The late period of filmmaker Martin Scorsese is entrenched in the manifold meanings of illusion, a theme of grave importance as our collective collision with images has accelerated along with available technology and the encapsulating web of cyberspace when, while a world so widely canvassed would seem to be becoming more objective, our senses are saturated in manufactured images—or illusions, and so susceptible to gross manipulation. Scorsese has successfully migrated from the idiosyncratic crystal explosions and chemistry of analog moviemaking to digital’s binary code, yet what’s interesting about the trajectory of his career, along with the technology of his profession, is how he’s linked the art and business of image production to the psychological and spiritual problems he, as an artist, is bent on exploring.
His controversial new film The Wolf of Wall Street, about corrupt and decadent Long Island broker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), is much more than another rise-and-fall (or “fall”) arc of a criminal overwhelmed by his luxurious excesses (it seems like a WASPy white collar version of Goodfellas or Casino); in its dizzying whiz-bang episodic carnivale of unreliable anecdotes, Scorsese has made an indictment of our present day submissiveness to the profit-motivated allure of moving pictures, the dulling narcotic of visual sensory intake that aids the evasion from existential realities. Scorsese has made the antipode to his preceding feature, the earnest and moving ode to illusions, Hugo, in which fantasy opened the real world up to transcendent irradiation. The Wolf of Wall Street is also a fantasy, but the sanctuary of images, where the viewer is transformed, is replaced by the passive lull of television. The screen isn’t in dialogue with reality. It's the Leviathan Hellgate mouth that swallows reality and replaces it.