When Ambition Becomes Greed: Similarities in ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

A video compares the oversized egos of Charles Foster Kane and Jordan Belfort.

Wolf

A video compares the oversized egos of Charles Foster Kane and Jordan Belfort

Ambition is a form of greed. A nicer form, to be sure, but at base the two are the same thing: drives to get what you want. Ambition is just the noble shade of greed, it’s a greed for things you should want: security, safety, success, comfort, happiness, et cetera. But so thin is the line between ambition and greed that in the pursuit of fulfilling the former people often stray too far into the realm of the latter, causing everything to come crashing down around them.

Take Charles Foster Kane, hero of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (heard of it?), who’s based on real-life ambitious person William Randolph Hearst. Kane wants power and respect, it is his ultimate ambition, but in its pursuit he becomes intoxicated by the early tastes and ends up getting everything he wanted then promptly losing it all.

Then there’s Jordan Belfort, played by Leonard DiCaprio in Martin Scrosese’s The Wolf of Wall Street and based on the real-life drug-guzzling, rule-breaking stockbroker by the same name. Belfort too just wants power, in the form of cold hard cash and all the luxuries it brings, and in his pursuit of wealth, greed once again takes over and perverts his ambition, turning him into a criminal.

Kane and Belfort are two sides of the same greedy coin, and to further elucidate this, observe the following video from Tim Gray which compares specific scenes from each film: the one from Kane where Kane is giving a pep talk to his new newspaper staff, and a similar one from Wolf in which Belfort is giving a congratulatory speak to his team of brokers. Note not just the character similarities, but the way both directors shoot their scenes, practically making preachers of their subjects, thus elevating their motivations – and deepening their eventual downfalls – to new levels.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist