Commentary: ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ And Its Many Climaxes

by Frank Martin

One of the earliest things taught about story analysis is the climax. It’s one of the few things that every story has to have. That doesn’t mean it’s obvious or objective. Some climaxes are hidden while others could be debated. But it has to be there. Otherwise a story would not have an ending. One director whose tales are tricky with climaxes is Martin Scorsese. Since he’s often adapting from real life events, it’s hard for Scorsese to pinpoint a climax because real life stories don’t really end. The characters lives go on. But he has to end the movie, so there definitely has to be a buildup to something. What that something is might be different for every viewer, and there’s no film he’s made where that applies more than The Wolf of Wall Street.

First it’s important to know what a climax actually is. In many cases the climax is obvious. In a movie where it’s the good guy versus the bad guy the climax is often the final fight. But sometimes a climax might be more nuanced and subtle. For instance, if the film is about good guy and bad guy in conflict because the good guy has fallen in love with a girl, the final fight might not be the climax at all. Instead, it might be after the fight when the girl ends up rejecting the good guy. In any case, the climax is the sequence when the character’s journey throughout the story reaches its pinnacle. Everything after the climax is on a downward slope as the character deals with the ramifications of reaching that pinnacle and having been changed because of it.

In the case of The Wolf of Wall Street, there are many instances that can be viewed as a climax for Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). It could be when he’s sent to prison. It could be when his friend turns on him. It could even be in the film’s closing moments when he’s delivering a seminar to an eager audience. All of this is open to debate as the viewer has to decide for themself the meaning of Jordan’s journey and what it has been leading up to.

For me personally, I would argue that the film’s climax is when Jordan crashes his car with his daughter in the front seat. All of the sex, drugs, and bad behavior have been leading to this one moment. Jordan has reached a moral rock bottom by endangering his daughter. It’s no coincidence that immediately following that scene is when the agents begin fitting him with a wire — something he was adamantly opposed to. Something changed in him after that accident. It’s a little strange as a climax considering there is still fifteen minutes left to the movie afterwards, but in a three hour film, that’s really not all that much. Either way, whether I’m right or wrong, The Wolf of Wall Street is definitely a story where the climax is open for discussion.

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