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Wall Street: Money never sleeps

Published / by Sandy

Genre: Drama
Rating: M
Length: 133 minutes
Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin, Eli Wallach
Director: Oliver Stone

posterBrief synopsis
Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), the corporate raider introduced in Wall Street in 1987 along with his iconic “Greed is good, greed is right, greed works” mantra, is back in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. He has served a lengthy prison stint for securities fraud and racketeering, and on his release he finds himself alone – no friends and family. He emerges into a strange new world in which he needs to redefine himself and reclaim his place. It’s now the 21st century, and a financial crisis is brewing. A young, idealistic Wall St investment banker works for an investment firm, rumoured to have billions in toxic debt. When a Government bailout is refused, it provides an opportunity for another firm (the source of the rumours) to jump in and purchase it at a fraction of its true worth. The young banker teams up with Gecko to solve the mystery of who began the rumours that led to the demise of the company and led to the death of his mentor. But Gekko has not been reformed in prison; rather, he has simply re-formed his old ways to suit a new context and shows he is still a master manipulator.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:

  1. What stood out as the main points in the movie?
  2. What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  3. What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  4. What biblical or theological themes come to mind that engage with the story?

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

 

Global Financial Crisis (GFC)
‘Greed is good’ encapsulated the opportunism of the 80’s with fabulous wealth associated with phenomena like the ‘dot.com.bubble’. As it turns out, greed can have dire consequences as experienced in the GFC with the sub-prime mortgage scandals and the bail out of the banks that were considered too important to fail. The opportunism of bankers and investors showed the soulless and callous way of those who give primacy to wealth and self-interest at the expense of ‘ordinary’ people who lost homes and livelihoods as a consequence. Gecko’s ‘victimless’ crime of the 80’s had a human face in the GFC of 2008. The assumption that capitalism can continue to expand is flawed. How does this movie speak into our contemporary global context?

 

Capitalism wears a green face – greed meets green
Jake Moore is the young trader whose competitive drive is offset by his idealism and investment in green energy. In one scene, Gecko’s daughter asks Jake, “Are you interested in changing the world or making money?” Is there a ‘marriage of convenience’ between ‘making money’ and ‘changing the world’ ?‘ Green’ is a new investment strategy – a means to tap into the community interest in ‘green issues’ but – in the end – is investment in ‘green’ only a new means to generate profit? We pay ‘carbon tax’ when we book flights and may choose ‘green’ sources of energy from an electricity provider, but at a greater cost. Is the ‘wedding’ of ‘greed’ and ‘green’ inevitable? Are there ‘benign’ ethical investments or is it always about the profit margin?

 

Financial ‘speak’
Critics have noted the scenes in which ‘men in suits’ talk quickly and slickly about money, in a lingo and manner that often leaves the viewer clueless about what is going on. Perhaps this is the director’s way of showing ‘insiders’ and the ‘outsiders’ – that there’s a whole world of financial speak and activity about which the average person has no idea. When one is on the ‘inside’, there’s a way of making sense of the world and relationships and opportunities, but these are generally outside the frame of reference for most people. Financiers are shaping the world economy in a way that most people are not privy to, nor able to influence.

 

Villains on Wall St
James (Josh Brolin) is the new villain on Wall St, who worships wealth and is prepared to destroy people and institutions for his own gain. He relishes power and access into the elite social stratum. When the young banker asks James about how much money he would need to be able to walk away from it all and live happily, James simply replies, “more.” When Moore tells Gecko, “No matter how much money you make, you will never be rich”, Gecko responds, “You see, it’s not about the money. It’s about winning the game between humans.” Gekko believes that relationships are merely a ‘zero-sum’ game in which someone has to lose, even if the loser is family. “Whether it’s greed or revenge or the compulsion to chase, it all amounts to the same thing … loss of control. And it’s always going to be there and it’s always going to be stronger than you’. Does a person’s character shape the nature of the financial world, or does the promise of wealth shape the person’s character? What counter examples are there to James and Gecko, such as Bill and Melinda Gates who use their wealth to serve vulnerable communities around the world through their Foundation.

The biblical narrative
While there are many references to wealth and riches in the biblical narrative, the commentary on them is more about how they are used (who benefits from wealth and at whose expense?) and about the love of money as a thing in itself. The biblical narrative was written in a context of ‘limited wealth’, and that whoever had more had ‘taken’ it from others. What biblical texts come to mind that deal with money and riches, and how do they make sense within this frame of reference of limited wealth? How do these texts speak into a context where it is assumed that capitalism can keep expanding?

Greed and evil
In his final speech, Gekko observes that because ‘greed is sin, it is always right there, waiting to pounce on us’. In what ways can wealth be intoxicating and seductive? What values and ethics counter the opportunities for the ‘sin’ of greed to control a person’s life? What do we learn from the Christian and Hebrew Scriptures, and the life and teaching of Jesus?

The Contented Fisherman by Anthony de Mello
The rich industrialist from the North was horrified to find the Southern fisherman lying lazily beside his boat, smoking a pipe. “Why aren’t you out fishing?” said the industrialist. “Because I have caught enough fish for the day,” said the fisherman. “Why don’t you catch some more?” “What would I do with it?” “You could earn more money” was the reply. “With that you could have a motor fixed to your boat and go into deeper waters and catch more fish. Then you would make enough to buy nylon nets. These would bring you more fish and more money. Soon you would have enough money to own two boats . . . maybe even a fleet of boats. The you would be a rich man like me.” “What would I do then?” “Then you could really enjoy life.” “What do you think I am doing right now?” What insights emerge from this simple story?

© Rev Sandy Boyce 25th September 2010 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
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