Martin Scorsese’s latest, The Wolf of Wall Street, is a film about animal instincts worth discussing primarily in the vain of hardcore, even if Taxi Driver is the more obvious punk movie. Chaos has always been central to the legendary director’s work. I’m thinking Christ’s baptism in The Last Temptation, or the low-angle, hand-held shot of DeNiro cruising drunk through the bar to the Stones in Mean Streets. Marty’s world is one of beauty, and one of madness.
Wolf is filled with hyperactivity, the flamboyance fueled by greed, dominance, testosterone, adrenaline, dopamine and lots and lots of drugs. Wall Street hatchet man Jordan Belfort and his cohort become animals, screaming sales into the phones of enormous call centers a la every Wall Street movie ever made, but then the madness extends to debauchery of the finest order. Pills and powders litter every scene, prostitutes are ushered in and mounted in an endless public orgy. It seems that someone is always atop a desk screaming at the top of his lungs. It’s pretty clear Jordan isn’t just about the money, but it’s not freedom either. His version of success—capitalism in hyper-drive—is the satisfaction of a primal desire to dominate and to shed the ordinary restrictions of society built by the defeated.
G.G. Allin referred to himself as the last true rock and roller. As his band mates say in Todd Phillips’s documentary Hated, Allin genuinely hated most people. His concerts involved stalking around the stage naked, bashing himself in the head, defecating onstage, and antagonizing the audience. His fans came to be showered in body fluids, to try to land a punch or maybe to be beaten by Allin himself. Watch thirty seconds of his act and you realize that it’s no act at all. Allin lived to destroy.
Most people would be disgusted by Allin. People don’t attack each other, we don’t throw shit all over the place, we inherently care for each other, love our neighbor.
You don’t have to be naked or even that angry to enact survival of the fittest. There are plenty of people who do it in a coded way in the name of good business through downsizing, price gouging, predatory lending. Plenty of people suffer in order for us to have affordable gadgets, trinkets and clothes. We get in arguments over parking spaces. All you have to do is bend a few rules and shrug off a few pangs of consciousness and in a way, you’re dominating other people. That’s the life of a wolf.
The animal beneath the civilized veneer of man has always been a crucial theme in Scorsese’s work, and will always be best accomplished by Raging Bull. If there was artistic value in Wolf it would better argue that the animal is unleashed by the very system that exists to confine it. That animal, the G.G. Allin inside, is always searching for a loose brick to facilitate escape from the prison of social mores.
This has been a hugely polarizing film. Have I missed the point entirely?