"My name is Jordan Belfort. Not him. Me. That's right. I'm a former member of the middle-class raised by two accountants in a tiny apartment in Bayside Queens. The year I turned twenty-six as the head of my own brokerage firm, I made 49 million dollars, which really pissed me off because it was 3 shy of a million a week."
And That's Terrible: Averted. Director Martin Scorsesse has publicly stated many times that he despises films that tell the audience what to think, believing the film's intent should be clear from the movie's visuals. Jordan and his associates spend the vast majority of the film doing things the audience can easily tell are grievously immoral and at no point does the story stop to tell the audience about the main characters' moral bankruptcy.
Anything That Moves: Both Belfort and Donnie have this attitude. Belfort under the influence is a real piece of work, crossing into Dude, Not Funny! territory when he dry humps an air hostess and has to be strapped to his chair.
As Himself: Bo Dietl, the private eye Jordan has run background on Denham.
Auto Erotica: In one of the opening scenes, Naomi gives Jordan head while he's driving.
Badass Boast: Denham boasts to Jordan that he's hunted down white collar criminals who, unlike Jordan's pretenses of Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!, were the real thing, "to the manor born", white collar crooks "whose fathers were douchebags before them just like their fathers before them" and that he's going to be a big hero at the bureau when he collects Jordan's yacht and every other possession he has. Foregone Conclusion, but he makes good on his boast.
Being Good Sucks: The scene at the end where Denham, a honest upstanding agent, rides a subway with other low-income middle-class passengers shows this. Belfort goes to a fancy country club prison and infamy while honest upstanding citizens will continue to take the subway. Belfort indeed rubs it in when they meet on the yacht, pointing out that Denham initially tried to get a broker's license before joining law enforcement.
Jordan did not take being ratted out by his Swiss banker, who was arrested for an unrelated crime that involved him with the CEO of hibachi chain Benihana, or as Jordan called it several times. BENI-FUCKING-HANA!
Betty and Veronica: Belfort's first wife, Teresa, is a dark-haired girl who knew Belfort when he was in his lower-middle class Na´ve Newcomer phase. Belford then takes Naomi, who's blonde, gorgeous and half-English (which leads him to call her The Duchess) as first his mistress and then his Trophy Wife.
Bittersweet Ending: Whether you regard Belfort as sympathetic or a straight up villain, the ending of the film is bound to be this. He loses his company, wealth, and family. On the other hand, he gets off with little legal punishment by only spending three years in jail (in good conditions) and is still thriving once released. The cherry on top is that it's very ambiguous if Jordan has actually learned anything from this whole ordeal.
Black Comedy: Jordan and his ilk do some truly obscene, even physically violent things, but it's so far beyond acceptable behavior as to be laughable (at times; see YMMV).
Bond Villain Stupidity: When he invites Agent Denham to see him on his Yacht, complete with A Lady on Each Arm, Belfort boasts of putting on an act as a "Bond villain". He then behaves just like one, by offering to bribe Denham and boasting of his Paid Harem while Being Good Sucks. As Belfort's lawyer (Jon Favreau) notes, his invitation to Denham to see him in his yacht, complete with No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine and his poorly disguised attempt to bribe a federal agent is a really stupid thing to do, bringing in the very attention to his operation that he's trying to hide.
Brooklyn Rage: Jordan's friends, especially Bodnick, and both his wives.
Casual Kink: Belfort is into bondage where a dominatrix lights a candle in his ass and abuses him by calling him "Wolfie!"
Catch Phrase: Belfort has a specific putdown to people who look at him as The Hedonist and a Jerk Ass (which he is) — "If you don't like me or how I do things [or words to that affect]...go work in fucking McDonald's." In an infomercial about his seminars, one of the people offering testimonials uses the same catchphrase, obviously being fed his lines by Belfort.
Caught with Your Pants Down: When Donny sees Naomi for the first time. Subverted in that he doesn't even try to hide it, as he's in the middle of a crowded party.
Consummate Liar: Jordan lies frequently and proudly, and elevates it to an art-form. Mark Hanna, his mentor, tells him that this is a requirement for their line of work since cashflow in the stock market is "fairy dust" rather than something real, from the perspective of investors anyway.
