Films on Wall Street, and how they differ.

black and white, photography, banking, wall street, film

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Wall Street has always been a place of obsession for people, and hence for film. This autonomous body of cogs; dominated by ideas of masculinity, and veiled in delusions of grandeur, success, and fortune. You are either drawn to this metaphorical mirage in the desert, with dreams of wealth, power and the freedom that brings, or repulsed by the barren badland, reserved for immoral, shallow scammers, psychopaths/sociopaths and day-time cocaine users.

Of course, both of these extremes are inaccurate, although this strict duality of opinion is drawn on and exemplified in many films.

The Wolf of Wall Street

The most famous modern film on Wall Street, this divisive 3-hour long rollercoaster is full of all the images dreamt up about Wall Street; unscrupulous volumes of wealth, hot girls, snorting drugs out of assholes, and high socialites.  The divisiveness comes from whether the true message of the film comes across or not;  The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t about celebrating, advocating and advertising the morally corrupt lifestyle on display, it’s truly about condemning it.  But the problem is the film is subtle, it condemns in an ironic way, leading to many saying they either hate the film because it supports a evil system, or love the film because it shows everything they want and dream of achieving - both missing the point entirely.  The film was inarguably made in response to the 2008 financial crash, as a way of lauding up the establishment whilst secretly brandishing a dagger, with which it backstabs the tyrannical system and those who manipulate it - ‘Et tu, Brute?’ indeed.

The Big Short

This is another film made in response to the 2008 financial crash, although it takes a very different approach;  The Big Short chooses instead to educate the audience on the faults of the system, such as subprime lending, credit default swap, and collateralized debt obligation.  Although it keeps the same upbeat, macabre sense of humour as The Wolf of Wall Street, due to its alternative approach, it has a very different tone and leaves the audiences feeling very different. Adam McKay, the writer and director, chose to use attention to detail and a clever sense of humour to reveal the morally bankrupt world for what it is, and allow audiences to develop their own opinions - making it arguably better than the predecessor.

American Psycho

Although made before the 2008 financial crash, American Psycho still has the same social criticisms and the same scathing sense of humour as both previously mentioned films.  Christian Bale plays the part of immoral, shallow, psychopathic, narcissistic, and hedonistic investment banking executive (supposedly modelled after Tom Cruise) and, although it takes the stereotype to the bloody extreme, it still makes an effective satire on the ‘playboy’ mentality.

Trading Places

Christmassy New York and Wall Street takes the place of Victorian London in this Dickins-esk ‘A Christmas Carol’ meets ‘Freaky Friday’ meets Mark Twain's ‘The Prince and the Pauper’.  Eddie Murphy stars as street con artist, with Dan Aykroyd as a snobbish investor, who find they must ‘trade places’, each playing one another.  During this ‘Freaky Friday’-like swap, they learn the true meaning of Christmas, and reassess their ways, learning the live a more selfless life. This film has been mostly forgotten in the US and UK, but in Italy, the movie has become a Christmas classic, being broadcast every year on Christmas Eve.

Somewhat surprisingly as well, almost 30 years after its release, Trading Places inspired new regulations on the financial markets - "We have recommended banning using misappropriated government information to trade in the commodity markets”.  The "Eddie Murphy Rule", officially known as Section 136 of the Wall Street Transparency and Accountability Act of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, under Section 746 (quite a mouthful I know), which deals with insider trading.

Wall Street

The titular Wall Street film, made at the height of the 1980s, the age of big business, bigger money and the biggest phones. Charlie Sheen plays a young, ambitious, albeit naive, young stockbroker, who becomes the prey of a older, greedy, and hedonistic Wall Street legend, played by Michael Douglas, a role for which he won the Oscar for Best Actor. Directed by Oliver Stone, famed writer of Midnight Express and Scarface, and director of Platoon, Wall Street is about the dirty world of insider business and ‘corporate raiding’ - a common occurrence in the 80s which involves buying a large stake in a company, in order to have stakeholder voting rights, then normally selling off assets, replacing top executives or, at worst, liquidating the company in order to access its capital. By the end of the 1980s many large companies took measures to make sure corporate raids could never happen again, such as shareholder rights plans (“poison pills”), golden parachutes (including severance pay), and increases in debt levels on the company's balance sheet.

Despite being made before more widespread hate of Wall Street, and before any modern financial crash, the film still taps into the extreme negative stereotype about the financial sector (as mentioned at the beginning of the article). The difference is that Wall Street has an edge of realism, and yet gusto, to ground the film in incredibly persuasive realism - if you’re not convinced that the system is mightily flawed, to be manipulated by immoral people, after watching this film, you might be one of those immoral people.

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