I intended to write more after the kids and I had dinner, but felt I needed to catch up on another of the Oscar nominated movies I had not seen. The film I chose: The Wolf of Wall Street.
I forget sometimes that I am trying to write something that feels like a movie. Experiencing one from the audience point of view inspires and refreshes me. The test is whether I forget where I am as I watch. If I am conscious of performance, of the deliberate manner of angles, lighting, etc., then I’m not emotionally connected with the characters or the story. Conversely, sometimes a story is so emotionally upsetting I pull back and resist the film’s “good” qualities. I don’t want to be part of it, not even as an audience.
Secondly, I watch to glean an understanding of what sells and why. I look for the catalyst, the “set pieces” — all the best moments used for the trailers and the movie posters that sell to the audience. I look for the character and for the theme that resonates in the end. “The Wolf” and its theme left a nasty taste in my mouth.
I thought I could watch it with my sons — but, uh, no. Not the kind of movie a pre-teen boy wants to watch with his mother sitting nearby. Shoot — I could barely take watching it alone. Though the film’s presumed protagonist, Jordon Belfort, turned my stomach, I tried to look at it from a writer’s perspective. Could I write something like this? Maybe. It was an adaptation, so, yeah — maybe I could. If someone offered to pay me — then definitely, yes. ( I certainly would try). But if it had not been an adaptation, could I create a story like this? No. I don’t think so. I’d hate the characters too much.
The film bothered me. Not because of the writing, directing, the performances — all those things were great, fine — whatever. But the story of a horrible human being — is just so — ick. I’m glad now that Leo DiCaprio didn’t win an Oscar for the role. (Though many of the scenes were fabulous — the “lemmon” quaaludes scene — hysterical, wonderful).
But if DiCaprio had won, it would have also been a reward for Jordon Belfort. And for what? For being the biggest drug and sex addicted, greedy dick ever? Who would want to do that? If he is an example of how the uber rich live and act — then I understand why Jesus said it would be so hard for them to get into heaven. Even if you don’t believe in heaven and hell, this guy illustrated Christ’s point.
But here’s the part that really bugged me about the film: Halfway through it I found myself agreeing with Belfort as he revved up his room of salespeople. I caught myself feeling pumped and inspired by his sales pitch. That pissed me off. Brilliant stuff. (Similar to Alec Baldwin’s speech in Glengary, Glenn Ross.)
If the film has truth to it, then I admire Belfort’s hutzpah, his drive, his will, his complete confidence. Other than that — what a scumbag. (The film’s dialogue describes him as such, too.) A scum sucking low life. A total piece of shit for a human being. I wanted to slap him. I wanted to slap the women in his life, too. (Women — why do we allow ourselves to be bought and sold? WHY?)
After I finished watching the 180 minute long film, I did a bit of research about Belfort. He has sobered up and straightened up his life, that’s what his and other websites say; that’s what the movie said, too. And no surprise, he is selling his brand new “ethical” self. My father has a saying, “if you can’t grow vertically, grow horizontally.” Belfort has switched directions and knows how to sell it. I admire his ability to adapt. But would I trust this guy for advice? Would I PAY this guy for advice? No.
His message is the same new age message offered in The Secret, Notes From the Universe, and by Wayne Dyer, Tony Robbins, and countless other Gurus out there. There is no shortage of tips and platitudes. Clean, straight and sober or drunk, wasted and filthy rich, it’s not necessary to pay some guy like Belfort. Besides, good advice is only good if practiced daily. Transformation takes time and determination. The time is shortened if cut in half by determination. Speaking of one’s philosophy isn’t enough. Accept the challenge of a dream or don’t. Believe or don’t. Sit or stand. Walk or run. Faith or doubt. The choices are daily.
I confess I do have a favorite Belfort quote: “The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.” He is absolutely right. But other than that, integrity matters more than money. I’m glad the Academy voters felt the same way.