Cool Old Lady: Naomi's Aunt Emma (Joanna Lumley) is this, a pleasant woman who immediately realizes that Jordan is high as a kite in the sky, but doesn't judge him because, "I grew up in The Sixties darling!". She's so cool that Jordan is surprised that he can talk to her about his drug and sex addiction. Though it does lead to one of the film's funniest moments...
Damage-Proof Vehicle: Subverted. So high on Quaaludes that he literally can't walk or talk comprehensibly, Jordan nevertheless manages to drive his Lamborghini a short distance home from the country club without, it seems, a scratch. After he's slept it off a bit and the police come, we see it as totaled as it really was.
Destroy The Product Placement: Jordan heavily damages a genuine Lamborghini Countach (25th Anniversary Edition). That's what happens when you take too many quaaludes and think you can drive home safely and with the car intact.
There's no friends in Wall Street. Saurel, Jordan's swiss banker, rats Jordan out as a plea bargain after getting arrested. Jordan himself initially resists this, but after facing the reality that he'd be serving at least 20 years in jail, decides to rat out all of his associates.
In the end, Jordan who tries to warn Donnie not to incriminate himself discovers that he had already made a deal with the FBI to rat everyone and Jordan out too.
One suspects that Jordan Belfort will be to the next generation of Wall Street traders what Gordon Gekko is to the current one.
Business Insider offers supporting evidence. Likewise, Christina McDowell, daughter of one of Belfort's business associates, accused the filmmakers of glamorizing his crimes and likely inspiring others to do the same.
They may be right: as of mid-2014, Belfort is doing the lecture circuit in Australia and Asia, billing the sessions as "an afternoon with the real Wolf of Wall Street", and still selling that ol' get-rich-quick snake oil.
Martin Scorsese, for his part, has in the past criticized the idea of movies telling what the audiences to think and feel, believing that Viewers Are Geniuses and can sort out their moral compass for themselves and that this movie is "not made for 14 year olds."
Does This Remind You of Anything?: Set at a minor-league brokerage firm on Long Island that specializes in penny-stock pump-and-dump schemes? Most of the employees foul-mouthed younger single men from modest backgrounds wearing expensive tailored suits who indulge their considerable fortunes on hookers and cocaine at debauched company parties? Motivational speeches by a charismatic asshole who drives a Ferrari? An FBI investigation closing in and turning the main character into an informant? If it sounds a lot like Boiler Room, it should because that film was also inspired by the real-life Stratton Oakmont firm. note The major difference in that Boiler Room has an Audience Surrogate show us the firm from a Na´ve Newcomer perspective, a conventional approach compared to the full press fly-on-the-wall Villain Protagonist we get here.
Let's see Jordan Belfort commits audacious crimes, goes to prison but finds that rather than punishment, he's found infamy and respect and is a sought after speaker with a book deal and movie. Are we talking about Belfort or Rupert Pupkin (The King Of Comedy). The final scene of Belfort giving a speech to the audience echoes the end of that film.
Drugs Are Good / Drugs Are Bad: Drugs Are Good at the start, right from the opening scene, where Belfort goes on at length about all the drugs he takes and how much he enjoys them, and the movie shows all the awesome drug-fueled parties at Stratton Oakmont. Veers to Drugs Are Bad later in the film when Jordan admits he's a drug addict and goes straight, but he still never faces any direct consequences for his drug use.
Drugs Are Good is played straight in one of the movie's most audacious scenes. When Donnie is choking to death after both he and him take Quaaludes, Belfort, in order to perform CPR while impaired on motor skills, takes a whiff of cocaine. The film cutting contrasts that with a Popeye cartoon of the sailor taking spinach. Yup, cocaine does in real life what spinach does in cartoons.
Played for laughs; Jordan and his crew are amoral assholes but they seem to hate the idea of coming off as bigoted. When they beat up Jordan's gay butler for helping his friends rob the house, they repeatedly emphasize that it's not because he's gay, and Jordan is mortified when Donnie tells him he called an airline pilot the n-word while high.
