Raging Bull Literary Elements

Raging Bull Literary Elements


Martin Scorsese

Leading Actors/Actresses

Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty

Supporting Actors/Actresses

Frank Vincent, Therese Saldana, Nicolas Colasanto


Sports Biopic




Academy Awards: Best Actor, Best Film Editing. Golden Globes: Best Actor. BAFTA: Best Editing, Most Outstanding Newcomer to Film. AFI 100 Years...100 Movies: 4th Best American Film (2007 10th Anniversary Edition), 51st Best Thriller.

Date of Release

November 14, 1980


Irwin Winkler, Robert Chartoff

Setting and Context

New York City, Cleveland, Miami: 1941-1964

Narrator and Point of View

The perspective of Raging Bull is mostly from the point of view of Jake LaMotta. Only a few minutes worth of the film does not feature LaMotta on screen. At many points during the narrative the camera actually takes the subjective point of view of LaMotta to the extent that not only is the audience seeing the world through Jake's eyes, but they are witnessing it in slow-motion through his punch-drunk consciousness.

Tone and Mood

The tone of Raging Bull is an example of cinematic abstract expressionism in which a mood i created through a non-stop projection of disturbing images that reveal Jake LaMotta and most of those who get close to him gripped in the inexorable turmoil of swirling vortex of dread and fear.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Jake LaMotta. Antagonist: Jake LaMotta, the Mob.

Major Conflict

The major conflict of Raging Bull is between Jake LaMotta and himself. While a boxing movie with plenty of violent encounters in the ring (and an equal number of violent encounters outside the ring) the conflict at the heart of Raging Bull is Jake's own desperate desire to become a better person outside the ring by reserving all his fury for opponents inside the ring.


The internal conflict taking place within Jake LaMotta that drives the film's search for redemption and salvation for its protagonist occurs inside a Florida prison when Jake is middle-aged and flabby and has reached rock bottom. After being convicted on charges related to contributing to the delinquency of a minor, Jake's final boxing opponent in the film is the hard concrete wall inside the prison which he punches and butts with his head while exclaiming that he is not the animal he everyone thinks he is. Only after sinking to his lowest moment has Jake finally been given the wisdom to see the light.


The elegant opening credits features Jake LaMotta in the ring shadow boxing in slow motion to the accompaniment of music from the opera Cavalleria Rusticana, thus foreshadowing that Jake's real opponent in life outside the ring is himself.


In a film notoriously marked by overstated violence that reaches incredibly hyperreal levels of abstract expression, the most prominent example of understatement is the level of empathy and even compassion that it displays toward its tortured title character.

Innovations in Filming or Lighting or Camera Techniques

Martin Scorsese's innovations in the filming of the movie's boxing scenes represent groundbreaking innovation in what had become by the film's release a rather tired genre. Scorsese's camera is always moving inside the ring and his utilization of cinematic effects from slow motion to still photographs not only give the sequences a kinetic energy that differentiates them from everything that had become tradition in a tried genre, but also provides psychological insight into Jake's state of mind. The blurry quality of some scenes was created by shooting through the gases rising from flames. The soundtrack accompaniment to the fight scenes feature almost subliminal insertion of everything from the screaming of a jet engine to the whinny of a horse.


The predominant allusion in Raging Bull is to that of the film On the Waterfront. The most obvious reference to this film about a fictional boxer who agreed to take a dive for the mob is Jake's recitation of its most famous monologue as part of the stage act he puts together later in life after his boxing career has ended. The film also alludes to this particular speech when Jake struggles to make his way over to Sugar Ray Robinson after the St. Valentine's Day Massacre loss and reminds the champ that "you never got me down, Ray. Never went down."


The biggest paradox of Raging Bull is that it is a boxing movie in which the boxing scenes take up less then 10% of the film's running time.


The themes at play in the film's story of Jake LaMotta draw a distinct parallel to themes at play in the story of its director, Martin Scorsese, who saw in his opportunity to make Raging Bull one last shot at proving to Hollywood that he was more than a middleweight who briefly held the crown of talented director before seeming to lose it all when his big budget musical New York, New York flopped. This was Scorsese's chance to prove that he belonged in the company of the heavyweights; that like Jake bemoans: "No matter how big I get, no matter who I fight,no matter what I do, I ain't never gonna fight Joe Louis" or, Scorsese's case, Orson Welles and John Ford and George Stevens and the other titans of Hollywood history.

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