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December 15, 2022

Wolf of Wall Street Breakdown

The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the most exciting and well-received films of the last decade. With Martin Scorsese as the auteur director, the film pulls a punch by juxtaposing the glamour of the hedonistic lifestyle of drugs, sex, and parties with the ultimate reality that this is in fact a classic Scorsese crime film. 

But what can we learn from The Wolf of Wall Street plot? And how can we use this in our own films? 

Let’s break down The Wolf of Wall Street using Dan Harmon’s Story Circle.

What is the plot of The Wolf of Wall Street?

Jordan Belfort, a struggling but charismatic finance man in the late 80s is determined to level up when he is made redundant from his first job.

Leonardo DiCaprio as the charismatic Wolf of Wall Street Jordan Belfort  dressed in a suit and raising his hands to his many employees.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the charismatic title character in The Wolf of Wall Street

He sets up a brokerage firm and soon begins to make money selling off cheap penny stocks. Narrated by Belfort’s character in first person we get a great sense of Belfort’s mindset and his charisma as he leads us head first into the dizzying and machismo world of New York brokerages.

What are the main themes of The Wolf of Wall Street

The main themes of The Wolf of Wall Street are greed, addiction, and corruption that results from overindulgence in materialism. 

It shows how Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his associates engage in unethical financial practices that harm other people to satisfy their own desires for money, power, and status. Belfort even admits at one point that his life is a "never-ending pursuit of happiness.". But this simply cannot be and his life ends up having almost no meaning as he realizes no matter how much he upgrades his lifestyle it will never satisfy him.

Was Wolf of Wall Street based on a book? 

Yes, the film is based on what’s known in the industry on a property, some pre-existing creative medium for which rights must be negotiated. This could take the form of a book, comic, or artwork.

Jordan Belfort is a real person and his 2007 autobiography detailing his life as a rouge stockbroker turned conman was a bestseller. In this case, Scorsese wanted to adapt Belofort’s memoir and he hired Terence Winter to pen the script. If you’ve written a novel and now want to adapt it yourself be sure to check out our blog on how to do it. 

Who are the main characters of The Wolf of Wall Street

Let’s dive into who the main characters are in The Wolf of Wall Street

Jordan Belfort raising a glass aboard his luxury boat which he bought with the proceeds of his financial crime.
The Wolf of Wall Street is a story of redemption

Jordan Belfort (Leonardo di Caprio) 

The protagonist and narrator of the film, Jordan Belfort, is based on a real person. Charming, affable and smart but extremely manipulative, Belfort sets up Stratton Oakmont, a brokerage firm with a respectable front. In reality, it exists to rip off its customers.

Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) 

Belfort’s loyal business partner. Together they found Stratton Oakmont. Belfort trains him in the hard sell: how to gain customers' trust to get them to part with their cash. 

Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie)

Belfort’s second wife. He leaves his first wife for Naomi when he starts making serious money. She is materialistic, money orientated, and demanding but incredibly beautiful. 

Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey)

Belofort's boss when he joins his first company from which he is made redundant, L.F Rothschild. He tells Belfort to be more masculine giving him the blunt advice to beat his chest and to masturbate more to relieve stress. 

FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler)

Whiter-than-white FBI agent Patrick Denham is onto our charismatic protagonist. Belfort's attempts to subtly bribe him on board his yacht do not go down well. But Denham does eventually get him to wear a wire. 

Breaking down The Wolf of Wall Street using Dan Harmon’s Story Circle 

Now we’ve examined the characters in The Wolf of Wall Street let’s break down the plot using Dan Harmon’s Story Circle to see how the narrative works. Remember to check out our article on Story Circle here if you’re not familiar with what it entails. 

A diagram showing the stages of Dan Harmon's Story Circle
Dan Harmon's Story Circle is a great way to break down The Wolf of Wall Street

1. The character is in their comfort zone

Belfort has just joined Rothschild brokerage after graduating and is excited to start his career there. 

2. Character desires something

Belfort wants a nice car and to upgrade his life, to be something. He is not content to live a mundane, mediocre existence. 

3. Character enters an unfamiliar situation

Belfort loses his job due to Black Monday, only a few days after joining.

4. Character adapts to the situation

Belfort joins a fledgling penny stock company and realizes he has a skill that the other employees don’t have. He can convince customers to hand over their money with his incredible charm. So he decides to set up his own company with Donnie. 

5. Character gets what they want

Stratton Oakmont Belfort’s company begins to make serious money as Belfort onboards more and more hungry 20-somethings eager to make a big amount of money and keen to learn his 'sales technique' which is ultimately a complex scam.

6. They pay a heavy price for it

Belfort’s life gets seriously out of control. He becomes addicted to drugs, divorces his first wife for a vacuous supermodel, and spends most of his time in orgies and parties, neglecting his young child in the process. 

He takes more and more risks as the FBI closes in and arrogantly refuses to accept a plea deal that would force him to step down from the company but allow him to keep most of his wealth.

The ‘I’m not leaving speech’ is a turning point in the movie in which Belfort has finally succumbed completely to his own ego and greed. There can be no turning back.

7. Character returns to their familiar situation

Belfort is arrested by the FBI and forced to wear a wire to trap his business partner, Donnie. His attempts to warn him about this leads to him being sent to jail and refused bail. 

8. They have changed as a result of their journey

Belfort does his time in jail and we learn that he has learned his lesson and his now intend on leading life as an ethical business person. We see him holding a seminar to a group of interested parties as he coaches them on how to sell a pen. 

What can we learn from breaking down The Wolf of Wall Street?

You may have wondered what is the plot of The Wolf of Wall Street. Ultimately, it serves as a warning about greed and excess. It’s a tale as old as time in which a confident hero gets lost in external circumstances and must find his way through. 

But it has been layered with high-octane detail to make it more exciting to a 21st-century Hollywood audience: fast cars, drugs, parties, and private jets. Consider the relationship between external and internal conflict in your script. 

The intimate narration from the past tense endears us to Belfort making him a sympathetic character despite his flaws. Think about how you can create compelling and sympathetic characters in your script. 

If you’re looking for a leading screenwriting software to see you through from the first draft to pitching to Netflix, be sure to download Arc Studio today. 

Check it out here.

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Wolf of Wall Street Breakdown
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. In addition, he was a senior ghostwriter at Story Terrace from 2015- 2021, the private memoir firm.

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