Downplayed in some parts, concerning homosexuality; there's Some of My Best Friends Are X instances and Donnie denies being seen at a gay club with a Suspiciously Specific Denial and the fact that Jordan calls the cops who then beat up the butler for presumably homophobic reasons doesn't make them as progressives necessarily. Indeed despite holding orgies in his office, Jordan is very creeped out when Naomi tells him the places where she saw the homosexual orgy at home.
Despite Belfort being a sleazebag who looks at women as trophies and toys and most of his staff no different, Stratton Oakmont includes quite a few women at work including struggling single mother Kimmie Belzer.
Evil Mentor: Belfort initially thinks that brokers are there to earn money for their clients. Hanna changes his mindset, teaching him it's all racket to keep the suckers in a loop while the brokers take home cold hard cash via commissions. Hanna also prescribes that jerking off and cocaine are the keys to success in the racket.
Exact Words: During their conversation on the yacht, Jordan employs this to bribe the officers without officially doing so. He goes on a spiel about how one guy at his firm made upwards of $250,000 or so on just his first transaction with the firm, with heavy implications that the same could happen to Denham if he joins. When Denham calls him out for bribing a federal officer, Jordan claims that, by the letter of the law, he didn't, because he never made an official offer or ever put down an exact total that would be paid to him.
Fake Brit: In-Universe. When someone does have the temerity to call "Mad Max" while The Equalizer is on, he speaks to them politely, in a British accent, complete with "Righto, mate".
Fanservice: There's a lot of naked women on display.
During one of Donny's first scenes with Jordan in the restaurant, he goes on a long spiel about how since he married his cousin, if one of his children ended up retarded, he would "set them free" in the rural countryside to find a proper home. After Jordan expresses concern, Donny says he's joking, and claims he'd just lock his kid in an asylum instead. Later in the film, Donny tries to pull the same deadpan on shtick on Brad during a dropoff, pretending to drive while completely stoned. Brad does not take it as well as Jordan did. Their argument over this draws the attention of the police, leading to Brad's arrest, which sets off Jordan's fall from grace.
Jordan optimistically tells his first group of employees that their firm is "chasing Moby Dicks" and compares them to Captain Ahab, a man who never learned to know the right time to quit.
French Jerk: Played with. Jordan thinks that Jean-Jacques, the French Swiss banker who aids him in laundering the profits from his securities frauds is a "Swiss dick" and he in turn thinks of him as an "American shit" (they exchange their impressions mentally in their meeting). Indeed Jordan's Hates Small Talk demeanor is a major faux-pas in Switzerland where people like to discuss a range of stuff before talking business. Their mutual greed leads to a cordial relationship until a key element of their scheme falls apart, whereupon they hang up on each other saying exactly what the other thought they thought of them. Jean-Jacques to the surprise of no one rats out Belfort when he gets caught for an unrelated crime.
Functional Addict: Barely Functional but Jordan spends majority of the movie high as kite. One particular scene had him snort cocaine before he was able to effectively perform CPR.
Futureshadowing: The movie is set in the 90s, but has many echoes of the post-recession climate. Jordan Lampshades this when he offers to tell Denham that he can give information on the greater fraud happening in Wall Street at Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers.
Get Rich Quick Scheme: This is what the regular folks buying the penny stocks are after, which is how Belfort is able to exploit them.
Gold Digger: Naomi could be seen as this, as she doesn't decide to leave Jordan until everything crumbles around him.
Greed: Obviously the motivation behind everyone in this film.
Harpo Does Something Funny: A lot of scenes in the movie were improvised, notably Matthew McConaghey's humming and chest-beating which is a ritual that the actor does to prepare for his role in real life. Scorsese saw it and decided to Throw It In. Robbie Robertson then worked with the actor to create the Wolf of Wall Street theme which plays over the credits, that's the same music.
The Heckler: When Steve Madden steps up to the microphone at Stratton Oakmont before the IPO and holds up the latest model of his shoes, one of the female brokers calls out "They're fat girl's shoes!" The staff also go forward and start throwing stuff since Madden is not an inspiring speaker. Considering he's a client who's making the firm very rich, this is really pushing it.
