Ethical Dilemmas in the Movie "Wall Street"

Written by wendel clark
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Ethical Dilemmas in the Movie "Wall Street"
Wall Street is a 1987 film starring Charlie Sheen. (Riccardo S. Savi/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

Wall Street, a 1987 film directed by Oliver Stone, deals with the ethical dilemmas faced by a young broker named Bud Fox (played by Charlie Sheen). Bud Fox enters the world of Wall Street under the guidance of Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas), who pushes him to act unethically in the pursuit of money. According to film critic Roger Ebert, the "film is an attack on an atmosphere of financial competitiveness so ferocious that ethics are simply irrelevant."

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Family vs. Professional Allegiance

Bud Fox faces a difficult ethical dilemma when his professional interests are pitted against his family interests. Bud's father has worked his whole life as a mechanic for a small airline and he now heads the mechanics union. Bud learns that his boss, Gordon Gekko, plans to take over the airline and sell it off--leaving his father and many others, out of work. Bud is faced with the dilemma of whether he should do what is best for his career or what is best for his own father.

Being Good or Being Greedy

Gordon Gekko proudly states that "greed is good." According to Gekko, the greed of the American capitalist system drives innovation and creates wealth. Bud Fox learns, however, that being greedy can involve being bad. He learns that to be driven by greed requires one to do things that are not good. Greed drives him to lie, cheat and hurt those who are closest to him. In the end he must decide whether the good that comes from his greed outweighs the bad that it causes.

Corporate Governance

The theme of corporate governance is central to the plot of Wall Street. The film highlights a fundamental problem with the way corporations are governed, which is that they are controlled by managers and stock brokers, not the shareholders who actually own the firms. As Roger Ebert notes, "big market killings are made by men such as Gekko, who swoop in and snap whole companies out from under the noses of their stockholders." The ethical dilemma is whether to act in the interest of the shareholders, or in one's own self interest. For Gordon Gekko, the answer is the latter, but for Bud Fox it is less clear.

Breaking the Law

Bud Fox begins as a law-abiding trader. Gekko coaches him, however, to become a manipulative trader who is willing to bend and break the law in order to profit. Eventually Bud comes around, but he is faced with an ethical dilemma: should he break the law for the greater good and to undo the damage that Gekko has caused? Bud decides to break the law by manipulating stock values in order to keep the airline out of Gekko's hands. In the end he pays for this, as the film closes with his arrest on insider trading and securities fraud charges.

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