My name is Jordan Belfort. The year I turned 26, I made 49 million dollars as the head of my own brokerage firm, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.
If I had to describe The Wolf of Wall Street in one word, it would be excessive. Everything about the film embodies the term; Jordan Belfort and almost every other character’s behavior is consistently reprehensible, and the running time clocks in at nearly 3 hours long. These things, along with pretty much every other aspect of the film, make The Wolf of Wall Street a very hard sell, which has been reflected in the film’s C grade from Cinemascore, and the long drawn out firestorm of think pieces. But, the excess that The Wolf of Wall Street epitomizes is excess with reason, and reason that makes the film one of the best in years.
Richard Walter, co-chairman of UCLA’s graduate program in screenwriting and author of The Essentials of Screenwriting, coined the term “integration” and has cited it as one of the most important things in a successful screenplay. Walter’s definition of integration is when every part of a script has a purpose and meaning to the film’s core, and thus is “integrated.” Integration can apply to entire scenes, small bits of dialogue, or a character’s name, as Walter cites everything having importance in a film’s script. Utilize integration to its fullest, and according to Walter, you have a successful screenplay. Now, this idea of an integrated script is one that I haven’t intently payed attention to when analyzing any film’s success, but The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the most clear examples of integration lending to a film’s sheer success.
You wanna know what money sounds like? Go to a trading floor on Wall street. Fuck this, shit that, cunt, cock, asshole. I couldn’t believe how these guys talk to each other. I was hooked in seconds. It was like mainlining adrenaline.
The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the most successful movies I have seen in establishing the type of universe it’s set in. The film does this through the language that its characters use. Yes, you’ve probably heard a bit about the number of “F-Bombs” that are uttered throughout the film’s 3 hour runtime. Initially it was 414 utterances of the F-word. Then it was 506 F-Bombs, at 2.8 a minute. Next it was 544! Finally it was settled at 569. (For those of you who would prefer to count yourselves, there’s a handy video that allegedly includes them all.) The bottom line is that fuck is said a lot in this movie (the most ever in a wide-released mainstream studio picture) and it’s for a reason: integration. All of those fucks, motherfuckers, fuckfaces, and fuckheads are included to establish the nature of not only this world, but of the characters themselves. Excess isn’t just shown in behavior, but also through dialogue.
Good luck on that subway ride home to your miserable ugly fuckin’ wives. I’m gonna have Heidi lick some caviar off my balls in the meantime.
But this isn’t to say that integration isn’t utilized brilliantly in the behavior featured in The Wolf of Wall Street. Next to the film’s use of language, the film’s questionable use of nudity has been the second most publicized aspect of The Wolf Wall Street. In seemingly every other scene of the film, there is either a fully nude prostitute, a fully nude secretary, a fully nude spouse, or a full on orgy. The overflowing amount of nudity in the film is much more than your standard R-rated sex romp, as full-frontal nudity is a penchant of the film (which was originally rated NC-17, but has ben cut down to a barely passable R rating). The nudity could easily be deemed unnecessary or superfluous, but that’s exactly the point. Our characters are sex-crazed lunatics who are used to paying excessive amounts of money for excessive amounts of sex, because it’s their lifestyle, and the film helps us understand that through integration.
On a daily basis I consume enough drugs to sedate Manhattan, Long Island, and Queens for a month. I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my “back pain,” Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, Pot to mellow me out, Cocaine to wake me back up again, and Morphine… well, because it’s awesome.
And what would these characters’ lifestyles be without drugs? The use of various narcotics at various times throughout the film crystallizes the utilization of integration through bad behavior in The Wolf of Wall Street. The film itself feels like a thoroughly coked-up version of your standard Wall Street movie, a quality that makes it much more than a film. The Wolf of Wall Street is an outright experience. Integration brings us deep into these characters’ lives, be it by language, visuals, or behavior, and we experience the exact same excessive type of lifestyle they do. The highs that the characters experience help us, the audience, experience everything they do, and their drugged-up nature only helps accomplish this better.
Integration that helps make The Wolf of Wall Street more of an experience isn’t just present in the film’s script. Perhaps the clearest example of this is the film’s editing. You might think that I’m referencing the film’s obscene 3 hour runtime, or how almost every scene in the film overstays its welcome, but I’m not (though these aspects do contribute greatly). Rather, I’m speaking to the direct continuity of the film. If you pay close enough attention, you might find that there’s very little continuity between shots. Director Martin Scorsese and Editor Thelma Schoonmaker have said that theses errors are intentional, as they help create a certain kind of atmosphere for the film. It’s an incredibly jarring effect that helps the atmosphere emulate Scorsese’s coke addict days, and help cement these characters’ lifestyle. When you’re only concerned with excess, nothing else really matters in life.
(Warning: Some vague plot specifics about the end of the film, which is based on a true story, follow from here on out.)
Was all this legal? Absolutely fuckin’ not!
In order to achieve a true sense of Jordan Belfort’s excessive lifestyle, it’s necessary to experience what “real” life is like outside of being the wolf of Wall Street. And boy, does Scorsese let us know what it’s like. After around 2 and a half hours of pure excess, there is a very, very hard pull back down to reality. There isn’t a single scene of “entertainment,” as Scorsese quite literally forces the audience to see the gravely serious moral complications of this lifestyle in gut-wrenching scenes. But for some reason, Belfort himself doesn’t recognize the complications as we do. He adapts to his circumstances, but still manages to live on excessively (see: the country club style prison he is placed in, or how after prison he makes a living by conning people). In a normal film, this type of character stasis would be out of the ordinary and outrageous, but because we’ve lived through this life filled with uncontrolled excess we get why Belfort is able to continue being such an asshole, because for a while we were Belfort.
This (and many more reasons including a bravura performance from Leonardo DiCapprio, who I somehow haven’t mentioned until now) is why The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the best films in years. The film transcends the normal and expected type of biopic and becomes something incredibly different: an experience. The obligations that might restrict a normal film akin to this one, such as the need to recognize real-life victims, don’t apply here because The Wolf of Wall Street is so much more than a “normal film.” The Wolf of Wall Street is immersive filmmaking at its best. The Wolf of Wall Street is excess at its finest.
The Wolf of Wall Street is out on DVD and Blu-ray March 25th, 2014.