By ALICE WANG
If your holiday season wasn’t uplifted by the veritable orgy of immorality that was the magnificent black comedy called The Wolf of Wall Street, then, well, you were doing it wrong. Not only was the film a master-course in the cinematic techniques of the 71-year-old virtuoso Martin Scorsese, but it was also the most vicarious modern tale of debauchery and capitalist privilege you’ll ever experience. No less subtle than an anvil falling on your head, Wolf aims solely to shock — and often succeeds. If you don’t enjoy horrible people doing horrible things and admitting to being horrible, then please silently scorn us simple-minded plebeians from your lonesome corner of moral victory. The rest of the bread-and-games public will giddily revel in this endurance test of human indecency, as celebrated anti-hero Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) snorts anthills of coke with his pseudo-mob family of criminal financiers. It’s the classic tale of rags-to-riches-to-federal-indictment, surfeit of all the booze, babes and blow to make the experience fast, funny and very, very filthy.
If at any time during the three-hour marvel of vulgarity and manic exuberance, you thought, “Gee, this is hilarious, but wouldn’t it be great if this was real life?” Well, welcome to a 2014 in which a real Jordan Belfort exists, having actually lived and penned the narrative we’ve come to love. Author of an autobiography of the same name, Belfort’s numerous on-screen monologues were derived, almost unaltered in their entirety, from his book’s passages — including the infamous Lemmons 714 story. Nevertheless, some of the tales must be too outlandish to be true. A case of Hollywood juicing up a tamer story? As the FBI agent assigned to Belfort’s case corroborates, “I tracked this guy for ten years, and everything he wrote was true.” Still, here I am to suss out fact from fiction, history from Hollywood and (most importantly) cousin marriage from flying midgets.
So what’s true-to-form and true-to-film in The Wolf of Wall Street? First off, the broad strokes of the film remain faithful to reality. That is, a wide-eyed Belfort began working for the venerable L.F. Rothschild firm before falling victim to the thousands displaced by Black Friday. He switched to a small-time penny stock brokerage, which he eventually bought out and renamed Stratton-Oakmont, starting inside a friend’s car dealership in suburbia. Stratton-Oakmont, staffed by Belfort’s ragtag group of childhood friends, grew immensely rich by the same pump-and-dump, fast-cash schemes that later had the company indicted. Along the way, Belfort remarried to a “Miller-Lite girl,” consumed mountains of coke and ‘ludes, billed his sexcapades with hookers as tax write-offs, taunted (foolishly) the FBI and SEC and ultimately reinvented himself as a motivational speaker. But some of the most bizarre truths and incredible falsehoods follow below:
1. Belfort adopted his formula for success (masturbation, cocaine and hookers) from his employer at Rothschild.
True. Belfort’s former boss, Mark Hanna, played by Matthew McConaughey, gives a power-lunch monologue in the film which is ripped pretty much word-for-word from the book. His guttural chanting and chest thumps, however, are actually adopted from McConaughey’s own on-set acting exercise.
2. Belfort pops the legendary Lemmons 714s, crashing his car and discovering the “cerebral palsy” phase of his delirium.
True. The car was actually a Benz, not a Lambo. Deranged, he had no recollection of the numerous motor accidents he caused along the way — including a hit-and-run that sent a woman to the hospital.
3. In the Stratton-Oakmont offices, midgets were thrown during office parties.
Half-true. While midgets were undeniably present at these shindigs, there is contention as to their level of participation. Belfort admits to the midget-tossing competition, while Porush (Donnie Azoff/Jonah Hill) claims no such abuse occurred.
4. Belfort’s second-in-command married his own cousin.
True. Porush, the likely inspiration for Jonah Hill’s Donnie Azoff, did marry his first cousin because she was “a real piece of ass.”
5. Belfort’s second-in-command swallows a goldfish.
True. Porush recalls, “If you don’t do more business, I’m going to eat your goldfish!”
6. Belfort tries to save his second-in-command from indictment.
False. Maybe Scorsese didn’t want to completely malign his protagonist, especially in such a story of celebrated villainy, but the truth in the matter is that Belfort sold Porush out with the whole lot of them for a reduced prison sentence of 22 months. The two no longer speak to each other.
7. Belfort’s wife spreads her legs on security footage.
True. Like many women, she used sex as a weapon in marriage. Unlike many women, her security guards (both named Rocco) got to watch.
8. Belfort physically abused his wife during domestic disputes.
True. In Belfort’s memoir, he admits to kicking his wife down the stairs as their young daughter watches on. In real life, he also tried to kidnap their daughter while high, crashing into a pillar on their driveway. Disgusting? Definitely. After all, DiCaprio says what attracted him to Belfort was his willingness to admit to all acts, good or grievously bad, because of his “singular transparency.”
9. Belfort laundered money through his aunt in-law and distant Swiss acquaintances.
True. His wife had a real English aunt, who did die after a transaction. However, Porush does not recall specifically taping the cash to a woman’s breasts (Belfort does).
10. A female employee allows Belfort and crew to shave her head for ten grand to pay for breast implants.
True. However, there was no chimpanzee present to catch this office event.
11. Belfort sunk his own yacht in Italy.
True. Like in the movie, the yacht was named after his wife and it was formerly owned by Coco Chanel. While decidedly not sober, he insisted the captain sail through the Mediterranean storm. Also remarkably true is the incident in which Belfort lands his private chopper on his estate’s lawn, rabid on a cocktail of controlled substances.