The Hedonist: Belfort and the entire Stratton Oakmont staff are this. For them girls, drugs and hijinks are all its about. Indeed, when Belfort, Donnie and their wives are in a yacht and caught in the middle of a storm, Belfort commands Donnie to go below deck, which is submerged in water and bring the Quaaludes stating, "I will not die sober." The miraculous survival of everyone on the yacht and their rescue by the Italian navy brings Belfort to an epiphany and he sincerely decides to quit and change his life. He gets caught later while still recovering but he doesn't fully relapse back either.
Hookers and Blow: Mark Hanna tells Jordan these are the sole reasons he's a stock broker. Jordan takes it to literal levels of shooting blow off a hooker's ass.
Hell, they could have easily called this film Hookers and Blow: The Movie.
How We Got Here: The film starts out with Belfort at the peak of his hedonistic debauchery before jumping back to the start of his Wall Street career.
Ignored Epiphany: Jordan is upset at losing his wife, his company, his friends but cheers up when he sees that he's being sent to a Luxury Prison Suite where he can play tennis, feeling that prison might not be so bad after all and the sense that he's not being really punished.
"For a brief fleeting moment, I had forgotten I was rich and lived in a place where everything is for sale."
Earlier on, Jordan expresses remorse over the pain he causes his first wife by cheating on her. His guilt lasts until the very next scene, where he divorces her, and then he's back to his usual philandering self.
Informed Attractiveness: Jordan's lecherous friends drool over Naomi arriving at the party and remark that she is hot. Not that Margot Robbie isn't gorgeous, but we're introduced to her at a party full of equally-beautiful women, almost all of the scantily dressed, so it seems forced for the men to single her out as much as they do.
Intoxication Ensues: Played with. Jordan and Danny pop some vintage Quaaludes. Nothing happens. They pop a couple more. Nothing happens. They pop a couple more, and conclude that the Quaaludes, which were in storage for years, have expired. Jordan goes to a country club. Then they all hit at once, and Jordan discovers a new stage of Quaalude high: the "cerebral palsy" stage (meaning he can no longer talk or move).
Irony: The finale compares and cuts between Belfort riding a bus to prison while Denham rides a subway to work. Denham has an expression of sadness or regret that Being Good Sucks since honest people, like him and other people who ride to work on the subway have to struggle, while Belfort initially worried cheers up when he sees that he's going to a Luxury Prison Suite where he plays tennis with other white-collar criminals. So who exactly is being punished here?
Jerk Ass: Everyone in this film with the exception of Jordan's parents, his first wife, his second wife to some extent, their kids, and Denham are jerks and not nice at all.
Jews Love to Argue: As exemplified by the scene where Mad Max and Donnie argue over Stratton's credit charges.
A twisted example is what the real-life Forbes article first called Belfort, noting that he and his firm steal from the rich and keep for themselves, which infuriates Belfort when he reads it in the movie.
As the movie shows, Belfort's long running senior staff is composed of drug dealers and other lowlifes who would never get access to the education and opportunity to work in Wall Street for real and Belfort trains them to speak professionally and make them more palatable to audience tastes. As his Pet the Dog moment below shows, he provided help to a struggling single mother and empowered her to make money.
Karma Houdini Warranty: For all of his idiotic and impulsive actions, Jordan's arrest never comes from his own actions. He gets busted 2 years after he goes straight for a crime he wasn't even related to.
Knight in Sour Armor: Patrick Denham is world-weary, tired, and cynical. Yet he still believes in doing the right thing and never lets up in his attempts to take Jordan down.
Lack of Empathy: Jordan is an unrepentant narcissist who only cares about himself. The suicide of a fellow Stratton Oakmont employee is casually brushed away and when Aunt Emma dies of old age, he blithely ignores Naomi crying at the death of her aunt, to take them to Switzerland so he can settle his money instead.
Lie Back and Think of England: Right before Naomi tells him that she wants a divorce and she's leaving him, she lets a horny Belfort have sex with her despite not being into it, since it will be the last time.
Marital Rape License: The final sex scene between Jordan and Naomi comes very close. It's pretty clear that Jordan isn't seeking her consent, and several times Naomi tells him "No" and "Get off of me." She finally decides to let him have her one last time (even encourages him to do so) while obviously not enjoying it herself.
