Leonardo DiCaprio has spoken out in defense of "The Wolf of Wall Street," his most recent collaboration with Martin Scorsese.
The three-hour black comedy about Wall Street trader and conman Jordan Belfort has been hit with controversy in recent days over claims that the film glorifies the excess of its protagonist's unabashed greed, and does so in an irresponsible manner - without showing the destructive impact his actions had on people's lives.
While the film does show some consequences for the misdeeds of its main characters, they're kept to fairly limited levels. At the same time the lifestyle Belfort is shown without judgement and often with desirable qualities according to several reviewers.
Speaking with Variety, he says:
"This film may be misunderstood by some; I hope people understand we're not condoning this behavior, that we're indicting it. The book was a cautionary tale and if you sit through the end of the film, you'll realize what we're saying about these people and this world, because it's an intoxicating one."
He tells Deadline that showcasing the consequences of their actions was deliberately kept to minimal levels:
"We very consciously wanted this to be an analysis of the temptation and intoxication of the world of money and indulgence and hedonism. We wanted to take the audience on that journey, and so we don't ever see the wake of that destruction until the very end, where they implode. It was a very conscious decision on our part, so the experience would be almost like taking a drug. To me, if you're an audience member, you want to be completely submerged in the actual film."
Finally he talked with Hitfix about the wider issue of a culture at large that might see this film as inspirational:
"We're saying that this is something that is in our very culture and it needs to be looked at and it needs to be talked about. Because, to me, this attitude of what these characters represent in this film are ultimately everything that's wrong with the world we live in.
Look, I'm going to be 40 years old, but I see the new generations — of course there are a lot of very conscious minds out there that want to do good for the world, but there's this incessant need for consumerism and wanting more and wanting to give into every indulgence that is more rampant than ever.
That shift doesn't seem to be happening in the evolution of our species. It just seems to be getting larger and larger. So yeah, to me, look, this movie is incredibly entertaining. But what we're talking about is, to me, a very serious subject. That's the best way I can put it."
That hasn't stopped the criticism though, most pointedly from a letter to The LA Weekly by the daughter of one of the men involved in Belfort's financial scheme, a letter said man has dismissed. Here's a key quote from the woman's open letter to Scorsese & DiCaprio:
"Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals. We want to get lost in what? These phony financiers' fun sexcapades and coke binges? Come on, we know the truth. This kind of behavior brought America to its knees. And yet you're glorifying it.
You have successfully aligned yourself with an accomplished criminal, a guy who still hasn't made full restitution to his victims, exacerbating our national obsession with wealth and status and glorifying greed and psychopathic behavior. And don't even get me started on the incomprehensible way in which your film degrades women, the misogynistic, ass-backwards message you endorse to younger generations of men.