Raging Bull (1980)

Truly operatic in style and scale, Raging Bull is the perfect combination of movement, music, dialog, acting, directing, and photography. The dreamlike fight sequences are like balletic interludes. The waking scenes of Jake LaMotta’s more mundane–but no less brutal–emoting are strangely compelling. In Coal Miner’s Daughter, the domestic violence is inevitable, no matter how fine and unique a film it is. But, in Raging Bull, even though we expect Jake to slap Vickie around, we’re actually surprised because up until the slap in the hotel room (which happens more than half way into the movie), Jake’s rage outside of the ring was bottled up enough to keep him and those around from getting into trouble (or the hospital). So, the climactic battle scene truly hits us in the gut, with not one, but two devastating blows–first Jake’s savaging of Joey and then, and perhaps the more expected, the left jab to Vickie’s jaw.

At that point we are truly convinced that Jake’s biggest problem is his stupidity, plain and simple. The rest of the movie, which is no less compelling than what preceded it, serves to confirm that point. However, this might be too simplistic a conclusion. For even Jake himself contemplates the possibility that Karma has something to do with his lot in life. As he smashes his head against the stone wall in the jail, we realize that the beauty of the boxing matches was really just an illusion, which is confirmed by our recollection of the dreamy shooting and lighting used in those scenes. The truth is that Jake was a brute because of the boxing; he didn’t become a boxer because of any unique brutality. And his stupidity was another consequence of the beatings to which he subjected himself.

You could say that he was an animal from the outset, since the movie begins by showing him this way, but his first wife seemed no less menacing. She was certainly less of a physical threat than Jake, but her lack of fear in her dealings with him indicated that he wasn’t by nature abusive. On the other hand, Joey’s outburst at the club in his defense of Jake’s honor (or doing his bidding out of fear of the consequences) could show some genetic disposition in the LaMotta family toward violence. After all, Scorsese chooses (and rightly so) to not give us any insight into Joey and Jake’s upbringing. We don’t even know about their parents or any other family members. Ultimately, it’s clear that Joey is truly gentle and his sudden outburst of sadistic violence at the club was fed by his fear of Jake. It was as if Joey was channeling Jake.

In the end, Jake realizes how much he has lost as a result of his being drawn into the cycle of violence and stupidity fed by boxing. Boxing was his talent, his profession. Yet, he finally understood that his earnings from that fateful career choice could never compensate for the deep losses it caused. Instead of trying to hawk his precious (symbolically and monetarily) championship belt, he digs out the encrusted jewels only to find that they are worth less (to others) than the belt as a whole. He didn’t even try to talk to Vickie or see his kids when he was hammering the jewels from the belt just yards away. Most significantly, he recited Marlon Brando’s iconic speech from On the Waterfront in the most non-ironic way possible: alone, overweight, spent, a has-been, surrounded by liquor bottles. Hardly the “Raging Bull.”

★★★★★

4 Responses to “Raging Bull (1980)”

  1. I really like your post. Does it copyright protected?

  2. Hi, very nice post. I have been wonder’n bout this issue,so thanks for posting

  3. Thanks you for your comments and the compliment.

  4. Thanks for the praise. Yes, everything on my site is copyrighted. Note the statement at the bottom of each page. Also, by attribution to me, my ownership is implied. Reprinting or use of the design or content on my site.

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