Miss Fanservice: Margot Robbie as Naomi has many scenes where she's topless or in lingerie or a bikini. However, the scene of her teasing Jordan by flashing her pussy is framed so the audience doesn't see anything except her legs.
Money Fetish: To the point of literally having sex on top of a pile of money.
Even at Jordan's most extreme drug usage and betrayal of his friends, it's still funny. The laughs end when he Hits his wife.
When Jordan is discussing the crazy sex in the office and talks about Pam, one of the salesgirls who was the Office Bicycle who Jordan states had a threesome with him and Donny. One of their colleagues married her despite knowing this. We see a montage of their wedding, which cuts to shot of the guy in a bath-tub of blood with his bloody arm sticking out.
My God, What Have I Done?: Jordan. The FBI have him bang to rights, he has just fallen off the wagon and after hitting his wife, attempted to flee with his daughter. Jordan realizes how far he has fallen. Though, see Ignored Epiphany above, it doesn't stick for long.
The Nineties: The movie goes far in portraying this era with an eye for detail, especially outdated phone technology, computer systems and car models, and nuances in fashion.
No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: invoked Teresa, Belfort's first wife says this word for word, when Belfort complains about the real-life article that first called him "The Wolf of Wall Street". She's proven right, as Stratton Oakmont gets five thousand job applications a week later.
Non-Indicative Title: To some extent and Lampshaded in the film, but Jordan Belfort only works briefly at Wall Street before the 1987 crash ended his career as a legitimate broker. Stratton Oakmont starts as a penny stock operation, at Long Island, and Jordan exploits the fact that its even more deregulated than Wall Street to make his fortune.
Oh Crap: When the market bell sounds in the middle of the trading day on Black Monday, everyone knows it's a very bad sign.
One Steve Limit: Averted; both of the Belfort estate's security guards are named Rocco.
Only Sane Man: Jordan's friend Brad. While still a drug dealer and criminal, he shows a lot more common sense than the other characters. He doesn't join in the firm along with Jordon's other friends, preferring to be a silent partner to help keep money off the books. After he gets caught and sent to jail for three months, he decides to get out of the game entirely rather than continue on with Jordan's schemes, even refusing to have Jordan pay for his time in jail. Of all the people Jordan brings in to help him establish his own firm, he's the only person who manages to understand Jordan's "Sell me this pen" motivation speech.
Amid his hot-blooded outbursts of anger, Jordan's father Max is the only one who consistently offers him good and level-headed advice.
Pet the Dog: Towards the end of the film, when Jordan is making what he believes will be his last speech at the company he helped found, he tells the story behind Kimmie Belzer (one of the original 20 brokers and probably most successful woman at the firm) and her hiring, where she asked for a $5,000 advance to pay for her son's tuition. Kimmie tells everyone how Jordan gave her $25,000, because he "believed in her."
Popcultural Osmosis Failure: In the beginnings of his firm, Jordan uses Moby Dick and Captain Ahab as an allegory for determination, but the other guys don't even know what he's talking about.
Reality Ensues: After Jordan's motor skills become severely impaired after taking the lemons, he noted that it was a miracle that he somehow drove his car to his house without a scratch. But by next morning, he finds out that the car was actually more damaged than he thought.
Really Gets Around: Jordan and the other guys in the office, though mostly with prostitutes. Jordan mentions a sales woman who sucked off every guy in the office and was doubled teamed by Jordan and Donnie.
Real Person Cameo: Jordan Belfort appears near the end of the movie as the person introducing DiCaprio's Jordan Belfort at a seminar.
Rousing Speech: Jordan's speech where he welshes on his deal with the SEC to leave the firm and the securities business in exchange for pleading guilty to a few violations of their regulations. Indeed this seems to be his real talent and in the end he decides to Cut Lex Luthor a Check and work as a motivational speaker which is his present day real life self's real occupation.
Safe, Sane and Consensual: Averted with a scene where Jordan engages in BDSM with a dominatrix, who proceeds to completely ignore his safeword (although he also seems to enjoy that as well)
Schmuck Bait: In Mark Hanna's view, the Stock Market functions on this principle. As brokers and investment bankers, they don't create anything so their livelihood depends on making people invest and continue investing while they earn on commissions, so they have to ensure that their clients continue investing on some new hot stock and scheme and stay in the market:
Mark Hanna: "Cause they're fucking addicted. And then you just keep doing this, again, and again, and again. Meanwhile, he thinks he's getting shit rich, which he is, on paper. But you and me, the brokers?"
