Five reasons The Wolf of Wall Street should not win an Oscar

I went to see The Wolf of Wall Street. I really shouldn’t have. I can’t think of any film I’ve ever enjoyed less. I’ve racked my brains but – nothing. It’s the worst. At 180 minutes, it’s also practically interminable.

It’s about an entirely one-dimensional stockbroker called Jordan Belfort whose primary concerns are making money, snorting cocaine and paying women to have sex with him. So far, so Wall Street cliché.

Belfort starts small by fraudulently trading low-value penny stocks and goes on to develop a financial empire. He becomes addicted to drugs, yachts, sports cars and prostitutes. His relationships crumble and –here’s what you definitely weren’t expecting – so does his business.

Image source: Wikipedia

Image source: Wikipedia

If the story itself is dull, the way it’s told is offensively mundane. The clichés of excess are repeated ad nauseam. When Belfort is not cultivating a cult of personality on the trading floor, he’s either in a drug-induced state of delirium or the company of a prostitute. On two occasions, the twin traits of substance abuse and misogyny are artfully combined when Belfort snorts cocaine from a prostitute’s butt crack and later from his girlfriend’s cleavage.

If that weren’t bad enough, Belfort narrates the film’s events in an amazingly irritating and over-stated voice-over.

You might have guessed by now that I’m not exactly a fan of this film, which has inexplicably been nominated for five Academy Awards. Here are as many reasons The Wolf of Wall Street shouldn’t win any:

1. It’s not believable

Although it’s based on a true story, it manages to come across entirely implausible. Given the insane lifestyle Belfort leads, there’s no way he’d be in a position to develop a multi-billion dollar business in such a short space of time, nor would he be able to train his incestuous and apparently simpleton employees to trick intelligent people into investing millions in stocks they hadn’t heard of.

2. It lacks subtlety.

For three hours, we are subjected to endless scenes of debauchery and excess. The tired stereotype is then drilled in further with Belford’s tedious voice-over in which he reinforces his addiction to money, drugs and sex. It’s just too one-dimensional to be realistic, not funny enough to be a farce and not subtle enough to be poignant. It has no message whatsoever.

3. No character development

None of the characters develop in any way. Belfort remains obsessed with money, power and sex, as do his employees. Belfort’s father is just another flat supporting character with an unexplained anger control problem. Belfort’s first wife doesn’t have any identifiable personality in the first place (she is, after all, a woman) and his second uses sex as a currency from beginning to end. All the other women are prostitutes, who have no discernible thoughts, feelings or intentions.

4. Ridiculous depiction of women

Belfort’s first wife plays an extremely minor role, which is limited to helping him find his job trading penny stocks and being hysterical when she catches him with the woman who is to become his second wife. His second wife, who marries him for his money, communicates entirely through sex. She is more attractive than his first wife, so she doesn’t have to bother giving Belfort any emotional support. Instead, she has sex with him in exchange for yachts and jewellery and deprives him of it as a punishment.

5. It’s too long.

Every time the screen darkened my heart leapt with anticipation. But it carried on, relentlessly. Since there was no character development, no believable plot and no message to interpret, I just sat there, counting down the minutes.

In hindsight, I should really have invested the cost of the ticket into a penny stock… But like so many, I was duped into a highly dodgy investment.

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The real Jordan Belfort seems pretty insufferable too. But at least he’s real:

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Should I get married to avoid the home for superior spinsters?

“That house,” Frau Bienkowsi said, taking a break to sit on her Zimmerframe beside a patch of buttercups, “was for war widows and a better sort of unmarried girl.”

“It could be the place for you!” she continued, half-seriously. “After all, I need to see that my Katechen will be looked after if things with Andrew don’t work out.”

Frau B believes firmly in marriage. Perhaps I would too, if the choice were between it and a red-brick home for spinsters.

She cannot fathom why German president Joachim Gauck has a Lebensgefährtin instead of a wife and why my sisters and I have yet to tie the knot.

I like some things associated with marriage, like commitment and companionship but dislike others, like lavish weddings and the idea that a relationship undergoes a qualitative change just because you day “I do.”

