Raging Bull: Life’s Struggles

From the opening frames of Scorsese’s Raging Bull the audience knows they’re in for a visual treat. One of my favorite anecdotes from a Director is Tarantino’s story about the time Brian De Palma saw Raging Bull. Clip below:

The reason I think the opening of the film resonates with the audience is because it’s a perfect visual for life’s struggles. No matter what we do, we’re in that ring everyday just like Jake LaMotta, battling what life throws at us and our inner demons.

Intermezzo by Pietro Mascagni plays under the opening credits and is also the theme of the film. It is a beautiful track and when it is coupled with the images it creates cinematic magnificence. The fog and haze blowing over the ring help to instantly portray the mood of the film that follows.

Raging Bull is a character study of real life boxer Jake LaMotta, brilliantly played by Robert DeNiro. The film does not hold back about LaMotta’s life. This film explores LaMotta’s demons as they follow him out of the ring and into his daily life. He is not a role model by any stretch, but his life is worth exploring.

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Real life boxer Jake LaMotta

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Robert DeNiro as Jake LaMotta

I once read review of Raging Bull and the author argued it was a good film but posed the question if LaMotta’s story was even worth telling. The author believed we were spreading the wrong message by giving this film as much credit as it gets. LaMotta, as portrayed in this film, was an abusive, controlling and downright despicable human being. However, that doesn’t mean his story isn’t worth telling. His life makes for a compelling narrative, and the film as a whole is a well told character study.

The film is masterfully crafted. Michael Chapman’s cinematography is amazing to say the least. Scorsese and Chapman constantly put us in the ring with the fighters. We feel the sweat, the blood and the punches. The black and white fits perfectly for the time period and the subject matter of the film. The only time the film utilizes color is during the montage of LaMotta’s rise to fame, as it cuts back and forth between black and white pictures of his fights, and color home movies as he gets married and begins a family.

The film shows us how LaMotta’s destructiveness ripples into his family life. It is a powerful narrative and cautionary tale. In the final moments of the film LaMotta, now overweight (for which DeNiro gained actual weight), talks to himself in the mirror. He quotes Terry (Marlon Brando) in On the Waterfront when he discusses what his life could have been without his brother holding him back. Both scenes are below:

As you can see in the clip, after LaMotta is told he has five more minutes, he stands up and shadow boxes the air, mirroring the opening of the film. With these final moments the film is saying that life will always knock us down, but like Jake LaMotta, we just have to get back up and keep swinging.

Many consider this Scorsese’s magnum opus. I would say his magnum opus is Taxi Driver. He has many great films so there is much room for debate. Regardless, this is a terrific film and one of the best American films ever made. Scorsese brilliantly shows us life’s hardships through a battered boxer as he struggles to escape the ring.

Written by William David Glenn IV



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