Here it is, one of the most famous quotes a movie has ever produced. It’s not famous for what it says, but rather for what it doesn’t say, and what it really represents. This quote is not all you think it is, and neither is “Wall Street.”
Before explaining the plot of “Wall Street,” it is important to give a little history lesson. The film was released in December 1987, just three months after the “Black Monday” stock market crash. The film however, takes place in 1985. During this time, under then-president Ronald Reagan, there was massive economic de-regulation. This lead to more power to Wall Street, and some very shady business, which would ultimately lead way to disaster. Wait is this 1985, or 2008?
“Wall Street” begins with various shots of the beginning of a work day in New York City. There are shots of various New York landmarks shrouded in sunrise, until we zoom in closer to Wall Street, and then even closer to human life. And not just human life, but human life bustling in crowded elevators and subways. This is the rat race.
Going further, we meet the young, ambitious stockbroker Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen). Bud is an NYU business school graduate from a middle-class family headed by an honest union man (Martin Sheen, Charlie Sheen’s real life father). Bud wants more success, and quick. He turns to the advice of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), a greedy millionaire who is a slightly less lethal version of Patrick Bateman.
While most investors were making hundreds of thousands, Gekko was making hundreds of millions. He did not amass this great fortune honestly however; it was amassed through an immense amount of insider trading.
Though Bud wants to make a fortune, he’d rather make it honestly. However, he is quickly seduced by the power of money and becomes embroiled in Gekko’s insider trading. Soon enough, Bud has transformed into a clone of Gordon Gekko.
“Wall Street,” although highly praised at the time of its release, could not have been as appreciated as it is now, a time when fiction became reality and life imitated art. Why did life imitate art? It all stems from the legendary line Gekko utters at the stockholders meeting: “greed…is good.” The irony of this quote was lost, and only its surface meaning was seen and an excuse for greed was found. This misinterpretation proves that maybe irony really is dead. Another example of this is Peter Finch’s “I’m mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore!” mantra from “Network.” Was this showing that the best form of journalism was entertainment with a mixture of pushing forward one’s own agenda, or was it pure satire? Obviously, the satire was lost on most journalists (mainly, Glenn Beck).
“Wall Street” just might be Oliver Stone’s best film. It shows that the man can truly direct when he is more down to earth and not chaotically switching between color and time like he did in “JFK” and “Natural Born Killers.” It is in films like “Wall Street,” “Platoon,” and “W.” where he finds a way to portray chaos through less chaotic means that his best work is born.
“Wall Street” contains a fine ensemble that consists of future stars (“Scrubs” star John C. McGinley) and old pros (Hal Holbrook). But every actor in the cast pales in comparison to Douglas in his superb performance as Gordon Gekko. Not only is Gekko one of the most interesting characters ever created, but he is also one of film’s greatest villians; no doubt in the ranks of Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter, Harry Powell, and Daniel Plainview. However, he does not become villainous by murdering women, eating people, and bludgeoning false prophets with bowling pins. No, he is the new type of villain: the white collar criminal. He is so evil in his capacity to commit so much lying, stealing, and fraud for the sake of his own self-interests. He represents all that can be wrong with capitalism and the “reach for the sky” mentality.
“Wall Street” is extremely relevant today. Could Gordon Gekko have been a prediction of the future crimes of Bernie Madoff?
No matter how relevant the film is today, it won’t stop being relevant once this recession ends. The film is not just a reflection on this day and age, but rather a reflection on American culture as a whole. It defines the American Dream as the need to be the wealthiest, and the most successful as humanly possible. Therefore, the film spits in the face of the American Dream and sees it as something attainable only through greed. Sometimes, in our race to success, we lose sight of the human heart.
I know by this point the quote “greed is good” has been analyzed past any point of analysis. But since irony is dead, I will now explain the quote in the bluntest way possible: greed, for lack of a better word, is bad.
But then again, I guess greed can be good. That is, until the SEC (and reality), catch up with you.