This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Mary Conti’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Martin Scorsese is God.
I don't mean this in the hyperbolic sense that heightens an artist to an absurd realm, although Scorsese certainly is extremely talented. I mean this in the sense that in the context of The Wolf Of Wall Street, Scorsese plays as God against Leonardo DiCaprio's Jordan Belfort. The Wolf of Wall Street is most definitely a story of greed, addiction, and pure unfiltered hedonism at the cost of others, but it's also about the rise of a new religion.
Jordan arrives on Wall Street a mere mortal. He takes the bus like anyone else, he wears a suit like anyone else, and has desires of ambition just like anyone else. Upon discovering the key to success, he begins to preach it to those willing to listen to him, a drugged out Elmer Gantry. Once founding Stratton Oakmont into a juggernaut company, he becomes the Holy Roman Emperor, sending his legion out into the world on a jihad, "telephone fucking terrorists" he calls them.
Then finally, there is a scene where Jordan goes to make a speech announcing his farewell from the company, feeling the federal government closing in and threatening to shut everything down. His followers tear up, losing their leader. Yet in this moment, Jordan realizes who he has become. He is no longer a mortal. He is God. He is Jesus Christ. His employees are his disciples. He is far too powerful for any other God to take down. It is part of DiCaprio's performance that he is able to sell this delusion.
So he stays. Indulging in his indulgences in ways that would make Caligula blush. Yet, Jordan's godlike stature still is petty compared to the presence of a Christian God, and he is punished for living in sin for far too long. He loses his house. He loses his family and friends. He goes to prison. Yet, these punishments seem far too petty when one considers that at the end, Jordan seems unscathed. The prison he's at seems low stressed. He plays tennis. It's Club Fed. And there he is at the end, preaching sales tactics to those willing to listen. How can a man this evil get away with it all?
And it's in this moment where Scorsese turns his camera away from Jordan and his cronies for once in the only objective moment of the film. He turns it on the audience watching Jordan, but it isn't any audience, it's us. We let people like Jordan get away every day. Why? Because we want to be him
It's the most fitting conclusion to Scorsese's mafia trilogy, unconventional as it seems. In Goodfellas, Henry Hill is punished because his lifestyle isn't accepted by the federal government, forced to turn on his friends to save his life. He loses everything with no hope of redemption. In Casino, Sam Rothstein believes he can predict the unpredictable of life, and is punished for it. The difference between Jordan and Hill/Rothstein is that Hill and Rothstein do not initiate an attempt to harm others to support their lifestyle, only ever doing so to survive. Jordan and his cronies thrive off the misfortune of others, and there is no honor code among thieves with the Wall Street mafia.
So why do we let the Wall Street mafia get away with it all? Because its an open family, unlike the Italian/Jewish mafia which requires invitation and a vow of loyalty to even get in. Yet, the mafia of New York and Las Vegas consist of mere mortals. Jordan Belfort is a god, the people who will replace him are also gods, and Wall Street is the new religion.