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Upon the emergence of the cinema at the start of the 20th century, the landscape of material culture became a more widespread phenomenon and film productions became a profound artefact due to the information it provided on the culture of users and creators. Induced by the growth of the Hollywood media industry, films began to explore a range of cultural concepts and draw upon social structures in their storylines. Irrefutably, the explosion of the film industry had positive impacts in terms of its association with leisure, however, its negative connotations derive from how films reflect several social issues and in a way, encourage them. Specifically, the film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is a cultural artefact that particularly draws on this concept, and in this essay I will be focusing on how this film relates to methodology’s surrounding the visual pleasure of the cinematic experience. I aim to observe and analyse how this particular film relates to the methodology’s proposed by the likes of Laura Mulvey and Roland Barthes, and furthermore, to touch upon other psychoanalytical researchers work, such as Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan, in order to analyse how ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ relates to their theories.
Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ depicts the real-life journey of Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo Di Caprio who depicts the renown financial scam-artist, and his evolution to fortune through money laundering and stock manipulation. This film can be regarded as a cultural artefact due to both the vast appraisal and condemnation that it received in response to its unrelenting portrayal of the cultural connotations involved. Despite the main storyline being about Belfort’s involvement in the stock exchange, the fundamentals of the story do become slightly more overshadowed by the eccentric lifestyle that paralleled this. The films delineation of Belfort’s, reckless antics do however present a very accurate depiction of societal structures and gender differentiation, making it relevant to culture. Despite its popularity, the film gained negative publicity “for glorifying the exploitative, hedonistic lifestyle it depicts” and this relates to the films portrayal of Belfort’s heavy indulgence in alcohol, drugs, and sexual behaviour. Laura Mulvey looks at film and its relationship to phallocentrism in terms of how women are symbolically represented and the significance of the ‘male gaze’, which is the main point to her methodology. Here, her analysis is relevant because she provides an insight into the exploitation of women in film, an aspect of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ that provoked heavy criticism. This particular film features an abundance of sexualised women and various females that are purely objectified for the male characters pleasure, which relates to Mulvey’s theory of “woman as an image and man as the bearer of the look”. Within this, she observes ideas of the ‘male gaze’ and how women are demoted to having just two functions; being “an erotic object for the characters within the screen story, and as an erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium”. Ideological fundamentals have drove this theory in which male figures are unable to be the subject of sexual objectification therefore naturally the woman is forced to bear the burden where she is exploited both in the film itself by the characters, and by the consumers watching the film. This is evident in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ as there is a clear division between the male and female roles, and the respect that their characters have; statistically the women have considerably less dialogical input and their physical representation is done purely for the pleasure of the male actors and viewers, considering the fact the women are often featured in suggestive clothing or are naked. Undeniably this is a conceived concept with the desired intent to stimulate visual pleasure for the male audience, thus succumbing further to the notion of female exploitation in film.
This idea of the dominance of the male gaze links to ideas advocated by Jaques Lacan on the concept of the mirror image associated with film. His predominant argument is that when you look in the mirror, ‘the other’ that you are taking in to be yourself is actually more powerful and accomplished than you are in reality because your body is not fully equipped to do the things you want to do. Here the relevance comes from the fact that Mulvey looks at Lacan’s theory in the comparable setting of the cinema; she observes how “the spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look onto that of his like, his screen surrogate”, meaning that male spectators view the male characters in films, such as ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, and make comparable connections between the two sides. They experience a “moment of recognition in front of the mirror” which is the cinema screen, and because of this it furthers the exploitation of women as the spectators are too then taking on this patriarchal, superior position that demeans women.
Furthermore, Mulvey draws upon Freudian theory when using the castration complex in her analysation. She proposes how women, like those featured in this cultural artefact, are symbolisers of the castration threat due to their lack of male genitals and because of this they “raise their child into the symbolic”. This means, in semiological terms, that the woman “turns her child into the signifier of her own desire to possess a penis” which conveys that women believe they are not fully complete humans as they do not possess the same biological conditions as males. This subsequently means that in the patriarchal culture that exists, women are merely a “signifier for the male other” and become silenced when subjectified to male desires. This theory is particularly prevalent in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ due to the fact that women are solely displayed as sexualised objects within the males possession and Mulvey expresses how this is the “leitmotif of erotic spectacle”. Throughout the film, women are both underrepresented and marginalised which is further reflective of the film industry as a whole. Irrefutably, there is a strong male dominance over the industry and a study into this by Stacey Smith acknowledges how women are in the minority within film and additionally, the women who featured in film are “overwhelmingly white, abled, straight, skinny and partially nude”. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is a prime example of this, evident from the fact that the few women who are allowed screen time are always accompanied by male characters and objectified by said men.
