"I Don’t Create. I Own.": In Which I Finally Watch Wall Street

Goodfellas is, ultimately, a movie about how hollow and empty the life of crime is. Chances are, says Goodfellas, that you’ll probably end up dead. Or, if you don’t, you’ll at least end up washed up and existentially empty.

Yet when watching it one thinks, “Being a gangster sure looks like fun, what with all the snazzy suits and easy money.”

Wall Street is, ultimately, a movie about how hollow and empty the life of stock trading is. Chances ares, says Wall Street, that you won’t produce anything and you might go to prison. Or, if you don’t, you’ll at least end up washed up and existentially empty.

Yet when watching it one things, “Being a stock trader sure looks like fun, what with all the snazzy suits and easy money.”

I finally sat down and watched Oliver Stone’s eighties epic this evening, and while I enjoyed all 125 of its minutes, I couldn’t help but feel that the movie kind of misfired. Reason being, I ended up being utterly charmed by Gordon Gekko, the slimy stock trader who was really supposed to be the villain.

Make no mistake- Gekko is presented as a reprehensible person. He’s a lying, manipulating bastard who plays other people to get his way, and wholly owns that. The “greed is good” speech has been widely touted as summing up the movie (and in context, it is pretty badass) but when Gekko proclaimed “I don’t create. I own,” that really summed up his character for me. He owns his leechlike state. He touts his non-contribution to civilization as a point of pride.

He does not provide any good or service to anyone. He enriches himself on the labor of others. He can decide the fate of thousands of people, yet in the end he’s little more than a petty oligarch.

Yes. I got it. I was totally on board with Wall Street‘s anti-corporate message.

The problem, though, is the Michael Douglas, as Gekko, is pretty damn charismatic. He eats up the screen, chews up and spits out the scenery, dominates the entire film, and is ultimately just bigger than anything else around him. He’s huge, vibrant, attractive, and looks like he’s having a great time. I had a hard time hating him, even though he was so obviously a son-of-a-bitch.

This is why Wall Street, at the end of the day, is something of a failure. At least ideologically. After seeing it, I kind of wanted to go to New York and blow hundreds of thousands of dollars on steak dinner, hookers, cocaine, and abstract art; all the while surveying the Manhattan skyline from a lofty perch. I will bet you anything that there are swarms upon swarms of WASPy little douchebags infesting trading floors and financial institutions because they were inspired by this movie.

Hell, I’m super-liberal, borderline-socialist, tree-hugging, crypto-hippie, and I was nearly inspired to go put on a pair of suspenders and become a professional swindler. Imagine what it could do to someone more nastily disposed. At Goodfellas is about the mafia, an organization that is sort of hard to join. Wall Street, though, is about the financial service industry, an industry that hires people all of the time.

And that’s why Wall Street is, ultimately, a failure. Its heart is in the right place, but its inspiration points staunchly in the other direction.

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