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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

Greed isn't Good, it's Great: A Look at Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" (1987)

"The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good." Gordon Gekko says it all with this iconic line in the 1987 classic film, "Wall Street." The Wall Street scene in the 1980s was plagued by a near compulsory obsession with money and power. It was glamorously extravagant and set the stage for the emblematic financial thrill ride that is Oliver Stone's "Wall Street."

The film is without a doubt the most exciting study in business ethics. Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) is a young New York stockbroker who embodies the word hustler. He finally works his way into Gordon Gekko's office for a mere five minute conversation that would change the course of his career, and life, forever.Gekko (Michael Douglas) is the man. There is simply no getting around that. While he may be the villain in this film, he was the hero for millions of other white-collar workers. He knew how to play the Wall Street game and he played it better than anyone out there. He was on top of a pyramid of wealth that didn't seem to have any limits.

Gekko's methods, however, are the driving force of the well-laid plot. At a stockholders meeting he proclaims the gospel of greed stating, "Greed is right, greed works, greed clarifies, cuts through and captures."

Is this simply the essence of capitalism? Gekko takes it one step further admonishing Fox after a deal gone bad saying, "Stop sending me information and start getting me some." Before Martha Stewart sported ponchos knit by her cellmates, Gekko was the poster boy for insider trading. "When you're not inside, you're outside," Gekko cautions as Fox worries about losing his license. Insider trading, it seems, defined the game, and if one chose not to take advantage of that, they were the only ones to blame.

Wall Street must have glittered with the most cutting edge technology available, but upon viewing the film 23 years after the premiere the technology is so antiquated it's almost laughable. The "mobile telephone" was larger than a box of tissues and the computer screens feature the mind numbing color scheme of neon green writing on a black screen — classic 80s.

Even better than the out-of-date technology is the wardrobe. Western business attire may not have changed much since the movie came out, but the penchant for wearing suspenders has certainly been forgotten. Another clear sign of the times is the hair choices of both the men and the women. Slicked back hair has never looked so cool and leading lady Daryl Hannah was never caught without the gorgeous big hair every 80s survivor wishes they could forget.

"Wall Street" was so incredible because it questioned the capitalist system that perpetuates greed and corruption, but at the same time glamorized its results. Without the game, Gordon Gekko could never have been the incredible player he was. The line between right and wrong was clear, but the outcome of choosing the wrong path was so clearly enticing that it was almost viewed as right.

It certainly made audiences question their values and has them still thinking 23 years later in light of the financial crisis. With the sequel set to be released today one wonders whether or not greed is truly good. The reality that players like Gekko and Fox are still around is both astonishing, inspiring, and terrifying all at once.

The sequel promises to be just as good as the original perhaps because of the 20 odd years between the two as well as the fresh perspective on Wall Street antics following the financial crisis and subsequent Wall Street Bailout.

Even more promising, however, is the fresh young talent. Carrie Mulligan, the Academy Award nominated British actress, is the leading lady to Shia Lebouf's young Gekko wannabe. With a cast full of Oscar winners and nominees, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" is set to be Lebouf's test of strength in the adult acting world. Returning as Gekko is of course Michael Douglas and Josh Brolin also plays a prominent role in the film.

The 1987 "Wall Street" captured the feeling of an era so wrapped up in greed that it couldn't even see the error of its ways. What will "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" have to say about the current generation?