Raging Bull: A Stunningly Raw Portrait of the Beast in Man

By October 25, 2014Classic Reviews

At the end of Raging Bull, the following quote appears on screen:

“So, for the second time, [the Pharisees] summoned the man who had been blind and said:

‘Speak the truth before God. We know this fellow is a sinner.’
‘Whether or not he is a sinner, I do not know,’ the man replied.
‘All I know is this: Once I was blind and now I can see.’”
John IX. 24–26, The New English Bible

Martin Scorsese is a master of beautiful subtlety, and Raging Bull is the one of the greatest examples of the way Scorsese uses characters and dialogue to tell a story. Raging Bull is based on the real-life former boxing champion Jake LaMotta, a man for whom the quote from John IX is sadly true. Both in and out of the ring, LaMotta was a man filled with a self-destructive anger and aggression that rotted away at his life from the inside out. “I’m not an animal,” LaMotta tells himself, and threatens to kill the dog of a neighbor who rudely calls him and his wife by that name. And yet somehow, LaMotta’s animalistic nature gets the better of him every time. He beats a boxing opponent’s face in because his wife referred to the man as having a “pretty face,” he punches his wife in the face during an argument, and he beats his brother so badly that their relationship is nearly irrevocably destroyed. His struggle to turn into a human being, to “see,” lasts for a long time, until after LaMotta has been divorced twice, after he has become estranged from his family, and after a stint in jail.

Interestingly, Scorsese wasn’t especially interested in making this movie when he was approached about turning Jake LaMotta’s book Raging Bull: My Story into a movie. In fact, Scorsese isn’t a sports fan at all, even commenting, “I don’t like boxing.” Raging Bull is a film that’s about more than boxing; it transcends the label of just another “biographical sports drama.” At its core, it’s about a man who is involved in a nasty boxing match with life and who is constantly at war with the people around him. Scorsese’s rendering of the tale is a beautiful symphony of violence, anger, and at last, an opening of the metaphorical eyes. The film is a significant, stunningly raw portrait of the beast in man, and is a must-see for everyone.