Not Your Dad’s Boxing Flick
We’ve all seen a boxing movie. Or at the very least we’ve all seen that one clip where Rocky is all like “if I can change, and you can change, then everybody can change!” then all the Russians clap or whatever. (is that just me?) Regardless, Raging Bull is not that. There is no evil Russian or Mr. T for our protagonist to fight.
This is the story of Jake LaMotta, a former middleweight boxing champion who in his thirteen years of professional boxing (1941-1954) managed to go 83-19-4 while also managing to never be knocked down. For those of you who don’t understand his numerical record, that’s 83 wins, 19 losses, and 4 draws. And I might add that 30 of his victories were knockouts. Suffice to say LaMotta was an extraordinary fighter and was feared by many during his time.
However this movie isn’t about his success. It isn’t an epic that chronicles his many victories. It’s an incredibly dirty and human story that portrays LaMotta as a broken and flawed man who is consumed by his insecurities. Confronting his demons is his greatest challenge, and his greatest opponent is himself.
This is illustrated in quite literally the first scene. Over a somber yet triumphant tune we see LaMotta – portrayed brilliantly by Robert Di Nero – shadow boxing in an empty ring. He is alone, yet he is in an intense battle. He fights an invisible opponent, but as the music swells it becomes clear he isn’t truly alone. He fights against himself on his own behalf, throwing jabs and hooks at an invisible foe, one that seems fervent in his resolve to stay standing like LaMotta himself.
In this vein the fights LaMotta takes part in throughout the movie are less about facing his opposite the ring but rather a projected image of his shortcomings. His problems out of the ring: those being rage, sexual frustration, pride, and guilt, are manifested in his fights as he slowly begins to fall to his own devices.
His fights against Janiro and Sugar Ray (specifically the valentines day massacre) are ones based in previous context. Each, a stylized and hyper violent spectacle representing his struggles out of the ring being paid for within.
As I’ve said before, the struggles LaMotta faces are mostly brought upon himself. He allows, or better yet succumbs, to his own vices throughout the movie. He destroys his relationships, his career, and his happiness due to his inability to cope with who he is and what happens around him. It’s heartbreaking and even at times difficult to fathom but is compelling nonetheless. LaMotta’s fall from grace is not elegant. However, it isn’t completely devoid of hope (and that’s all I’m gonna say about that).
Raging Bull is about just that, a raging bull. let loose it wreaks havoc on himself and those around him, and only until it calms does it realize and reconcile with its destructive behavior.