Jordan Belfort: "Right".
Mark Hanna: "We're taking home cold hard cash via commission, motherfucker."
Jordan Belfort's penny stock operation takes this Up to Eleven, via a Batman Gambit of offering good stocks in Bluechip Companies and then unloading the dummy stocks and earning, thanks to lower regulation, even higher commissions than they would in the real stock market.
Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Belfort's life philosophy, most dramatically illustrated when he refuses to take a deal with the SEC that probably would have allowed him to get off scot-free.
Self-Made Man: Deconstructed; everybody needs a little help. Even a person starting their own business could bring in family or friends or something.
The movie has many shout outs to classic films as is common in Scorsese films. The parade of naked girls coming into the office, complete with double handed whistle is from Citizen Kane where Charlie Kane brings a more modestly dressed entourage into the office of his news staff.
Jordan Belfort's mad rush to drive the car under the influence of Quaaludes seems inspired by Vincent Minnelli's Two Weeks in Another Town and Federico Fellini's Toby Dammitt where Kirk Douglas and Terence Stamp are strung out and drive the car despite not being in the right state of mind.
Screenwriter Terence Winter and Martin Scorsese have essentially noted that this film does for White Collar crime what Goodfellas and Casino does for organized crime.
The film has also drawn comparisons to Catch Me If You Can. Both works follow a charming white-collar criminal played by DiCaprio and who comes from humble beginnings to eventually live affluently off ill-gotten gains for a while.
Start My Own: Jordan Belfort on the first day of his job at Wall Street is described as being "lower than pondscum" and after the 1987 crash, he loses his job. Stratton Oakmont (complete with fake Old Money respectable title) is essentially his version of Wall Street, where he uses the deregulated penny stocks and pump-and-dump operations to become semi-respectable enough to make it back in Wall Street. Jordan Lampshades the same when talking about his firm's big break, the IPO(Initial Public Offering) for Steve Madden.
"Stratton Oakmont was rising out of the primordial ooze. Pond scum no more!"
Title Drop: The Wolf of Wall Street was a title of a Forbes article on Belfort and Stratton Oakmont that first brought the FBI's attention to his business. The title is discussed by Belfort and his wife after the article is published in-universe.
Unreliable Narrator: Jordan Belfort, or so says Word of God (Terence Winter). In one scene he brags about successfully driving home while severely intoxicated, only to discover in the morning that he smashed his car all to hell.
Viewers Are Morons: Jordan gives lengthy explanations to the camera of how pump-and-dump schemes and money laundering work, something that might have been justifiable in the time frame of when the movie is set but seems unnecessary with the degree of financial literacy in the general public when the movie cameout. It's subtly lampshaded when he begins to explain what an initial public offering is, but then just drops it midway through. According to screenwriter Terrence Winter, this was an in-joke since Scorsese didn't understand the stock market terminology too well either and didn't know what an IPO was. Winter, who worked as a paralegal in Wall Street and considered becoming a broker himself knew the scene and terminology well.
Villain Protagonist: Jordan is a shallow, greedy, amoral, decadent asshole who's only discernible goal in life is to make money.
Wealthy Yacht Owner: Jordan's yacht is a plot point; taking it becomes a metaphor for bringing him down.
Would Hit a Girl: When his wife tells him she wants a divorce and custody of their children Jordan punches her in the face and stomach in order to get to his daughter.
Your Cheating Heart: Belfort is a compulsive, unrepentant sleazebag who makes Don Draper look monogamous by comparison, cheating on both his wives, though he does seem to love them both and really regrets how things work out with both of them. Still he'd admit I'm a Man, I Can't Help It and indeed he brags about his conquests to Denham and his deputy telling them to go home to their monogamous lives and marriages. Donny is also a cheater and Brad cheats on his Swiss-Slovenian wife Chantal, who in turn cheats on him with Jean-Jacques, the Swiss banker.