For people of Frau B’s generation, marriage had as much to do with economics as it did with love.

I wonder whether a whole lot has changed.

In Germany, matrimony is encouraged by the tax system. The comically-named “Ehe-Splitting,” (marriage splitting) policy allows married couples to pay tax at a rate determined by their average income. Couples save money by allowing the bigger-earner to avoid a higher tax rate.

Kate Katharina wedded to  hot chocolate while otherwise unattached

Kate Katharina wedded to hot chocolate while otherwise unattached

I have not ruled out sometime marrying LSB, especially if he asks politely.

But the prospect of living out my dying days in a home for “better sorts of unmarried girls” will happily have nothing to do with my decision.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

And for the time being, I’ll avoid both institutions, thank you very much.

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PS – LSB has himself written about the institution of marriage. It’s in response to the debate about gay marriage raging in Ireland at the moment. It’s very clever and persuasive and you can read it here.

World Apart

I get the U8 to work.

Berliners call it the Drogen Linie – a title it’s earned.

Men and women with drooping eyelids and sad shuffles inhabit the line.

On the platforms, people with trolleys containing their belongings shine torches into bins looking for bottles to recycle.

Once, a girl with black eyes got on my carriage. Her dark hair was pulled back loosely and she had on a flowing skirt. She was breast-feeding a big baby, who was clinging on to her very pregnant belly. The baby was playing with a copper coin.

It toppled to the carriage floor. The lady sitting opposite picked it up and handed it, almost apologetically, to the girl. She took it. Her fingernails – black with dirt. She was no more than fourteen.

I get out at Gesundbrunnen, in the middle of the line. In the eighteenth century, the area was famous for a spa dedicated to the Prussian Queen Louise.

source: Wikipedia

source: Wikipedia

When it joined the city of Berlin a century later, Gesundbrunnen became a working class district. Today, over half of its residents are people Germans describe as having a Migrationshintergrund, or “migrant background.”

The term includes people like me but in the media it’s almost synonymous with second and third generation Turks whose parents and grandparents arrived in the 1960’s and 70’s as Gastarbeiter – guest workers – to help build up post-war broken Germany.

The area is home to a sprawling mall called the “Gesundbrunnen Center.” It’s right next to the train station, which is also the starting point for tours of Berlin’s former bunkers.

The mall is always full. It is like every shopping centre, with an enormous H&M, plenty of stalls selling implausibly fragrant nuts and lots of red-faced children weeping tears of indignation as they are dragged from shop to shop.

To ease the suffering of those unfortunate children and their parents, an enterprising group has recently set up a pony-rental service on the ground floor. The ponies are life-sized stuffed animals on wheels. They come in three sizes and their prices vary accordingly.

The children glide along; their backs held straight and their expressions changing rapidly from concentration to joy. Their parents point smart phones at them to preserve the ride for posterity.

Close to the ponies-on-wheels there is a pet store. I go there to look at the guinea pigs. Earlier today, a sales assistant with pale skin and lots of piercings opened the snake cage to spray water inside. A woman wearing a headscarf looked on curiously.

“Are they poisonous?” the woman asked, pointing to two grotesque snakes coiled around each other, exposing their forked tongues every few moments.

“No. We don’t sell poisonous snakes,” the member of staff answered in a remarkable monotone.

The snakes are fed with dead white mice. I wonder if the store is supplied with dead mice or whether they simply taken them from the cages selling mice as pets. If the latter is the case, I wonder how – and where – the killing takes place.

On the street leading to my office, there is an unassuming and cheerful cake shop. It sells pieces of kiwi sponge for a euro and boasts a special blend of Arabic coffee. It’s family-run and open late. In the evenings when it’s quiet, the teenage daughters take care of the tills and bring you coffee. They seem well brought-up. One of them sports charmingly chipped red nail polish.

There are high-rise blocks of flats along the entire road. Chained absurdly to a lamppost outside one of the buildings are two plastic cars for toddlers.

None of it is my world. But sometimes I realise that being an outsider is where I feel most at home.