How is Raging Bull both a sports biopic and domestic drama?
Raging Bull is a sports biopic based on the true story of boxer Jake LaMotta who enjoyed a brief reign as the middleweight World Champion. Raging Bull provides a realistic glimpse into the manner in which the sport of boxing in New York was essentially under the thumb of the syndicate during the 1940s and early 1950s by revealing the various and assorted colorful characters who made up the world of professional boxing during that time. As a sports biopic, the film is a chronicle of the high and low points of LaMotta’s life that includes becoming the first man to beat Sugar Ray Robinson, winning the middleweight title and spending time in prison after being convicted on charges of promoting prostitution as LaMotta tries to adapt to life outside the limelight following his retirement. LaMotta’s life outside the boxing ring was every bit as violent and turbulent as his career inside and although the film is highly regarded as one of the great boxing movies of all time, actual boxing sequences account for only about 10 of 129 minutes of running time. The bulk of the other 119 minutes of Raging Bull are devoted to the detailing the domestic implications of Jake’s life as a violent pugilist on his relationships with his brother/manager Joey and his first and second wives.
How could Raging Bull successfully be integrated into a curricula for interpersonal communication?
Raging Bull would be quite usefully integrated into classes about interpersonal communication since the movie is really less about the historical context of Jake as a boxer than about how Jake uses his boxing skills inside the ring to adequately express what he cannot adequately communicate with anyone—including his brother and his wife—outside the ring. The boxing ring thus become a symbolic space for the socially acceptable unleashing of the violence that Jake struggles to repress in the world outside the ring where such violence runs the gamut from socially unacceptable to illegal. Because the boxing scenes are more appropriately viewed in symbolic rather than realistic or naturalistic terms, Raging Bull becomes a film that is preoccupied with the influence of proxemics on interpersonal communication. As a result, intrusions into and violations of personal spaces are integral components in the means by which recurring episodes of pseudo-conflict escalates into physical violence as a result of Jake’s dominance.
How is Jake LaMotta’s repressed violence affected by physical spaces outside the ring?
Physical space routinely impact Jake’s expressions of anger and violence. The boxing ring is the only place where his repression is allowed to escape and be put on full exhibition, but even that lack of restriction is an imposition since the violence is not enacted upon those responsible for creating the emotions that must be repressed. A sequence taking place inside a popular New York nightclub positions Jake as having his physical dominance emasculated as a result of being trapped within the conventions of expectations of social management in public spaces. Right from the beginning of this sequence the nightclub table acts to handcuffed his physicality which only serves to intensify his already heightened sense of suspicion and paranoia. Even when the forces of social interaction put him within the physical space as the object of his suspicion and paranoia, he still finds it unacceptable to release the full force of his repressed emotional response. By contrast, public spatial limitations are removed from the equation inside the private domain of his home, Jake’s superior physical strength over his brother and wife quickly escalate into repeated episodes of conflict resolution through dominance of the powerful over the weak.
How does Jake transform the humiliation of his severe beating by Sugar Ray Robinson in their final fight into an expression of redemptive victory?
In his final bout against Sugar Ray Robinson, Jake actually seeks to resolve the repressive conflict within himself in the most complex manner exhibited in the film; one that manages to simultaneously transform masochistic violence against himself into an a public demonstration of self-esteem. First, Jake willingly submits himself to a defenseless flurry of blows from Robinson that is every bit as brutal as any beating LaMotta handed out to an opponent. Jake then manages to turn that beating into his own insanely logical sort of victory by wobbling back to his corner—barely—and reminding Robinson that while LaMotta knocked him down to the floor during Jake’s one victory over Sugar Ray, Robinson was not able to knock LaMotta down even after he stood there and took everything the champion had to give.
How does Robert DeNiro’s infamous weight gain contribute to the film’s theme of repression?
Robert DeNiro famously gained 60 pounds of fat to more accurately portray the downfall of LaMotta in his post-boxing career life which results ultimately in his arrest and imprisonment of charges related to allowing underage girls into the nightclub he owned in Florida and the sexual relations they had with customers. The transformation of LaMotta from lean and muscular middleweight boxer to flabby, overweight nightclub impresario is one that reveals how his natural tendency to resolve conflict through violence leaves him emasculated at this stage in his life; as emasculated as he was in the earlier scene when he was a nightclub patron forced to repressed his suspicion and paranoia behind the constricted environs of the table exposing him to public scrutiny.
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