In 1985, an ambitious young broker, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) is lured into the illegal, lucrative world of corporate espionage when he is seduced by the power, status and financial wizardry of Wall Street legend Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas).
Janwillem Van De Weterling once said that: “greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it is never enough”. Greed is good according to Gordon Gekko. It is the template of society. Without greed, there would be no progression, no desire, no nothing.
Michael Douglas’s portrayal of Gordon Gekko is masterly. The slick and calculating financier who uses and abuses the people around him is perhaps one of the most vile and despicable characters in film history. However, for as much as the audience hates him, they can never take their eyes off of him. He controls the gaze and manipulates and twists the emotions of the people he is trying to convince. As he notes to Bud Fox, there are no friends in the business world: “If you want a friend, buy a dog”.
Gekko’s name has clearly been inspired by the insect that feeds off insects less powerful. Scaly and slithery, the gecko is a creature that is quite innocent from a physical perspective but is driven by a desire to live and survive in the jungles of the land from all adversaries. Gordon Gekko is exactly the same. He is not content with merely surviving in the jungles of the business world but rather is determined to destroy all of his competition with a vengeance. He is a greedy, self absorbed mongrel but people attach themselves to him as if they were moths to a flame. Bud Fox fits this analogy to a tee and is definitely burned by it.
Fox is so enamored by the chance to alter his present situation of financial strain that he quickly is enveloped into the lecherous world of Gekko. Immediately, Fox begins to change both externally and internally. His suits become darker, his hair becomes slicker rather then frazzled, his ideals begin to change and arrogance begins to manifest itself from within (which has never been transparent before). In one instance, his desire to become someone has corrupted his ideals and has transformed him into the man Gekko wants him to be.
Oliver Stone provides an interesting sub-story at this point of the film. Fox’s father, Carl (Martin Sheen), is an honorable working class man who fixes airplanes. He is a morally centered man. He dreams that his son will make something of his life and desires the best for him. He truly cares for his son whereas Gekko merely uses him. In a sense, Carl Fox and Gordon Gekko are vying for the soul of Bud. He must choose between the ideals emphasized by the character traits of these two men. Bud’s desire has always been to become successful and rich and he is easily manipulated by the temptation of what Gekko has to offer him. Gekko not only blackens the soul of Bud but he also becomes a new father figure to him by lavishing gifts and women on him (which Carl never had the ability to do). Bud turns his back on his father because success has tainted him. Money has become his life; his new family. Wall Street is not a perfect film in any way. In fact, it is not one of Stone’s masterpieces. But it does capture a time period with magnificent clarity as a result of Oliver Stone’s ability to capture greed at its finest. With this being said, there are some elements that take away from the overall impact of the film. For instance, Darryl Hannah’s performance is forgettable, Sean Young’s turn as Gekko’s wife is small and unmentionable (she is barely in the film although I assume that this is the point-the business world and personal world do not mix and Gekko has clearly chosen the professional world as his family), the music is typical cheesy 80’s fare and the self reflecting dialogue by Fox is sometimes forced and illogical.
Though the story follows a familiar trajectory with rise, fall and redemption elements, there is still something truly intoxicating about the film. As we journey with Fox, we realize what he is becoming. He is no longer in control of his destiny. He has sold his soul to the devil in order to feel superficially happy. It is a morality tale that can speak to the likes of everyone. How much is too much? Is financial success the true meaning of happiness? Gekko is happy but he never truly lives in this film. He lives for the money but for nothing else. Is this the symbol of what life should be? Only you, the individual, can decide for yourself.