Wall Street

Wall Street. How far will you go to be successful? How far will you go to win? Nothing can illustrate the lengths that a person is willing to take just to profit than in the cutthroat world of stocks. And no place in the world is more ruthless than Wall Street.
Wall Street (Stone, 1987) takes its viewers to a behind-the-scenes look at this place in the world where people live and feed on stocks. The entirety of the film tackles a lot of moral conflicts that are involved in the business dealings done within the movie.
This is Oliver Stone’s criticism of the mentality of the people who utilized illegal means just to get the biggest profit in the quickest time. Stone criticism not only targeted the corporate raiders whose practices were being exposed in the insider trading scandal in the 1980s, but it was a critique on the quick-buck culture that was prevalent then and even at this time.

THE PLOT
The plot is traditional and formulaic. A young hotshot, wanting to be successful, gets the opportunity when his persistence pays off as he is hired by a famous veteran. The rookie takes on the job albeit the discovery of the illegalities of the methods. He gets the perks and the movie shows its audience the grandiose rewards he gets. When a conflict of interest arises, he goes against the veteran. He loses everything yet he gets his payback. This has been a formula for a number of movies, and Wall Street is no exception.
The young, idealistic hotshot here is Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen. He is a stockbroker for a lesser-known Wall Street firm. The hotshot is a dreamer. In one scene in the movie where he just lost a lot of money because of a client, he utters that he dreams of being on the other side of the call sometimes. In subsequent scenes too, it can be observed that Bud does not dream of being a stockbroker forever. To achieve that dream, he constantly calls the office of his hero for a chance of getting an audience and ultimately, impressing him to gain employment under his hero’s wing.
The veteran, excessively rich and wealthy, and the movie protagonist’s hero is Gordon Gekko. This role led Michael Douglas to garnering an Academy Award of Lead Performance by an Actor. He is indeed truly worthy of the award as he portrayed the cold and vicious yet in some way appealing Gekko to the hilt. Gekko represents the ultimate corporate raider, the Wall Street shark who buys and closes down companies under their noses for his profit. Yet his methods, though disagreeable, are effective and masterfully justified as evidenced by his Greed is good speech in the movie (to be discussed later).
On Gekko’s birthday, Bud shows up in Gekko’s office with a box of Davidoff cigars as a present and a bribe to finally get the opportunity he has been waiting for. Desperate to impress Gekko, Bud blurts out insider information that his father Carl (played by Martin Sheen, Charlie’s real-life father) revealed to him about BlueStar airlines. Carl works for BlueStar and also serves as a union leader there. When Gekko profits out of Bud’s tip, he saw something in the kid that he liked.
He saw the killer instinct, the will and determination to do whatever it takes to succeed. He saw a bit of himself in Bud, as he revealed later on in the movie. He then employs Bud to work for him but not as an ordinary broker. He asks Bud to spy on his competition and other illegal acts. At first, Bud hesitates but he eventually agrees. He is rewarded with his works, and not without extravagance. Bud enjoys the luxurious life that his work with Gekko provided for him.
The main conflict of the film arises when Bud decides to make BlueStar competitive. Bud enthusiastically pushes forward his proposals to Gekko. Gekko, on the other hand, agrees with the proposals armed with contrasting intentions compared to that of Bud’s. When Gekko and Bud present their plan to BlueStar representatives, including Carl, Carl voices out his opposition as he sees behind the guise that Gekko puts on. Yet, Bud remains to be sold by Gekko’s deception.
It did not take much time before Bud realizes what Gekko’s plan really is. When Bud learns that Gekko plans to sell the hangars and planes, he confronts Gekko. When asked why he was wrecking BlueStar, Gekko answers, “Because it’s wreckable.” From there, Bud sets off a plan to save BlueStar. Eventually they do but not without consequences. Bud is arrested for illegal insider trading by the SEC. Still, he manages to get payback as he lures Gekko into a trap and thus managing to record Gekko’s confession of guilt on tape. The film ends with Bud walking on the steps of a courthouse on his way to his sentencing.
