Raging Bull: In Poetic Beauty a Legend Withers
April 13, 2017
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The rise and fall of Jake La Motta is pure poetry. Filmed beautifully in black and white, Scorsese and his long time Director of Photography, Michael Chapman portray La Motta’s story perfectly. Anger and brutality combine with love and triumph to make Raging Bull into a masterpiece of beautiful storytelling. This true story is as inspirational as it is heartbreaking, but that heartbreak never comes as a surprise.
Before the film even starts we begin to see it’s end. La Motta, played by an obese Robert De Niro recites lines to himself in an empty dressing room. De Niro is almost unrecognizable, the actor famously gained 60 pounds to play the ending part of his role. De Niro’s performance as Jake La Motta is exemplary, the devotion he had to this character alone is stunning, but that in combination with his classic acting makes for a surreal portrayal. La Motta’s lines end and the words “Jake La Motta 1964” appear below him, the camera cuts and it’s La Motta in the middle of a boxing match. He’s in incredible shape, the words “Jake La Motta 1941” appear just like they did before, La Motta’s story begins again.
The Bronx, New York City 1941. La Motta’s life is split in half. One devoted to being an unbreakable boxer, the other to being a lousy human being. He’s demanding and vexatious, especially with his wife. The two scream and fight in classic Bronx style; loud and with a thick accent. 1941 was a different time and men hitting women was common, Jake is no uncommon man to his wife. He posses this massive amount of power that even make men run from him. He uses it to his advantage regularly and bullies almost everyone he knows. Including his brother Joey (played by Joe Pesci) who also happens to be his manager.
The two brothers spend a lot of their time together and eventually go to the local pool where Jake spots a girl he likes. The two meet each other and their relationship takes off quickly. The film doesn’t hesitate at all and no more than 10 minutes in screen time after they met they’re together. It isn’t ever mentioned in the film but Jake has obviously left his wife for this new girl, Vicki. Life gets good after this Jake keeps winning his fights and colored home footage shows Jake’s life and family growing with Vicki. Even Joey gets married too.
Jake trail blazes through his opponents, but as Jake’s life grows so does his anger. He’s even more impatient than before and random conspiracies fester in his head, usually only based off of a few words in a sentence he takes the wrong way. With every fight this power inside him grows, he has more to lose and he protects it more and more but in all of the wrong ways. He accuses even his own brother of sleeping with his wife after just minor suspicion. The man that has everything chases it into nothing.
As good as Jake is though he is not undefeated, his archenemy Sugar Ray Robinson is the only one to defeat him and vice versa. A scene does not describe Jake’s boxing attitude more than this one. Round 13, the hard luck number. The two legendary boxers fight once again. As soon as 13 starts Jake starts taking a beating, Robinson gets him on the ropes and La Motta only receives. The crowd gets louder and the La Motta keeps taking more and more punches. Robinson backs off, “Come on! Come on!” Jake yells at Robinson with his hands down. Robinson waits in confusion for La Motta to get off the ropes and put his hands up but La Motta doesn’t move. “Come on!” he repeats. Steam rises off the crowd behind Jake as he yells again “Come on Ray! Come on!” There is no sound, only silence as the two arch enemies stare each other down in the eye of the storm. Robinson grows tired of waiting and unleashes on La Motta. La Motta’s hands grasp for the ropes as Robinson opens cuts and sprays blood off La Motta’s face. Blood trails down La Motta’s legs as cameras flash and Robinson throws more punches. La Motta doesn’t even attempt to defend himself. La Motta’s wife can’t watch and weeps into her hands as she bows down in her seat. Robinson breaks and stares at La Motta one last time, La Motta beaten stares back. The sound of wind is the only noise. Robinson’s fist slowly raises high, La Motta’s wife looks back up and watches as Robinson gives everything he’s got into his last punch. A bucket of Jake’s blood sprays onto the officials, Robinson punches again and again until the ref finally ends the fight. La Motta’s eyes are swollen so much that you can’t even see his eyes. Robinson is escorted to his corner but La Motta follows behind him. “Ray…Ray…Hey Ray…Never went down Ray. Never got me down Ray. You hear me? You never got me down.” Jake may be his own worst enemy, and the one’s he loves may hate him, but they never got him down.
It was his last fight. The scene cuts and we see Jake retired and fat. He’s a totally different person. A few people interview him on his new lifestyle and we find out that Jake has bought a bar aptly named, Jake La Motta’s. Jake really is a different person, on his stage he tells bad jokes and reminisces about his past to a quiet and small crowd. He drinks and parties but he is obviously empty. His wife leaves him not much longer. However as heartbreaking as it is to see somebody so legendary, so tough and talented fall so hard, it isn’t short at all of deserving. As Jake boxed his way to infamy he pushed away everyone he loved with his rage. When Jake’s boxing career ended, so did he. All that was left of Jake was just the lousy human being inside him. Those two halves are gone he is just the one, and nobody has any respect for that last piece of him. Not to soon after Jake’s wife leaves him he’s arrested for kissing an underage girl. He’s thrown in jail and nothing remains of the great Jake La Motta. La Motta leaves not much later and we see him at a event titled “An Evening with Jake La Motta.” Inside La Motta recites lines to himself in an empty dressing room. He finishes reciting and straightens himself up before giving flurry of punches in the mirror, readying himself for the crowd waiting. La Motta is no longer the man he once was, in rage and agony he has lost everything. But he goes out after practicing his lines because no matter what happened to him life never got him down. They never got him down.