recently revealed to the nation that it wasn't particularly clued in on oral sex, the Indian censor board may not be familiar with the concept of the female orgasm.

As might be obvious, none of the cuts in The Wolf of Wall Street are critical plot points and, aside from the candle scene, it doesn't take much imagination to figure out what got edited. But that isn't the point. Minor as the moments might be, each one is a punch in the gut of the film's rhythm. The seemingly fleeting six minutes are a kind of butchery that disrespects both the film and the filmmaker.

(Unfortunately, watching a pirated version of the film isn't particularly respectful towards the filmmaker either, but that moral dilemma is for each one of us to sort out for ourselves.)

This much is for certain: those six minutes won't change your opinion of the film.

There's a lot of debate about the drug and sex-addled lives of stock brokers as depicted by Scorsese in The Wolf of Wall Street. If you're surprised by Scorsese being able to make the criminal look cool, I have one word for you: Goodfellas. This, however, isn't what makes the rock 'n roll life of the financial sector in the 90s feel uncomfortable. Belfort's crazy, opulent hedonism, his band of brothers -- this is the stuff of boys' dreams and it's entertaining until the misogyny of the film strikes you.

This isn't about being oversensitive about sexual politics or realism. Throughout the film, women are the titillating sex objects, appearing as props in a scene and flashing far more nudity than the men. The men speak of them like objects, clubbing them with possessions like cars that establish a man's status in society. Every married man in the film treats his wife callously, with Belfort winning the prize of Most Abusive Husband. He is continuously cheating on his wives and goes so far as to rape, slap and punch his second wife.

Yet, when the screenplay needs to establish a human, caring side to Belfort, it brings in a woman's story. At one point, Belfort reminisces about how much his company has grown in a few years. He holds up the example of one of his first hires, Kimmie Belzer, who was an impoverished single mother when Belfort gave her a job. Now she wears Armani suits and holidays in the Bahamas, Belfort tells us. When everyone saw her as a loser, Belfort saw potential in her. That's what we're supposed to applaud, that's why Kimmie has tears in her eyes when he holds her up as an example.

Kimmie appears precisely three times in The Wolf of Wall Street. Twice, she's part of a group shot. The one time she has an actual line is during Belfort's above speech. Her story could easily have played out as a parallel track to Belfort and his boys' antics, but it didn't. The film simply didn't think Kimmie's story was worth more than a few lines in a monologue, told by the male lead.

Still, The Wolf of Wall Street is enormously entertaining at times and on the whole, it doesn't struggle to hold your attention although after a point, the drug use loses its edge of deviant thrill and starts feeling repetitive.

Leonardo diCaprio and Jonah Hill head up a talented cast that does everything right. What isn't quite as sharp as it needed to be is Terence Winter's screenplay. Not only does it fail to give us a sense of Belfort the professional -- surely his job involved something more than snorting cocaine? -- it doesn't investigate the bombastic tone of Belfort's memoir. Repeatedly, Belfort swats away the question of what exactly it is that he does to make money, directing our attention instead to the drugs or women he's about to abuse. There's something a little adolescent about thinking a hero becomes charismatic just because he has sex with many women and scores drugs.

Ultimately, however, the question of whether Belfort is a hero lies with the audience to a large extent. If you're awed by the idea of a man snorting cocaine off a woman's breasts, humping an air hostess in full view of other passengers in the first class section of an airplane, the big house with the pool and the bigger yacht, then Belfort is your man and I'm not too sure whether you should be allowed to watch an A-rated movie.

If you're appalled by the vacuousness and superficiality of Belfort's world, then perhaps you're seeing the ambiguities that one would expect of a Scorcese film. Unfortunately, it's difficult to figure out whether we're imagining them or if they're actually there.

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