Power in “The Apartment” and “The Wolf of Wall Street”

One of the three sections I wrote for my paper on the similarity of “The Apartment” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” in their critiques of excess among the elite.

Power is central to both The Wolf of Wall Street and The Apartment; Scorsese continues this critique from The Apartment to The Wolf of Wall Street by paralleling the mise-en-scène of their workspaces. Both Consolidated Life Insurance Company and Stratton Oakmont Brokerage Firm convey the sense of security and professionalism to the common person. This façade is depicted in the beginnings of both films: The Apartment with its documentary-like footage of the Consolidated Life Insurance Company building and voiceover narration of statistics and The Wolf of Wall Street with the confident TV commercial of the Stratton Oakmont Brokerage Firm. Inside the buildings’ floor plans and offices are set up quite similarly. Wilder and Scorsese both set up their protagonists in the center of the frames with a repetitive, monotonous set up. However, in contrast to symmetric and orderly set up of The Apartment, The Wolf of Wall Street is much more chaotic with the various (male) employees flailing their arms. Like the floor plans, the offices for higher associates are much larger and roomy than the general office floor space. These offices are set apart from the common area and are made for one person: the higher the person, the bigger the room, or, the bigger the office, the bigger the jerk.

However these are only façades of the companies. The faux professionalism covers up the true and excessive behaviors of the employees. The main difference between The Apartment and The Wolf of Wall Street are their protagonists. In The Apartment Wilder wants the viewer to sympathize with C.C. Baxter because he is an ordinary person who lives within his means, whereas in The Wolf of Wall Street Scorsese wants the viewer to laugh at and be angry with Jordan Belfort because he is so excessive and selfish. However, Wilder does not drop critique of human excess. Throughout the entirety of The Apartment Dr. Dreyfuss tells C.C. Baxter to “slow down” and “grow up.” Baxter is a scapegoat for Wilder to drive this critique on the excess of higher associates, like Sheldrake and Kirkeby, to ridicule and bash them. Scorsese conversely uses his critique much more subtly because his main character is the excessive character of The Apartment. Both films essentially comment that those in power are too excessive.

Examples that sum up this idea of power are the parties that occur in the films. For The Wolf of Street, just about everyday is party and excess day, but it is clear that Scorsese had the office Christmas party from The Apartment in mind when he filmed his scenes. The office Christmas office party explicitly intermingles the common office space and the separate offices, both areas containing lots of drinking and philandering. At one point the phone operator Sylvia is seen doing a striptease for the employees on an office table. In comparing this party with the party scenes in The Wolf of Wall Street, the similarities are striking. In The Wolf of Wall Street the parties consist of people drinking, hooking up, and dancing on tables. The only real difference in The Wolf of Wall Street is the lack of romance in its scene plot line and the women as prostitutes than employees. Overall power in these films is not presented as professional, but rather faux and devious.

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