Elevate Difference

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

I knew when I bought my ticket that Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps would not be a feminist film. I had an idea of the storyline: Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) returns for Oliver Stone’s modern depiction of the beginnings of the current economic crisis, told through the eyes of Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), a young ambitious businessman, and his girlfriend Winnie (Carey Mulligan), Gekko’s daughter. I entered the theater prepared for a film starring and made for men.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a hyper-masculine telling of extremely wealthy business executives engaged in dangerous and unethical games with each other. Apart from the lack of strong female characters, which I would expect in a “business thriller” film, there are parts of the movie that betray a more pervasive and insidious destruction of women. The film’s treatment of Winnie made my jaw drop on several occasions—not only because of the harsh ways she was manipulated by other characters but also by the sheer banality of this kind of treatment. Little energy is spent questioning the ways Jake hurts her, and Winnie's routine mistreatment normalizes such behavior.

In a key moment, Jake deceives Winnie into handing over her hefty fortune to his pet project, all the while assuring her that this means she will be “doing something with her life." Jake implies that her actions are only worthwhile if done in support of his business goals, not her own passions. This felt hollow and manipulative to me, but not to Winnie; she signs away her millions with a smile. Jake’s dishonesty and colossal mistake with Winnie’s money is a blip in the film, and its effect on their relationship is shockingly negligible. Winnie is simply a piggy bank who doesn't complain about being the plaything of an ambitious businessman.

This isn't the end of Winnie's misuse, as Jake uses her as a bargaining chip for his own gain when he discovers she is pregnant, a development that brings the idea that a woman’s worth is in her womb to the fore. When the characters meet after a brief time apart, Jake clasps Winnie’s growing belly. What should have been a time to discuss the dishonesty that had driven them apart becomes a moment of instant reconciliation.

By juxtaposing male economic success with female pregnancy, the film compares traditional male and female creation. This dichotomy could make for an interesting discussion of gender role expectations. Unfortunately, Stone lets this point fall flat. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps doesn't discuss social attitudes nor does it adequately confront the issues it raises surrounding the male ownership of female bodies.

While Winnie's objectification stands out as the most problematic aspect of the film, if we take a distanced look we can make some larger conclusions about how women have been treated during the financial crisis. Women, on average, are more severely affected and are more likely to live in poverty than their male counterparts, and pop culture’s focus on the downfall of wealthy men narrows the film's narrative about those most vulnerable to the crisis. Like most of what is coming out of Hollywood, this film doesn’t focus on the real victims, but on a few stylized anti-heroes.

Even without a feminist lens, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps lacks intrigue and depth. It misses the mark by not telling an interesting story about the dangers of our economic habits nor about the personalities involved in our nation’s latest catastrophe. Stone merely captures a few fleeting moments in the lives of the country’s richest businessmen and throws in some objectification of women for good measure.

Written by: Andrea Gittleman, October 7th 2010

I was really disappointed by Wall Street 2.0, which is somewhat stupid to say considering that I knew exactly what I was walking into. But the story just completely fell apart in the last third of the movie, and Oliver Stone's platitude-filled do-gooder dialogue really grates on me after an hour. I don't need some rich white dude to tell me rich white dudes are trouble, you know?

Anyway, good review. I appreciate any like-minded feminist who, like me, sits through the big budget stuff once in a while :)