Raging Bull (1980) is not a so much a film about boxing but more of a story about a psychotically jealous, sexually insecure borderline homosexual, caged animal of a man, who encourages pain and suffering in his life as almost a form of reparation. Martin Scorseses masterpiece of a film drags you down into the seedy filth stenched world of former middleweight boxing champion Jake The Bronx Bull LaMotta. Masterfully he paints the picture of a beast whose sole drive is not boxing but an insatiable obsessive jealously over his wife and his fear of his own underling sexuality. The movie broke new ground with its brutal unadulterated no-holds-bard look at the vicious sport of boxing by bringing the camera into the ring, giving the viewer the most realistic, primal, and brutal boxing scenes ever filmed. With blood and sweat spraying, flashbulbs bursting at every blow Scorsese gives the common man an invitation into the square circle where only the hardest trained gladiators dare to venture.
The movie opens just as it ends, the camera pans down to the pavement revealing a sign outside the Barbizon Plaza Theater: An Evening with Jake LaMotta Tonight 8:30. The film then cuts to a punched out overweight shot of LaMotta babbling a barely coherent rhyming rant mixing Shakespeare with the infernal jabber of an half illiterate has been boxer. Quickly the scene shifts from backstage of a nightclub to a close up of a younger LaMotta receiving repeated jabs to the face. The bold white title card Jake La Motta 1941 jumps out against the stark grey images of the match. LaMotta between rounds sits in the corner surrounded by his trainer, manager and cut man giving the impression of lion tamers antagonizing a corned animal by telling him he is out pointed and Youre gonna have to knock him out. When the fight continues LaMotta crouches like a coiled snake boring his way into a barrage of punches only to explode in a flurry of flashbulbs sending his opponent to the canvas. With a bombardment of hard stuck lefts, LaMotta sends Jimmy Reeves on a return trip to the mat. Again, in the final round a bloody pulverized Reeves lies pinned to the floor only to be saved by the bell after the count reaches nine. LaMotta then proceeds to strut around the ring proudly wearing a leopard skin robe with hands held high while the ring announcer declares Reeves the winner by unanimous decision. In a foreshadowing of what is to come, a defiant LaMotta refuses to leave the ring.
The film then cuts to the title card: THE BRONX New York City 1941. After a short talk between Jakes brother Joey and a small time Mafioso Salvy about allowing fellow mobster Tommy Como to take control of Jakes boxing career the scene cuts to the kitchen of a cramped New York apartment. Still bruised up from the from the Reeves fight Jake in a wife beater undershirt sits at the kitchen table harassing his first wife about overcooking his steak. Like an true animal he wants it raw and bloody. Sick and tired of his relentless badgering she throws the plate down in front of him in defiance. Again, the dormant beast is awakened up ending the table sending the steak across the kitchen. Just then Joey enters the apartment and an off screen neighbor yells down in true New York fashion Whats the matter with you up there, you animals? Already irate Jake leans his head out of the window and screams the carnivorous threat, Im gonna eat your dog for lunch. Overwhelmed with furry Jake sits down and whines to Joey about how his girl hands are going to keep him from fighting the heavyweight champion of the world Joe Lewis. Then in a strange sadomasochistic display of machismo, Jake taunts Joey to punch him in the face as hard as he can. When Joey resists Jake begins to taunt him: Come on, dont be a little faggot. Come on hit me. You throw a punch like you take it up the ass. Come on harder.Joey lays repeated rights to jakes face until his eye begins to open up, and blood begins to drip down his face.
Already in the first two main scenes of the movie, the animal that is Jake LaMotta has already reared its nasty head. In brutal displays during the Reeves fight, the steak scene with his wife, the yelling match with his neighbor and his childish punching challenge with his brother, Jake LaMotta has already proved himself a genuine psychotic beast. Along with the animal nature, an underlying sexual insecurity is beginning to rise to the surface. Jakes obsession with his girl hands gives the notion of sexual inadequacy, and homosexual tendencies seem to become apparent when he begins to taunt his brother by calling him faggot and telling him, he takes it up the ass.
Even after these childish rages and stupid attempts at proving his manhood, I still did not buy into the whole suppress homosexual theory. That was until the first pool scene. Jake appears at the city pool, walks up to the concession stand and orders a Coke. He sits down and begins to grill Joey about a blonde bombshell named Vicky while he sips his Coke through a straw. Up to this point the scene seems innocent enough right, or does it? He and Joey are just checking out the babes at the pool like every straight man does right? Wait, throw it in reverse for a moment, Jake and Joey are sitting at a table, thats harmless. Jake begins to ask Joey about the beautiful blonde poolside, also harmless. Jake sips his Coke through a straw. Hold on stop the music, a straw, a straw, no self-respecting straight man sips his coke through a straw. Drink it from the bottle yes, but drink it from a straw never. No real man more or less a boxer the epitome of manliness drinks through a straw. This small scene on its own completely changed my perception of how LaMotta is portrayed.
