Wolf of Wall Street

I couldn’t believe the time. I thought I’d be tucked up in bed by 11:00pm. Instead I was walking through the rainy streets of Leeds wondering why none of the girls out partying was wearing a coat. In January.

The party on the streets of Leeds probably could have made it into the film… The low rent, version with poor wintry weather.

The film itself was excellent. For me it told Jordan’s story without glamorising or moralising. Some said otherwise but I thought it worked. It runs for three hours but the time doesn’t drag. I it’s dark, funny and tragic in turn. The scenes flow nicely and you see Leonardo do Caprio skilfully play the role of young hopeful become a master of the universe to losing everything before a modest redemption.

What I liked was the dark comedy, the ‘ludes’ scene was hilarious. The bacchanal scenes got a bit repetitive after a while – they made the point that the Wolf likes to party but really, did we have to see so much tits and arse?

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Bella

Bella was a beautiful golden labrador that I used to know.  She lived across the street from my parents and whilst my grandmother was alive, living with my parents Bella used to visit my grandmother.  Her owners would open their front door and say – go visit Vi – and Bella, looking both ways before crossing the street, would run up to my parents front door and bark to announce her presence.

Bella’s favourite way to get to know someone was to have a good sniff and, if she liked you, would either want to play a game of fetch or would rub herself against you showing affection.  Any contact with Bella resulted in gaining a deposit of short golden hairs that you could never quite get rid of.  My father still has a black fleece jacket that’s covered in her hairs.

I don’t know how many times she visited over the few years that remained to my grandmother but I was told she was a huge comfort and entertainment to her and even attended the funeral. 

I didn’t believe that she could distinguish between people she knew and didn’t.  I only saw her about once a year so thought she was a naturally friendly dog.   Her owners disagreed and claim that she’s saved them on more than one occasion.  It was only whilst we were waiting for pizza to be delivered at their house that we saw this in action.  Before the doorbell even rang Bella became anxious: pricked up her ears, started to pace and gently growled.  Then the doorbell rang.  She barked a warning but, of course, we knew it was most likely to be the pizza delivery.  Despite Bella’s warnings we answered the door.  Once the ‘intruder’ had gone Bella was back to her chilled out self trying to snag some pizza from us.

Bella is sometimes taken on holiday.  This time she, with her owners, have a camper van that they’re using to tour northern Canada.  Towards the end of the trip they take a ferry back from Alaska to Vancouver.  This is a standard commercial operation and not a cruise.  It takes about 5 days and stops in many locations down the coast.  The ferry supports the commercial activities along with the holidaymakers.  Whilst the owners have a basic cabin for the journey Bella has to stay in the camper van on the car deck.  

At every stop Bella is taken out for a walk.  The ship’s crew and passengers get used to seeing her at the dock and on the car deck, nosing around, enjoying her 30 minutes of leg stretch before she has to go back to her camper van.  

It’s 3:30 am and the penultimate stop on the journey.  As usual Bella is taken out for her walk and by the time she’s back in her camper van her owner decides to stay up and get a cup of coffee.  He’s sitting in the ship’s canteen and one of the other passengers comes over to chat.  

– You’re the guy with the golden lab

– That’s right.

– She’s a working dog

– Well…

– Yeah.

– What do you mean?

– You’re with the Drug Enforcement Agency.  She’s checking us out.

The owner said nothing, drank his coffee, smiling at the thought that Bella was a working dog.

 

Getting into an argument

I’ve been thinking about conflict.  How it starts.  Why.  What happens.  Does it resolve.

I want to understand this so I can write better plays, as a drama is conflict.  In a drama you put characters with opposing viewpoints together and see how it plays out.  Usually one character transforms when confronted with something or someone that they initially oppose.  Usually this confrontation ends up changing the character in some small or large way.

Psychologists say that there is a basic human (mammalian?) response when faced with a threat: to freeze, flee or fight. All of these responses are natural and part of life.  They are also transformational reactions.  They are extreme reactions.

Ordinarily if you are faced with an opposing view you won’t react in this extreme way but will probably put across your point of view.  You’ll argue trying to get the opposition around to your way of thinking.  Sometimes you’ll be successful and sometimes not.  Sometimes you’ll forget about it.  Sometimes you’ll remember.  You might change your behaviour – perhaps if you like the person and want them to like you then you won’t mention the topic again.  If you dislike the person then their opposing point of view will be even more reason to avoid them in future. If you dislike them but can’t avoid them – they are in your circle of friends – then perhaps you’ll start to convince other friends that they shouldn’t be trusted.  You may, if you are convincing enough, succeed in ostracising them from your group.  This last behaviour is an escalation in the conflict – probably way beyond the subject of the initial disagreement.  This escalation is what plays are made of and ultimately the escalation concludes.

I’ve been wondering how people get to the point where they wholesale disagree with another point of view and the penny dropped for me the other day.

I’ve been reading psychologist Daniel Kahnemann’s, Thinking, fast and slow.  It describes two types of thinking the intuitive or ‘fast’ and the methodical or ‘slow’.  Slow thinking takes more effort and humans tend to use the fast, intuitive, route.

The key idea that helped me with my argument conundrum is in the chapter on the fourfold pattern.

People attach significance to their gains and losses.  Generally speaking people do not like to lose something they already have.  This has been shown in experiments that analyse the brain’s reactions to losses and gains.  If a person is about to lose something significant then the areas of the brain that are triggered relate to unhappiness and depression.  They will tend to play it safe to avoid large losses.

We are also disproportionate in our excitement about the prospect of a large gain when it is an outside chance e.g. one in a million chance of winning the lottery but much less excited if it’s a dead certainty.

The model that’s presented in the book is interesting and relates to our assessment of risk and shows the types of behaviours that may arise in extreme situations.