ISSUES
The Quick-Buck mentality vs. Hard Work and Fair Play
Wall Street can be likened to a battle of two fathers over the moral consciousness of a son. This is not the only movie where Stone used this concept. His Vietnam War movie Platoon also shares this conflict (where Charlie Sheen also portrays the role of the “son” torn between two fathers, one good and another evil). In Wall Street, Carl Fox and Gordon Gekko represent the two opposing sides in the contest over the moral beliefs of Bud Fox, the “son”.
Gekko represents the cutthroat businessman who resorts to all means to gain the biggest profit in the easiest way. He does so through illegal means but not without justification. The list of his reasons is not uncommon and yet is still popularly used even up to these times to justify wrongdoings. These include excuses like “Everybody does it”, “There’s something in this for everybody”, “Nobody gets hurt”, “As long as we don’t get caught”, etc. This promotes dishonesty in business dealings.
But as shown by Gekko, it is this type of people who get to be on top of the hill. The ruthless, the cunning, or the relentless are the ones who succeed and eat up those who strive to compete in the merciless world of business. The implication of the justifications Gekko provides for his actions can be summed up in the common adage, saying that “if you can’t beat them, join them”. Surely, there are other people in the real world that are similar in nature to Gekko, people who become extremely successful using unethical methods. Competing with these people is one Herculean task to surmount.
Thus, there are those who give up on competing with such sharks on ethical grounds and are consequently influenced to follow their lead. In today’s world, it is not surprising to find people like Gekko and the quick-buck mentality that they adhere to, where they prioritize profit over anything else including morals and services to their clients.
On the other hand, Carl Fox represents the people who advocate hard work and honesty in business dealings. Carl Fox is not the only character in the film that adheres to such philosophy. One superior of Bud in the Wall Street firm stated, in one of the earlier scenes, that “good things sometimes take time.” He cites IBM and Hilton as examples.
This is a direct contrast to Gekko’s impatient and short-term approach towards business. Success, via the ethical way, takes time. But eventually it will come to those who work hard and remain ethical in their ways. This kind of thinking seems to be overshadowed by the prevalent success of the Gekko-like businessmen. Despite that, there are those who remain stern to keeping their methods unstained by illegalities.
They preach that hard work will reap its benefits but it takes time. Gekko scoffs at this conception citing his father as an example of a hardworking man who worked all his life and died of mediocrity. In the present day, there are those who steadfastly hold on to this principle despite all the satirical points made against their cause.
Bud Fox in the movie represents the “son” torn between two fathers, namely Gekko and Carl. He is the student confused on which school of thought to pursue, the quick-buck or fair play. This is actually a mirror of today’s world. Stone intended this movie to reflect the rugged financial wheeling and dealing that is actually happening, especially at the time when the movie was made. The playing field is so dominated by players who have regard profit, wealth and winning above any other consideration.
What Bud Fox represents is the individual player who is given a choice on which side to choose, the cunning majority or the blue-collar minority. Stone’s message is a dark warning for those who follow Gekko’s way. As one of Bud’s bosses says it, “Enjoy it while it lasts, because it never does.” The film ends with both Fox and Gekko getting prosecuted. They may enjoy the riches brought about by their illegal actions but time will come when their misdoings will collect their due. Meanwhile, those who do not heed the call of the “easy money” are bound to have no worries of retribution.
Greed is good?
The highlight of the film, what significantly won Michael Douglas his Oscar for Acting, is the scene where he delivers the Greed is Good speech. Such conception was the popular mindset (and alibi) for the profit-obsessed culture in the 1980s market that Stone was criticizing. By this scene, Stone shows his viewers the kind of eloquence and guts that people like Gekko have in defending the actions they do.
This scene masterfully and powerfully provides that illustration. Gekko’s claims, amazingly delivered by Douglas, provide a chill to the spine of viewers as it shows just how ruthless and yet appealingly logical Gekko is. He delivers the speech with such composure and bravado that merits cheers and jubilation among his audience and silences his detractors despite the obvious disreputability of his catchphrase.
The setting here is that Gekko is trying to take over a company, Teldar Paper. In a shareholders meeting of such company, company management oppose such planned take over by Gekko mainly because of Gekko’s reputation as a company raider. Gekko, on the other hand, rebuffs this voiced out opposition with this grand speech, provided here in part:
The point is, ladies and gentlemen: Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right; greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms, greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words – will save not only Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.
