|Motivated by Greed
By Elaine Cassel
Greed is good! So says Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas), the hero (or antihero) of Wall Street, starring Michael Douglas. But far from recommending greed, as the quote suggests, the movie is a critique of the greed-driven Wall Street generation. Is the movie still relevant today, 12 years after its initial release?
Far from being dated, the movie takes on new relevance when viewed in the light of the recent investigations into the dark side of day trading and the spate of self-help "get rich" books that purport to be grounded in psychology. At the time of Wall Street's initial release, the financial world was racked with reports of massive fraud and embezzlement that cost investors and taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. Brokerage houses collapsed, wealthy movers and shakers like Michael Milkin and Charles Keating went to jail. Gekko, however, is not presented as a criminal. He is more the celluloid prototype for the Donald Trumps of the late 1980s. Predator, corporate raider, Wall Street shark, Gekko parades around his penthouse office, barking orders to buy and sell, smoking one cigarette after another, and threatening to bury anyone who crosses him or double-tricks him. Young Bud Fox (played by Charlie Sheen) is a Gekko wannabe. He figures the way to gain entrance to Gekko's inner sanctum is to demonstrate his market savvy by selling Gekko stock guaranteed to make a profit. Fox has a way to do this, capitalizing on inside information gained from his father (played by Martin Sheen), an aircraft mechanic and union leader. Both Fox and Gekko are in violation of federal securities laws in using this information, but you can be sure that if anyone gets caught it isn't going to be Gekko.
Gekko makes money and welcomes Fox into the fold—as a spy whose job it is to gain inside information from a competitor. Though he knows it is illegal, Fox will do what it takes to become an insider into the club where everything—and not just sex, cigars, and liquor, but loyalty and decency—has its price. Some nice perks soften the threat of the risky behavior, including a nice office, invitations to penthouse parties, and a woman —a glamorous interior designer played by Daryl Hannah, who is a human decoration in Fox's expensive apartment. Gekko soon has Fox believing the maxims of Wall Street success: "Everybody is doing it." "Nobody is going to get hurt." "Rules are made to be broken."
Wall Street criticizes the sector of the financial community in which small-time investors are the victims of antisocial, narcissistic predators like Gekko. Though 12 years old, the movie still has plenty of verisimilitude. The financial world today is overrun with young people, fresh with MBAs, motivated, it seems, solely by money and what money can buy, intent on (and successfully) making a killing in the financial markets. Multimillion dollar incomes (given salaries and bonuses) are not uncommon. They are the millionaires next door that one best-selling book talks about. Yes, on Wall Street, greed is still alive and well.
Directed by Oliver Stone, Wall Street was released in 1987 and is readily available in video stores.