The American Dream; working hard, getting wealthy, and reveling in the victory.
Hollywood gives countless examples illustrating how hard-working people frequently lose sight of their core principles. It seems when these characters quickly achieve a high level of success, they fail to remember what they were initially trying to accomplish. The exponential increase in wealth dilutes their focus on priorities and when poor decisions and desperation reach critical mass, the character is permanently reprogrammed; becoming short sighted and sacrificing everything in an attempt to satisfy their addiction for overindulgence.
This derailment of foresight can be seen in get-rich-quick movies that revolve around stocks, gambling, or illegal activities to gain wealth and power. In all types of these movies the main character will go from rags to riches and back again. Even if the American Dream still does exist, these are the five examples of why most people won’t experience it for more than a moment before they inevitably lose touch with reality.
5. Lord of War
Yuri Orlov’s success was never really based on his technical knowledge of weapons, but rather his talents for logistics and his ability to blur the lines of legality. These characteristics combined with his incredible ability to read people and quickly identify cultural norms were responsible for his explosive increase of wealth and influence.
However, Yuri did have weaknesses. His success was handicapped by both his compulsions and never-ending desire for recognition. The compulsions made him spend unwisely and the desire for recognition made him take unnecessary risks. As his career developed, he started accepting jobs to prove he was still the best at his trade despite how lopsided the risk to reward ratio was.
There was a moment when Yuri nearly gave up trafficking arms to practice a legal trade that would preserve his home and family, but like any honest business the margins were too small and the risks were minimal. Yuri found himself in a position where he didn’t feel challenged and the reward was unsatisfying.
Much like a junky, Yuri convinced himself that all he needed was one last fix; one last taste of the lifestyle that gave him the high he came to expect. But also much like a junky, desperation diluted his attention to detail, making failure inevitable.
Mike McDermott is a hard working, educated, and conservative individual. However, when he is challenged by an opponent, he loses his composure and makes reckless choices. Another one of his major flaws is accepting personal responsibly to resolve conflicts that other people created.
This good natured and misguided temperament can also be paired with his childish dreams and delusions of grandeur; all of which are responsible for his decision to focus time and energy on becoming the champion at a game with a huge cash prize instead of pursuing a law degree with limitless opportunities.
In the course of five days playing poker Mike manages to lose nearly all of his life savings, win back just enough to pay off his debt, and purchase a plane ticket to Vegas to participate in the world championship of poker. We never know if he clenches victory, but based on previous behavior, even if he does experience success and wins millions he won’t hold onto that wealth for long.
Once Mike gets bullied into betting his entire bankroll to prove he is not a coward, he will yet again make a decision based on emotion rather than logic; risking it all attempting to secure his place as the alpha among a pack of dogs… playing poker.
3. Wolf of Wall Street
Starting out as a poor college graduate, Jordan Belfort is eager and excited to get into the stock market. His hunger and passion for success drive his actions in the beginning, but it’s his money lust and drug addictions that ultimately drive his actions in the end. Jordan went from being a freshly educated opportunist with an admirable work ethic to being a convicted criminal.
This transformation occurs when money becomes a novelty for Jordan. He found the way to collect large sums of money through a set of skills that could easily be taught to others. Once he realized this, his wealth had no limits and so his spending and consumption turned into a joke. To keep this a reality, he had to desensitize himself and his colleagues to the ultimate truth; they were living extravagantly by ruining people’s lives and breaking the law.
The desensitization process has a positive and negative impact on a person. Jordan could continue to grow his business and enjoy his lifestyle of endless partying without guilt or remorse, but at the same time he wasn’t identifying his flaws or weaknesses. Because of this Jordan didn’t notice that he was being backed into a corner both legally and financially. If he would have consciously recognized the warning signs, Jordan could have walked away and lived with everything he earned. But instead he convinced himself that he was invincible, and the FBI gladly proved him wrong.
2. Boiler Room
Seth Davis clearly wanted to be rich, but he was convinced that the only ways to be successful were either by slingin’ crack rock or having a wicked jump shot. Having indentified that these two methods were the only way to gain wealth, he was ignoring all his other options that could provide lifelong benefits. He was obsessed with short term gain and achieving great wealth with little effort.
Seth was a victim of admiring inappropriate role models. He valued mentors who spent carelessly and lived in the moment. They were rich with assets but also they were cash poor, which means they weren’t liquid; they were slaves to their own possessions. After experiencing the lifestyle that was possible by hanging out with his colleagues, Seth continued to try and emulate their success.
Luckily, he never received a payoff from his actions which protected him from legal repercussions. Seth might not have achieved the wealth he was searching for, but he gave up a college education, his own business, and his family’s respect just for the opportunity to be an overnight success. Although this is the most depressing example of a get rich quick story since Seth never actually got rich and still managed to ruin his life, at least he got to bang the receptionist.
Ben is a math genius and a social recluse that has been given an opportunity to pay his way through med school by counting cards and undercutting the world’s largest casinos. Tracking card movement, calculating odds, and knowing the current win probability was easy for Ben. He understood that long-term winning took time and patience, not luck.
Ben’s greatest weakness was the social isolation he experienced as a young adult. Judging by his perfect grades, test scores, and acceptance to MIT, Ben’s social interaction was limited. His only friends were the people he depended on for completing academic projects.
When Ben was finally given the opportunity to develop a social life, he was instantly obsessed with the freedom. Ben quickly dismissed his aspirations to attend med school in exchange for unlimited funds and Las Vegas luxuries. He reinvented himself as an overly confident/eccentric hustler and got caught up in the new lifestyle.
By achieving success that was based solely on mathematical calculations, Ben never learned how to properly read people or anticipate reactions to his own behavior. He started making careless decisions that lead to his once transparent cheating style becoming obvious. After his vulnerabilities were exposed, Ben got tricked into forfeiting all his earnings and was left with nothing except a fake mustache and an overused catch phrase.