At first look, he may have a point. As evidenced by the acceptance of his audience, it seems as though Gekko has indeed made a very convincing statement. All development can be traced to man’s insatiable hunger for life, money, love, knowledge, etc. as noted by Gekko. It is seemingly logical to think that greed is the driving force behind every single successful venture of man.
If that is so, then it is just right to teach people to be greedy. Right? If this was the case, then the movie should have ended with a decisive statement that Gekko never gets caught. But Stone had a different view. Stone included this speech in the movie to showcase up to what absurd lengths people like Gekko go to in order to twist the facts and values long-cherished by society just to justify their cause and actions.
Greed is wanting in excess of something that is never meant to be one’s own. It is an excessive desire to possess more than one needs or deserves. Anything in excess is wrong and can never be good, as declared in Nicomachean ethics. This just proves how twisted Gekko and his kind are. They turn something innately bad to something good just to satisfy their inner selves that there is nothing wrong with what they are doing.
They are blinded by their greed on what is truly wrong and write. Greed overcomes them. The desire for winning the deal is more dominant than observing ethics. Even the rewards of money and luxurious living are never enough if one is overrun by greed. In the movie, Gekko and Bud are enjoying the luxurious life yet the audience never gets to examine the splendor of their riches as these are only shown in passing. Such is the life dedicated to greed. It doesn’t give room to gloat in the rewards because it constantly seeks more. The concept of enough eludes them. When Bud confronts Gekko of how much is enough, Gekko struggles to answer. Greed does that to a person.
Greed corrupts. Too much of anything corrupts to a point where the boundaries between right and wrong are breached just to temporarily satisfy and insatiable appetite for winning the deal. Greed twists the morality of a person. It changes the priorities of a person involved, in a deal; greed is self-serving instead of serving what the deal embodies, which is the people that will benefit from it. It is this moral corruption that Stone exposes through this movie, the moral corruption brought about by wealth and greed. The legal corruption is only set as a backdrop amidst the crisis in morality that the protagonist of the film is going through.
CONCLUSION
Oliver Stone’s main message in this film is that the ways of the wicked will ultimately fail. He concludes the movie by Gekko getting caught on tape with a confession of his illegal acts after he falls for a trap set by Bud and the SEC. Bud is also indicted for the things he did while employed by Gekko. The last scene shows him walking towards his sentencing.
This ending can be classified as a traditional one. It gives the viewers the old impression that “good” ultimately triumphs over “evil”. If the movie happened in reality though, there would have been a very different ending. There is one observable major flaw in the movie. One can only speculate on the reasons why such flaw can be bypassed by Stone (either corporate pressure to leave a good ending or it’s a pun to the romanticism of movies).
If Gekko is such a cold, calculating and cunning man, it is highly doubtful whether he would let himself be trapped by such methods. It is more doubtful if he would allow himself to be seen with Bud after Bud was unceremoniously arrested. It is also unlikely that Gekko would not anticipate a wire on Bud when they met near the end of the movie. In summation, the ending is highly doubtful.
The relevance of such obvious flaw is that it leaves its viewers (at least, those who recognized such flaw) with no hope of romanticist ideals that such a conflict can be resolved easily. In today’s world, there are a number of Gekko’s around. The flaw of the movie makes viewers realize that a number of Gekko’s out there do exist and are left unscathed and undetected (maybe even untouchable). It is then left to the viewer what to do with such fact of life. Surrounded by sharks and unethical financial players, the present financial manager is faced with a choice, the Gekko-way or the hard way.
The movie ends with an easy resolution promoting an ideal situation where the “bad” guys fail. In the real world, that may not always be the case. It is up to the person whether to abide by ethics and laws in financial dealings or bend such laws and ethical rules because there are those who get away with it and they are the ones on top. The movie provides two ways towards success, the hard and long way or the easy way where rules are only part of the show.
Reference:
1. Stone, O.  (1987). Wall Street. California: 20th Century Fox.
 

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