Friday, January 3, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street has not gotten particularly good reviews from the critics and it has not made the kind of money that would qualify it as a box office hit. The Wall Street Journal critic, Joe Morgenstern, said he could not wait for it to end and called it "hollow". I have not seen it nor do I intend to. From the reviews it is easy to see it is an exploitation of the excesses of Wall Street. It is a caricature based on a slim memoir by a very small player who nevertheless lived very large. His foray into the world of Wall Street earned him a reputation for greed and excess - a reputation largely of his own making - for the film is based on his book! The film which boasts some big stars is an over the top picture of the worst of what Wall Street does best, make money. The money which was made hand over fist was used to fund parties, bling, drugs and stupid human behavior. Not to mention lots of crude language and nudity. Lots of it. So my point is not to go see the movie because it is so crude it earned every bit of it's R rating. There are lots of movies like that. My point is why would someone go?

When I was in college at a midwestern Christian school, the students signed a pledge vowing they would not go to movies. Movies showed a worldview that was not conducive to living a holy Christian life. We used to wait until the movies came out on tv and wondered what the big deal was. It did make us stop and think though. Film is not mindless entertainment; it has a point to make. Is it a point I need to consider. In it's own way, the college I went to wanted to remind us that we don't consume media and the arts - or shouldn't - without reflection. It is also a matter of choices because there are other things to do with your time, some better than others.

Given my college history I have watched the Christian culture change since my college days with some measure of amusement or amazement or both. Christianity Today now reviews most new release films. The reviewer of The Wolf of Wall Street teaches at a Christian College which in my college days was known as more conservative than the college I went to. She wrote a long review and gave it four and a half stars out of five calling it a great and possibly terrific movie. Near the end of the review she makes an explicit list of some of the behaviors depicted in the film that earned it a hard R rating. It reminded me of the ads for drugs that go on for a page or two enumerating all the possible side effects if you take this drug. She seemed to be warning her audience of what was in store for them if they go to see this "great and possibly terrific" movie. She acknowledges that few of the readers of CT will be glad they saw this movie because of the "side effects". So why go see it? Well, it graphically, really graphically, shows how money is the power to get what you want, and that power is intoxicating and, ultimately, totally corrupting. As the reviewer admits, it is not an uncommon theme in movies and tv and I would add many novels. The thing is the reviewer seems to be saying that if you are the kind of person who is troubled by these kinds of depictions in film then be warned and stay away from this movie. However, if you are mature enough to navigate this moral minefield safely then go see it. This reminded me of Paul's discussion in 1 Corinthians about the weaker and stronger brethren in the body of Christ. So, if you see yourself as one of the stronger members of the body of Christ, you can handle it.

Given the long caveat at the end of the review, I wondered if the reviewer, knowing her audience, felt she had to lay down a solid defense for why she went to see the film and found it so good. Clearly, she could handle it. Others may not. It's a question of maturity. On the other hand, to read the reviews, and choose to do something else with three hours of your time, may say something about maturity, too.