In a situation where there is a significant chance of a specific outcome e.g. win some money the following happens:

  • Gain: Someone will play it safe if they have a 95% chance to win large sum of money
  • Loss: Someone will take a risk if they have a 95% chance to lose their large sum of money

In a situation where there is an outside chance of a specific outcome e.g. win the lottery the following happens:

  • Gain: Someone will take a risk if they have a 5% chance to win a large sum of money
  • Loss: Someone will play it safe if they have a 5% change to lose their large sum of money

How this plays out could be like this:

Ann has a dispute with Bill, her neighbour, over the upkeep of his property.  She is worried that his poor maintenance has a detrimental effect on the valuation of her home.  She is looking to sell.  She has talked to Bill about her concerns but he’s done nothing to help.  She sells her property for £50,000 less than the asking price.  She now wants to take Bill to court to get the difference.

Ann’s lawyers have said that she has a 5% chance to win the money as it depends on the jury and their view of what Bill is worth.  Bill is advised that he has a 5% chance to lose the money.

Bill would like to settle out of court and has offered £10,000 to Ann in compensation.

Ann would rather take the risk of going to court – against her lawyer’s advice – as she imagines that she has a higher chance (higher than the 5% stated) of winning.

Ann goes to court and loses.  Ann gets nothing.  Bill keeps his assets intact.

Ann will probably feel even more aggrieved at this ‘miscarriage of justice’ than she did before she decided to go to court.   She probably imagined a satisfactory scenario where she’d got the right amount of money for her house and the extra effort and legal costs were worth it.  Ann will probably never forget the incident and this event will shape how she views future events. Bill however is pleased and can get on with his life.  He no longer has Ann as his neighbour and over time will probably forget the whole incident.

The conflict was in Ann and Bill’s assessment of the outcome of the legal action.  Ann had nothing to lose so took the large risk to go to court and present the evidence in front of the Jury.  Bill had £50,000 to lose and wanted to play it safe.  Ann wouldn’t let him but in the end he won.

What I take from this is to apply to drama is that each character makes an intuitive assessment of the risks associated with the conflict they’re in.  If they are at the extreme ends of the scale then they’ll take a large risk but have a small chance of it succeeding.

Returning to glory?

On average they seemed shorter than the other side. The home team though was still greeted with cheers as they skated onto the ice. The stadium, a little tired perhaps, but filled with pennants of past victories. A lot to live up to for this young team. The half full stadium of loyal supporters stands for the national anthem sung with gusto from a local singer. Applause, whistles and hooters and the five players on each side, with their goalkeeper making six skate out onto the ice.

Our team have lost the last ten games in succession. They’ve had a bit of a break. They should be fresh. This time could be different. The opposition has eight supporters at the arena. The break and advantages of the home game, surely must count for something?

They start and the play is at the opposition’s end. The score board assures us we have the upper hand with more attacks on goal than the others. But the first period is sluggish with none of these attacks converting into an actual goal. The announcer makes a plea for us to buy raffle tickets with the promise of $40,000 prize money.

The opposition are penalised and one man is sent to the sin bin for checking. This is our moment. Two minutes, with one man more than the opposition… The coach and manager gesticulate from the side lines. Players are swapped over. Play begins. Nothing.

Time out.

We take a moment to appreciate the generosity of the sponsors. The coaches give their teams a pep talk.

Two minutes to go to the end of the period. The play is all down our end. Our goalkeeper is so large there is no way the puck is going to get past. It does. The eight supporters wave their banners, make some noise. The rest of the stadium claps politely. Manners.

The hooter blows.

A second raffle, this one is for the chance to win a voucher for Subway or one to get your car cleaned. Check the front of your programme for the four digit route to happiness. We don’t win this time… Maybe at the next interval. The Zamboni goes back and forth and once done the goals are put back in place and the players emerge. Our side with heads down.

Play resumes, now the other side are on the attack. They have double the attacks on goal than we do. A bit more aggression from ours, tempers beginning to fray. Now we’re one man down. Our side dig in, closer to one another, in contact. They play as a team rather than a collection of individuals. They don’t seem to want to concede another goal. It works.

More play. One of our more established players is back on the ice. It makes a difference. The others respect him, he has support when he makes a break. He scores! Relief, elation, cheers. The commentator is ecstatic. Once he’s calmed down a reminder to buy one of those all important raffle tickets…

Meanwhile the play has continued. Spurred on, heads now up our team renews their attack. It works and we’re ahead and only two minutes until the end of the second period. Perhaps we’ll win after all. Perhaps the change in coach is beginning to work. Perhaps there’ll be a return to our glory years. Let’s not jump ahead of ourselves.

A break.

This time you can throw a puck on the ice or win some more vouchers. Maybe just get a beer or have a walk around, get the blood flowing into your legs again.

The final period begins.

Goal!

All they have to do is hold on. 15 minutes away from victory. The back and forth continues. The pressure is on the other side now. They’re the more experienced team. On paper they should have the upper hand. Tempers show. The checking, blocking and slamming continues. They’re no. 24 is pulled off by the coach before he ends up in the sin bin. He comes back on the ice only to cause more aggravation and mayhem. He’s warned again. The coach gets him off the ice again. The aggression will come in handy but timing is everything.

Two minutes. We just need to hold on for another two minutes.

The opposition renew their attack. They take their goalkeeper off and substitute with another player to have all their efforts concentrated on getting another goal. The pressure is massive. No. 24 is let loose. He scores.

Still with only one minute to go we can hold onto this.

The eight supporters cheer again.
Another one, how?

We’re tied.

Shit.

Into extra time four against four.

We hold on but don’t score.

Three minutes into extra time. There may still be hope?

No.

The eight cheer again.

It’s all over and they’re off the ice. The goal posts are moved before we’re out of our seats.