Not exactly everyone’s cup of tea, the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio charts the mind-boggling rise and slightly less than anticipated fall of a New York stockbroker. The film is based on the memoir of the American stockbroker and criminal Jordan Belfort, who ran a firm that engaged in securities fraud and corruption on Wall Street in the 1990s.
Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film is morally ambiguous and features sexual content and drug taking. Perhaps it also holds up a mirror to the worst of human greed and corruption – and to the twisted values that Martin Leckebusch writes about in his hymn In an age of twisted values (StF 703). The underpinning driver for Belfort, who becomes known as “the wolf of Wall Street”, is the idea that “more is never enough”. As a result, he treads on others remorselessly for the sake of gain. “In sophisticated language,” writes Martin, “we have justified our greed; by our struggle for possessions we have robbed the poor and weak.”
As Anna Briggs puts it (We lay our broken world in sorrow at your feet, StF 718): “Here human life seems less than profit, might and pride”.
And what has followed from that, says Martin, has been discrimination, divided communities, broken families, and nations in desperate need of healing.
The implication of Martin and Anna’s hymns is that what we see in Technicolor dreadfulness in Leonardo DiCaprio’s star turn are traits to which we are all prone to one degree or another. As Gary Hopkins acknowledges (Eternal Source of humankind, StF+), many of us live with daily pressures stemming from “social systems [that] claim control and drown the murmurs of our soul”. (Similarly, Brian Wren has us sing of our self-inflicted pains: “half-bound by inner chains, by social forces swept along” – Great God, your love has called us here, StF 499.)
As a result, “we who hear [God’s] word so often choose so rarely to obey”, writes Martin; “We bring our broken selves, confused and closed and tired,” says Anna. We are all implicated in the imbalances within our families, society and world and so (both writers conclude) we all need the power of God’s Spirit to “come cleanse us, make us new”.
The Wolf of Wall Street was nominated in four categories at the 2014 Academy Awards. For best:
• motion picture
• actor (Leonardo DiCaprio)
• Supporting actor (Jonah Hill)
• Director (Martin Scorsese)
• adapted screenplay
Read more Oscars-inspired hymn reflections.