Original release: December 19th, 1980
Running time: 129 minutes
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Jake La Motta, Joseph Carter, Peter Savage, Paul Schneider, Mardik Martin, Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci, Johnny Barnes
Final scene: 01:33:17 to 01:37:31
Thanks to my older brothers, I grew up watching movies other girls wouldn’t necessarily watch, let alone like – boxing, karate and gangster movies, Goodfellas and Rocky, Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee… Later I became a fan of Martin Scorsese, and especially one of his masterpieces, Raging Bull. Whereas the Rocky saga somewhat romanticizes boxing through the ultimate triumph of a champion, Scorsese’s film is an intense and absorbing tale on the violence both inside and outside the ring.
Strictly speaking, Raging Bull is not a boxing movie. It’s the story of a boxer who above all struggles to find himself, eventually destroying everything that’s important to him. Based on Jake LaMotta’s book “Raging Bull: My Story”, the film follows LaMotta’s battle to rise in the middleweight class in the 1940s and 50s. The fighter, portrayed by Robert De Niro, was known for his bull-like punches. Out of his 106 fights he won 83. In 1943, he defeated his arch rival Sugar Ray Robinson (Johnny Barnes).
LaMotta falls in love with the beautiful 15-year old Vicki (Cathy Moriarty), who becomes his second wife. He sees her as his biggest prize but doesn’t accept her as a companion – she is something he possesses, and in the end this will turn out to be a source of his self-destruction.
The film was shot in black and white, playing with the extremes of light and dark. To me, this was much more than a tribute to the 1940s Film Noir. While it felt weird to watch an 80s movie in black and white at first, I was soon drawn in by the mise en scène; the fighting scenes in particular made me feel the brutality within the ring.
In Raging Bull, Scorsese’s style was not just influenced by Film Noir but also by Italian Neorealism, capturing real life issues (though extreme, LaMotta’s problems and struggles are human, maybe even common). We also see influences of the French New Wave – flashbacks and hand-held cameras swirling out of control. So we are taken into the world of Jake LaMotta, a world of depression, turbulence and drama, using the boxing ring with its brutality as ultimate stage. LaMotta destroys his opponents but the extreme violence also reveals his insecure and jealous nature.
He treats his wife badly and beats her because he believes that she cheats on him. To his mind, a beautiful woman like as Vicky simply cannot be faithful. Jake is haunted by the thought she is sleeping with someone else, until he accuses his brother and manager Joey (Joe Pesci) having an affair with his wife.
Did you fuck my wife?
How do you ask me that? I’m your brother and you ask me that? Where do you get you’re balls big enough to ask me that?
I’m gonna ask you again, did you or didn’t you? Just answer the question.
I’m not gonna answer that. It’s stupid. It’s a sick question and you’re a sick fuck and I’m not that sick that I’m gonna answer it. I’m leaving, If Nora calls tell her I went home. You know what you should do? Do a little more fucking and a little less eating, so you don’t have to blame it all on me and everybody else, you understand me? You’re cracking up! Ya’ fucking screw ball ya’!
Raging Bull was produced after 1968 when the censorship based on the so-called Hayes Code from 1934 ended. This made it possible for filmmakers like Scorsese to reflect on sex and violence, especially against women, far more open and direct than they could before.
Women, violence, beauty and sex play a pivotal part throughout the film; the sexual revolution of the 1970s had just seen its heyday. There is a lot of “sexual conflict”, we see LaMotta treating his wife very harsh and beating her. She is a woman many men dream of, she loved him and gave him three children, and supported him all those years. Yet he wasn’t able to get over his fears and in the end destroyed the relationship. Vicky, as strong as she was, gave him too many chances and endured his behaviour far too long; there lies a dark sadness.
During the film we see some segments of “home movies” in colour, moments of LaMotta’s wedding and when he was playing with his kids. It seems that those were the only moments when he was actually happy – maybe moments where he didn’t treat his private life as a “boxing match”, wanting to win no matter what.
The scene that stands out to me the most though, is the final Robinson fight sequence. In 1951 LaMotta faced his longtime rival Sugar Ray Robinson again, but this time for the title fight. We see Robinson’s powerful punches against LaMotta, round after round, but LaMotta doesn’t go down. He got beaten so hard that the referee stepped in to stop the fight in round 13.
The visuals and sound used in this fight sequence irrevocably take us into LaMotta’s interior world. Point-of-view shots, extreme slow motion of his face and the lowered sound in the background, bring us as close to his “mental preparation” as it gets. We experience La Motta’s determination which more and more appears futile as the camera moves to his opponent’s face – who is about to take the last fight with LaMotta.
Jake is already weak and knows he will be beaten but ‘not’ with a knockout. In the end, LaMotta lost against Sugar Ray Robinson, who almost beat him to death – but he stays on his feet. At the end of the fight he shouts:
The movie was a huge success. Robert De Niro won the Academy Award for his incredible performance, and Thelma Schoonmaker won the trophy for her fantastic editing. In 1989, film critics voted Raging Bull the greatest American movie of the 1980s.
Scorsese didn’t end the movie with LaMotta’s defeat though as he is more interested in the character than the boxing. After LaMotta retired, he remains the violent man. Once a champion with an impressive career, having been knocked out only once, he eventually lost much more than his title. He lost his focus, the control over his own life, and the people who meant the most to him, his wife and his brother.
Barbara is currently a Motion Pictures and Television student at Academy of Art University in San Francisco, USA. What she enjoys most about filmmaking is film editing and her ultimate ambition is to become a film editor.
She draws inspiration from a number of people in the industry including directors Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese and significantly from her ultimate role model, film editor Walter Murch, who cut many award-winning films including The English Patient and The Godfather II. Even though Barbara is in her mid twenties she is appreciative of films produced in a number of eras such as the pre-war film era and often she feels she favors these to those made in today’s era.
Barbara wants to write to share her passion for film and to give the reader a better understanding of the “little details” in film that she says are actually “the big things” playing pivotal roles in making each production so unique and entertaining.
You can follow Barbara on Twitter @B_Diril.