The Next scene further deepens my suspicions of Jakes true sexuality. After grooming himself before a mirror, Jake and Joey leave allegedly to go out for business. Irma thoroughly protests and confronts her homosexual suspicions head on. Screaming at the top of her lungs Irma begins to lay into them with no mercy. Im not gonna be here when you get back, you fuckin bunch of guineas, youre always hangin out together. Why dont you fuckin stop? Youre not goin on business. Youre gonna suck each other off, right? Suckem, Suckem baby, she screams. Jealously she sticks he head out when the reach the street again infuriated by the sexual dimensions of their relationship: You fuckin queer, faggot, she screams Go stick it up your ass. This is the first point in the movie someone directly questions Jakes sexuality. Weather she meant it as an insult or as a statement of fact is unknown. However, it puts the question of Jakes sexual orientation to the forefront of the movie.
For the next few scenes, the sex question is left to simmer on the back burner, until the shot before the Janero fight in the Copacabana Night Club. Jake is lured over to Salvys table to speak to Tommy. Tommy Como asks about betting on LaMotta in the coming fight. Jake assures him that he should bet it all. He then goes into sexually confused rant with Salvy.
Jake:. everthing, because im gonna open his hole like this.
Please excuse my French. Im gonna make him suffer. Im gonna make his mother wish she never had him make him into dog meat.. Hes a nice, a nice kid. Hes a pretty kid too. I dont know, I gotta problem if I should fuck him or fight him. (Laughter erupts)
Tommy: (laughing) Fuck him or fight him.
Salvy: If youre really in love with that fucker, just watch out.
Jake: By who?
Jake: You mean, you want me to get him to fuck you?
Salvy: No, I dont want him to fuck me.
Jake: I could do that easily.
Salvy: How ya gonna do that?
Jake: Because Ill get yuz both in a ring, Ill give you both a fuckin beatin ya both can fuck each other.
Salvy: Ah, Ill Get all full of blood.
Jake: Your used to that.
The sick sadomasochistic conversation Jake has with Salvy further proves LaMotta is nothing but a twisted animal, and further questioning his already uncertain sexuality.
Title card reads: Dade county Stockade Florida 1957. Jake is wrestled into his jail like a bull being lead to slaughter. Resembling a caged wild animal he slams his fists, head and his arms into a sold cinder-block wall. By this point in the movie you no longer see Robert DeNero but a pathetic unbridled fat fuck has been boxer slamming his fists into the wall as if trying to pick a fight with his own inner demons. Reduced to nothing, loosing everything, and ultimately beaten down LaMotta sobs like a little girl: Why? Why? Why?… Whyd you do it? Youre so stupid Im not an animal. Why do you treat me like this? Im not so bad. The once proud beast of a man the Bronx Bull has been broken down to nothing but a pathetic little girl.
The movie Ends just as it began. A beer-bellied Jake babbles his chopped up gibberish of great authors in a run down backstage dressing room. With a cigar sticking out his mouth he begins to recite the famous I coulda been a contender scene from On the Waterfront (1954) a piece which closely parallels his own boxing career. Without emotion he carefully recites the words line by line, while staring down his troubles in the mirror. The words seem to express some type of regret towards his prior actions, experiences, and self-destructive habits that plagued his entire life. He seems to finally realize and come to grips with all the foolish mistakes he made throughout his life.Scorsese cameos himself as a stagehand announcing that Jake has five minutes till stage. He clips his tie, and begins to warm up with shadowboxing as he did before all of his matches. He grunts Go get em, champ. All you are left with is a shot of a solitary empty mirror.The final title honors Jakes new found salvation and understanding: once I was blind and now I can see.
Raging Bull is the most brutal and painful portrait of a man I have ever seen. You almost feel sorry for this animal of a wife beater whose sexual inadequacy and paralyzing jealousy drive him past the point of insanity. Jake LaMotta prided himself for not being knocked down in the ring. Even when being crucified by Sugar Ray Robinson you wonder why wont this fool just save himself and go down. By the end of the film you begin to get a sense of what was really driving him in the ring. Was it his animal instinct or his immovable pride? No, he was so deeply wounded inside that it hurt far too much to ever let the physical pain stop even for just a second.
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