Scorsese’s Depiction of the Stratton Oakmont Office in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013)

One of the things that struck me when I was rewatching The Wolf of Wall Street was Scorsese’s depiction of the Stratton Oakmont office. While it seemed a disorienting the first time around, this time I took more note of what formally made it so off-putting. Of obvious notice is the use of the wide-angle lens. While (if I remember correctly) Scorsese uses wide-angle lenses quite frequently throughout the film, it is so painfully obvious and persistent here because of Jordan’s central position in the frame. Wide-angle lenses are used with the intention to distort the image being shown; here the lens specifically distorts the image of Jordan’s unsophisticated Felliniesque world, so much so that I’m sure Fellini would be begging for Jordan to stop. The distortion in the lens is just one of the many things that tell us that we should not believe this drugged-up stock company owner.

There seems to be a drastic difference in Mark Hanna’s office and Jordan Belfort’s office. The distance from the floor to the ceiling is noticeably much higher in Hanna’s office when Wall Street virgin Jordan joins the business. Not yet tainted by Wall Street, Belfort’s first day is the only moment in the film where we can somewhat relate to Belfort, as he tells us that he “can only imagine what a douchebag” the guy who makes over one million a year must be. Once Jordan has Stratton Oakmont, however, that is what he has become, or even worse. However, unlike his previous workplace, Jordan’s company’s floor is tight from top to bottom. This tightness visually dictates that Jordan is no longer “normal,” so to speak, like he was in the beginning of the film. Perhaps he sees that he has dominated the world but, in my opinion, it reads as confining and oppressive. He minimizes Belfort’s importance and, in conjunction with the wide-angle lens, pushes at the fact that Jordan is an unreliable narrator. The behind the shoulder shots depict Belfort essentially at the same height as his employees; there is not towering, higher appearance of Jordan to suggest he is any better than his employees. In fact, at one point in the beginning of the film, there is an extreme long shot from other end of the office that barely makes Jordan noticeable. Therefore, Scorsese has the ulitmate control of how he wants to depict Belfort, and it’s not a positive one. Just these few things immediately slash the critique that this film glamourizes Belfort’s lifestyle.

While watching The Wolf of Wall Street I made a connection to the famous 1960 film, The Apartment. The repeated, distorted shots behind Jordan as he pep talks his employees reminded me very much of Wilder’s shot in The Apartment of the office floor where C.C. Baxter works. In relation to The Wolf of Wall Street, I think Scorsese intends to compare Jordan, not to C.C. Baxter, but to the likewise despicable head of the company, Jeff D. Sheldrake, who promotes C.C. Baxter in exchange for the use of Baxter’s apartment to sleep with Fran Kubelik. Both heads of the companies in these films are corrupt and thoughtless. However I think it is important to stress the fact that Jordan’s floor is much smaller and condensed, deemphasizing his power, credibility, and appeal.

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