Oliver Stone is interested in money as culture. Sure, he gives you the spider’s stratagem of Wall Street finance and how it all unravelled in 2008 to reveal the abyss beneath, but his fascination is with what happens to the minds of people when money turns from value to numbers. Does money become too abstract to connect with?
After almost a decade in prison and another reinventing himself, Gekko (Michael Douglas) has achieved the necessary distance to be able to reconnect with money. He now needs an heir and a protégé. The heir, his daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan), has steadfastly refused reconciliation for past transgressions, but her boyfriend eagerly presents himself as a protégé.
Jake (Shia LaBeouf) is the most complex character in the film, a young Faust, seduced by the Mephistopheles of Wall Street. With the transparency of his love for Winnie, with the earnestness he displays in financing the right concern (clean energy), with the uprightness of his confrontation with a gigantic and unscrupulous market shark (Josh Brolin), he conveys integrity. He is, however, as ambitious and unscrupulous as his mentor.
Throughout, he has been deceiving Winnie about his interactions with her father and, later, descending to a level that shocks even Gekko, he presents ‘news’ of his and Winnie’s unborn child to blackmail him into returning a trust fund he’d swiped from her.
With business meetings directed in the sombre tones of The Godfather, the movie’s parallel with murky dealings in settings of rich tapestry is obvious, as is the emphasis on a Goya painting on the wall, Saturn Devouring his Son.
Oliver Stone is saying that money corrupts and that absolute money corrupts absolutely. Wall Street, and the recession it has triggered, is not an aberration. It is the nature of the beast. An evocative and eloquent movie.