• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Monday, January 18, 2016

    The Wolf of Wall Street vs Last Temptation of Christ

    I finally managed to catch up with Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street last night and as I'm also preparing a talk on his Last Temptation of Christ I was looking out for similarities between Wolf and Scorsese's other work, particularly his Jesus biopic.

    As you might expect, whilst the lead characters fall on different sides of the goodie/baddie threshold, one of the key areas of similarity is the plot. So both films are essentially buddy movies featuring a character from an ordinary background who early on teams up with a partner who will hold significant say in their vocation. The partner provides the rational scheming as a foil to the lead's natural charisma and sense of, for want of a better word, showmanship. The pair quickly gather a overly dedicated bunch of disciples - men who are prepared a high price to be followers of the lead - and their vocation develops rapidly, as they defy the status quo to provide a new way of doing things. Both stories are told very much from within the bubble of these communities. In neither case do we see behind the scenes of those establishments which have traditionally been seen as the trusted experts within Judaism/Wall Street. Their success is so great that both groups rapidly end up in over their heads, struggling to cope and drawing the attention of the authorities. The authorities deal with them swiftly, dispassionately but without really breaking stride. Kyle Chandler's FBI agent is no more bothered or threatened by bringing down The Wolf than he would be if he had all of David Bowie's Roman legions at his disposal.

    There are other similarities as well. As with many Jesus films Last Temptation features a meeting with John the Baptists. Here it's a single conversation where the Baptists passes on all his wisdom. Here we have the Matthew McConaughey figure who functions in a similar fashion. In the aftermath of both encounters the Jesus/Wolf figure finds himself in a wilderness of sorts having to start from scratch.

    Of course any director of note will also use the other tools at his disposal to reinforce his themes. The most obvious of which here is the Wolf's habit of adopting a cruciform pose, most memorably as he enters his office with a broad smile on his face and his arms spread almost as wide. Then there's the way that Scorsese uses nudity as a shortcut for decadence. And that both films rely on a voice-over from their protagonist. Indeed there are also moments when the audio stops being the "realistic" sound we would normally expect, or the soundtrack and becomes either silent or only some of the sounds that would be expected from the scenario - a more expressionistic audio channel if you will.

    Scorsese's work also repeats certain visual ideas in many of his films. He's particular keen on freeze frames, and slow motion shots, both of which make appearances here although are used more sparingly in Last Temptation. But we do get the kind of accelerated swooping zooms in which accompanies Jesus' first voice-over.

    I suspect the internet will full of other such similarities but these will do for now.

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