Intertwined with this is ideas of eroticism. The film in question is filled with erotic connotations and Roland Barthes explores this concept through his theory of the ‘cinema situation’ and the significance of environment of the cinema in relation to these cultural ideas. He refers to the cinema as “The Cube” which accurately depicts the cinema and the strange environment that it is. Before even watching a film such as ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ the consumer goes into a pre-hypnotic situation due to the darkness of the cinema. Barthes elaborates on this by describing how black is the “colour of diffused eroticism”, and this concept develops as the film progresses, particularly for this film due to the heavy focus on eroticism and sexual encounters. He evokes how the fascination of the film is exemplified by the cinematic experience which creates a stronger intensity between the film/characters and the spectator, which also relates to Lacan’s theory of the mirror. Barthes uses Lacan’s analysis and looks at it in ideological terms; he says “How to come unglued from the mirror? I complicate a relation with a situation” and here he is expanding on his observation that spectators become “glued to the ideological discourse” that are integrated into films. For ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ specifically, this is relevant because the concept of patriarchy in culture and the inferiority of women is extremely prevalent in this film too, and what Barthes is insinuating is how this ideology is deeply rooted into material culture therefore its affects are much less escapable, due to the fact society is so consumed by it. Here he is identifying the difficulties involved in “ungluing’ oneself from such prejudice ideology which highlights the pervasive nature of visual pleasure within the cinematic experience.
In expansion of ideas on the concept of visual pleasure, Mulvey looks into two theories that inclusively present all the ideas I have previously drawn upon. The first is the idea of “scopophilic” pleasure that arises from using sight to use “another person as an object of sexual stimulation” and the second is the “ego libido” which forms from the identification of oneself in a character presented in the film. Both pursue “eroticised phantasmagoria” and this is relevant to ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ in particular because there is a clear intent behind the storyline and portrayal of the story to stimulate eroticised, visual pleasure. Despite the film being predominantly based around a much wider context, the recurring theme throughout it always reverts back to an erotic and sexually motivated undertone with the intent of satisfying these two modes of pleasure. Mulvey’s looks at this through her analysation of how viewers construct their gaze. As previously outlined there is the concept of the male gaze, but to further this theory Mulvey looks at the “three different looks associated with the cinema; that of the camera as it records the pro-filmic event, that of the audience as it watches the final product and that of the characters at each other within the screen illusion”. She observes how the complex relationship between these aspects is very individual to film and the development of this is the reason film has been able to move away from the traditional monolithic system that it first started as, into a more radical cultural artefact and facilitates films like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ that encourage this concept.
To conclude, when analysing a cultural artefact like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ in relation to analytical methodology, presented by people such as Roland Barthes and Laura Mulvey, the psychoanalytical connotations that are deeply rooted within material culture become prevalent. Clear from this film and an abundance of others, it is evident how the film industry draws upon cultural concepts and societal ideas to reflect on through a mass media narrative. Long-standing fundamentals of a patriarchal power that acts as a dominating trend through cultures is mirrored through entertainment and the film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ in particular, so accurately depicts this. Its portrayal of the hedonistic lifestyle advocated by men and its presentation of women as a mere accessory to this insinuates a clear parallel with society; Mulvey’s methodology comes into play here when she observes “woman as an image and man as the bearer of the look”. My view on this in relation to ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ in particular, articulates that the motive behind such a provocative presentation of women derives from a predominantly patriarchal dominated film culture. Mulvey and Barthes in particular provide such coherent insights into how movies such as ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ severely glamourise the objectification of women and the male influences within the production of this film promote ideas of the ‘ideal woman’ in which enables the respective audience to connect with; this relates to the ideas introduced by Jacques Lacan and his perception of the mirror image involved within this realm on media. Overall, films such as this one have been enabled to become cultural artefacts due to how they so evidently reflect a faulted cultural situation and provide vast information on the activities of its creators and users within society who are shown for all their attributes and floors in this industry.
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