Some Thoughts on Women in “The Wolf of Wall Street”

I saw The Wolf of Wall Street last week with a couple of guy friends, and I have to say I stepped away speechless. 

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(Photo: The Wrap) It is a “revolting, outlandish, uproarious, exhilarating and exhausting master work on immorality” as one Los Angeles Times critic wrote – from the moment a too-innocent Long Island boy goes to a five-martini-and-coke lunch on his first work day where his boss starts beating his chest like an ape and singing about f***ing the client and jerking off, to the office orgies, to the quaalude-induced stupor on a country club floor, to watching a fat sedated friend almost choke on a piece of baloney until a snort of cocaine saves the day. In theory, all of these party boy antics are the stuff of frat guy dreams (at the University of Southern California, where I went to school, we had our very own Animal House(s)…the frat that closed after the guys burned it down, the frat put on probation for pushing a fridge off of the roof…I digress). 

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But all of this chest-thumping masculinity minus a single female character who was smart, likable or anything but objectified, got me thinking: does this movie hate on women? A quick sampling of women in The Wolf of Wall Street:

  • As barely-animate sex toys, uniformly blonde with balloonish fake boobs and toothpick thighs (with the exception of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character — Jordan Belfort’s — first wife, who is a kind but totally helpless, mousy housewife) who appear when you want them (prostitutes, naked for the office holiday party) and disappear when you don’t (your wife, when you’re snorting coke out of a prostitute’s butt crack)
  • As three types of women: Belfort describes them by how beat they are, which decides whether or not he uses a condom (this is actually word-for-word from the dude’s real-life biography…going to show the craziest stuff you can’t make up)
  • As the girl who blew every guy in the building, who then by a miracle marries one of these finance animals..who ends up killing himself three months later (presumably because she’s a horrible witch who turned on him too…she is treated with absolutely no compassion as a human being)
  • As the office secretary, who takes $10K from Belfort at the office party to shave her long hair — then when the guy doing it gets distracted by a hoard of whores in bikinis who storm the office he doesn’t finish the job, leaving the girl to pathetically slink off alone with her fistful of cash to the bathroom

I could keep going. But you get the idea.

After I left the theater I took a couple of hours to digest, then talked it over with my fiance Olivier. Was I overreacting to be disgusted that there was no positive representation of women in the movie? That it was from such a warped male perspective? Disclosure: Olivier works in finance, but the geeky type with spreadsheets and excel models, and says this kind of stuff doesn’t happen. And that even though it wasn’t going to help the perception of his profession, he wasn’t offended. All of the scenes are from Belfort’s diary, and he’s a salesman…so everything was exaggerated for effect (i.e., someone got caught once in the bathroom having sex so a coworker put up a sign as a joke…gross enough on its own…but not as bad as the depicted bathroom orgies and a real “no sex in the bathroom” policy). What’s more, as Belfort’s company’s ad at the start of the movie (a lion walking through a Manhattan office high-rise) suggests, Scorsese’s point is to show people at their most base and animalistic. It’s meant to disgust. The only way to get that across is to do the extreme, over and over again, until you almost can’t bear to watch it anymore (in this case three hours and you’re a bit mind-f’ed).

What’s more, as Olivier pointed out the movie likely isn’t made to suggest that all bankers and blondes are vapid and greedy. But there is a particular type of person who, like the lion, hasn’t progressed past the jungle. These men are obsessed with air-brained barbies with big tits…and these women in turn seek idiotic coke-snorting apes. They’re made for each other! And for both these men and women, money is everything, at the expense of love or family or any kind of real relationship. 

The only problem is that if you are of this money-as-God mindset, you don’t get that this movie is actually making fun of you. And so you react like this, according to a writer who saw a screening at the same Battery Park theater where I saw it weeks later (though I didn’t hear the same reaction):

When Belfort — a drug addict who later attempts to remain sober — rips up a couch cushion to get to his secret coke stash, there were cheers.

Then, intercut with Popeye eating spinach, Belfort is irrevocably high on Quaaludes (or “ludes,” a muscle relaxer) and dumps coke into his nose to remedy the situation — more cheers.

The worst, though, mild spoiler alert … At one point later in the movie, the feds get Belfort to wear a wire to implicate others at his firm. Meeting with his No. 2, Belfort slides over a piece of paper: “Don’t incriminate yourself. I am wearing a wire.”

And the crowd goes wild. Don’t rat! Stand by your firm!

Or this, Tweeted by  Rebecca Eisenberg (@ryeisenberg), an Upworthy editor:

I found it really disturbing that people in the audience laughed when he punched his wife in the stomach after raping her. #wolfofwallstreet

In the end, spoiler alert Belfort didn’t get punished in any meaningful way, leading some to suggest the movie glorifies his behavior to the people who were cheering or laughing at these moments.

So what point did Scorsese get across? I don’t think people really change that much. So for those of us who are disgusted by his treatment, we got the effect Scorsese intended. Let’s just hope that the morally empty people who really need to hear the message were at least marked by Belfort’s pathetic lack of a single friend or female or even family who sincerely cares for him.

What did you get out of The Wolf of Wall Street? I’d love to hear other blogger’s thoughts.

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