Friday 26 May 2018 11.59pm
‘He’s Still a Raging Bull’ 2018
A Martin Scorsese Film 1980
Top 100 Films Ever Made –
This film is equal #53 in the 2012 BFI Critics Poll and #12 in the Directors Poll.
I did it again. For the third time – making it the fourth time: the first time I didn’t know it was regarded as one of the greatest films ever made – I watched this film and wondered why it so highly regarded because it doesn’t satisfy anyone I know, and is a thoroughly unpleasant experience.
“This time, however, I didn’t hate ‘Raging Bull’ – just Jake La Motta.”
– Philip Powers, May 2018
It is a one-off. It’s an original. It’s uniquely horrible and terribly sad.
It’s an observation of a life lived without respect for anyone else – including himself – except for the time La Motta was wooing Vicky (Cathy Moriarty). Jake was a bully inside and outside of the ring but for that attempt to act like a gentleman.
Inside the boxing ring he was so devastating that no one wanted to fight him because, even if they won the points decision, he was a punishing boxer, dealing out pain beyond what they had mostly experienced in other fights. Other fighters might win on points, but they were really hurt.
One of the early fight scenes in the film show a boxer almost completely knocked out, who is literally saved by the bell. His team drag him back to his corner where they hold him upright while the judges’ decision is announced. The decision unanimously goes against La Motta. It’s amusing because in those final rounds La Motta was so dominant. We don’t know what happened in previous rounds so we don’t know if it was a poor decision, deliberately unfair, or whether the other boxer was better overall. In some ways it’s a bit ridiculous to only show the viewer La Motta dominating so completely and have the other boxer awarded the fight. It would be a very strange decision if Raging Bull was just a boxing picture in the way that Rocky (!976) was, four years earlier. But that’s not what De Niro and Scorsese are trying to do. It’s very much a bio-pic about a man who rose to the top of the middleweight world>
It shows who he was before and after that particular moment in history. For the rest of the film he is a man who also lives his personal and domestic life as a raging bull. He fights with people, hitting and punching them, often to make a point and get a reaction.
One exception to his emotional make-up is when he is forced to throw a fight. It’s one of the mostly darkly amusing moments in the film when he allows himself to be beaten, by not fighting back, absorbing punch after punch, giving his backers a betting windfall because La Motta was the favourite. Here is the point where real emotions, other than those of anger/rage, are shown by De Niro as he sobs uncontrollably. Sadness mixed with embarrassment show him to be a man who cannot bear humiliation. Everything in his life is about him dominating everyone else and being better than them at anything he does which he holds up as important.
The things La Motta values are winning, being able to abosrb more punishment that anyone else, never being knocked down, having a trophy wife, being famous, and commanding respect. One of the things, if not the biggest, that he is afraid of, is humiliation or the perception of humiliation.
This leads him to uncontrollable jealousy towards anyone who even looks at his wife sideways.