Wednesday January 08, 2014
Am I the Only One Who Flashed on ‘The Ten Commandments’ During Martin Scorsese’s ‘Wolf of Wall Street’?
I keep thinking about this as the controversy surrounding “The Wolf of Wall Street” roils forward unabated: the connection between these two movies.
There are complaints that the movie is amoral, or even immoral, and that director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter don’t do enough to condemn their main character, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), who, for his crimes against humanity—bilking people of their fortunes and using the money to have a really, really good and depraved time with drugs and prostitutes—spent a few years in a fairly cushy federal prison, and today, or so the film suggests, travels the world giving seminars on “how to sell” to audiences willing to buy; willing, you could say, to be bilked again.
There’s a lot to say about this ending, and I did in my review, but for most people there’s not nearly enough comeuppance for Belfort. Scorsese says that’s part of the point. In an interview with Mike Fleming at Deadline Hollywood, he says of the audience for the film:
I didn’t want them to be able to think problem solved and forget about it. I wanted them to feel like they’d been slapped into recognizing that this behavior has been encouraged in this country, and that it affects business and the world and everything down to our children, and how they’re going to live, and their values in the future.
People feel slapped, sure, but many are blaming the slapper. They’re demanding comeuppance ... but from Scorsese and the movie, which is easy, and not from regulating the financial world, which is hard and potentially impossible.
Some go so far as to suggest the movie is immoral.
But that ignores “The Ten Commandments.”
Did no one else feel this way? In the orgy scenes in the “Wolf pit” at Stratton Oakmont? All of those bodies roiling together? Was I the only one whose mind flashed to Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 Biblical epic?
Specifically the ending scenes. Moses (Charlton Heston) has led his people from Egypt and toward the promised land, and he ascends Mt. Sinai to retrieve the word of God. In his absence, Dathan (Edward G. Robinson) convinces the people, so easily swayed, that Moses is gone for good, that they’ve been led astray, and that they’ve angered the true gods, who demand a golden calf in recompense. So that’s what the people do. They create a golden calf, a false idol, and worship at its feet. They indulge in wine, and brutality, and sex. Their bodies roil together.
That’s what flashed through my mind watching the orgy scenes in “Wolf of Wall Street”: the orgy scene in “The Ten Commandments.”
I don’t know if this is a coincidence. I don’t know if Scorsese—who grew up Roman Catholic, and for a time intended to be a priest, and who’s forgotten more about movies than you and I will ever know—intended for us to make this connection. I wouldn’t be surprised either way. All I know is I felt it.
And beyond the feeling is the analysis—the comparison of the two scenes. What are both about? A people so lost they worship a false idol: a golden calf.
Of course, in DeMille’s version, Moses returns, angered, and the idolaters are punished and killed. They're sent to hell. That’s what moviegoers want of Belfort. Instead, he’s sent to New Zealand. Instead, in real life, the golden calf simply got bigger and the worshipping became greater.
“You didn’t make things right,” moviegoers are complaining to Scorsese.
No, he’s saying, we didn’t make things right.