Raging Bull is one of the most disheartening films I’ve watched in quite a while, it dives deep into the world of a man who is completely consumed with himself and his own world. The protagonist of the film, Jake LaMotta, is a professional boxer who achieves the ultimate goal of the world championship belt. Yet, he is pervasively riddled with self doubt and insecurity. Martin Scorsese masterfully directs a film that depicts a man who refuses to look at himself and understand that actions are driven internally. LaMossa continually distrusts others, and fails to appreciate anything he has; instead always looking out for ways that he may lose his winnings. And they are winnings to him: LaMossa’s wife is perhaps the perfect picture of a trophy wife, and that is why he craves her. She, however, seeks independence and depth in her relationship with him. Yet, it becomes quickly apparent that such a relationship is not going to happen. Ironically, the obsession with keeping and holding is what causes LaMossa to lose everything he cares about.
One of the most iconic scenes in the film features LaMossa completely breaking down and punching the wall, screaming why over and over. Shortly after, LaMossa awkwardly hugs his brother and tries to regain his brother’s love in a scene that is reminiscent to a lover desperate to hold onto her man. This is a striking picture that reinforces the fall LaMossa has experienced; he had scorned his wife and treated her as untrustworthy and unworthy of respect. Not only had his distrust in her driven her to become exactly what he feared, but his self-obsessed insecurities also led him to become exactly that person; unworthy of trust himself.
The film ends with LaMossa blaming his troubles on his brother in a practiced speech, with the famous line “I could have been a contender”. This, despite the support shown to him by his brother as well as the success that LaMossa did indeed experience. LaMossa remains blind to his own sin, as is inforced by the scripture John 4: 24-26 that appears on the screen prior to the credits rolling.
This film is certainly one that calls for self-reflection. It asks questions about where true value lies in life; as well as how to live a life of true fulfillment. What is perhaps most striking about the film is how normal LaMossa’s life is. I was left thinking that the reason why more people do not experience the heartbreak of loss that LaMossa experienced isn’t due to a prevalence in character strength; it is simply that there are not a great deal of people who are able to achieve such levels of greatness. He who has much has much to lose.
In the end, the film is a character study of an individual who gives in to many of his worst demons. Yet, what makes the film so interesting is not that LaMossa represents an evil person willing to do bad things. Just the opposite in fact; LaMossa seems to be a good person who is passionate and trying to do his best to live his life well. The problem is that LaMossa does not know what a good life truly is. I believe that is the problem with a great deal of people in our world; they do not know what a good life is. As a result, they pursue a happiness that does not bring fulfillment.
To be honest, I doubt I will watch this film again. I understand that a lot of film critics view this as one of the greatest films of all time. However, I don’t know a great deal about camera angles and the sophistication of certain directorial ingenuities. I found the story interesting enough to reflect on, but not interesting enough to return to simply because there was nothing to really get excited about. If you like films that really dig into the underbelly of life, this is a film for you.