Oliver Stone’s 1987 movie Wall Street is now over 25 years old (can you believe that?), but its entertainment value and underlying themes still resonate today.
Michael Douglas’s Oscar-winning performance as the slick corporate raider, Gordon Gekko, is reason enough to watch the film again. The Gekko character was patterned after real life Wall Street inside traders like Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken—men who thought nothing of tearing companies apart to pad their own wallets, even though it cost thousands of workers their jobs.
Who can forget when Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) asks Gekko: “How much (money) is enough?” Gekko replies: “It’s not a question of enough. Somebody wins and somebody loses.” To Gekko, it’s a game. And screw everybody else.
In addition to skillfully illustrating how the average man has no chance against Wall Street insiders (still true today), Stone adeptly gets another key theme across during an argument between Bud and his machinist Dad, Carl (Martin Sheen). Bud accuses Carl of being jealous because Bud has become more “successful” than him. A stunned and angry Carl replies: “What you see, son, is a man who never measured his success by the size of his wallet!”
And that—is the dilemma that men will always face in a capitalist society. We are too often be judged by what we have, rather than by what kind of people we are. You’re a good person? Give to charity? Have a nice family? Who cares? The amount on your W2 and what kind of car you drive are all that matters.
The pressure can become so great, that it’s almost understandable when the Bud Fox’s of the world do unscrupulous things. As Lou Manheim (Hal Holbrook), a partner in Bud’s investment firm ominously remarks: “That’s the problem with money—it makes you do things you don’t want to do.”
So Wall Street remains timeless, not only because it’s entertaining as hell, but because the messages it delivers are still—and always will be appropriate.