Formal Analysis of Raging Bull
Martin Scorsese’s film “Raging Bull” is considered by many to be one of the greatest “sports” films of all time. The plot focuses on the professional and personal life of boxer Jake LaMotta. In the opening sequence, the film uses narrative, mise en scene, cinematography, editing, and sound to provide a framework for the rest of the picture. These elements also help to establish the film’s themes of nostalgia, isolation, loneliness, and suffering. In addition to setting up the film’s themes, these elements also help to create two distinct personas of the main character Jake LaMotta.
The narrative form exhibited in the opening sequence seems simple at first glance, but actually conveys a multitude of information to the audience. The opening sequence is comprised of three scenes, the first and third scenes being longer, while the second, middle scene is much abbreviated. These three scenes, the ring, the theatre sign, and present day LaMotta, help suggest the three act structure of the film’s overall narrative; LaMotta’s early boxing career and life, his post-championship boxing career and life, and his post boxing life. Between the first and second scene, a black placard reads “New York City 1964.” This non-diegetic device is used to tell the “where” and “when” for the following scene. This device is used again in the third scene to supply the audience with the “whom,” being Jake LaMotta. The syuzhet of the opening sequence can be jarring for the audience. The transition from the young, fit, graceful, boxer to the overweight and broken man preparing to perform on stage, not only frames the film, but also draws the audience in. It forces the viewer to wonder, how did this transformation occur and what happened in this man’s life to bring him to this. It also serves as a snap to reality and present time. The sudden jolt helps the audience realize the boxing ring scene was just a memory of the Jake LaMotta they now see. The fabula is also framed by the opening sequence. The audience has seen the beginning and end. The rest of the film will fill in the middle of the fabula. The framing of the narrative form drops the audience in on the middle of LaMotta’s life. They do not have the luxury of a backstory. It makes the viewer judge LaMotta on the man they see in the given moment. The form also establishes a clear pattern of cause and effect, the audience can identify the difference between present and memory. This contributes to the theme of nostalgia throughout the film.
The mise en scene captured in the opening sequence plays heavily into introducing the audience to the various themes of “Raging Bull,” and the idea that there are two different personas to the character of Jake LaMotta. The film opens on a tightly framed, static, black and white shot of a boxing ring. The composition is unbalanced, LaMotta dances back and forth across the left side of the ring, never venturing towards the right as he shadowboxes. This asymmetry focuses the audience on LaMotta, especially when combined with the static camera, as he is the only thing moving in the picture. Even though the shot is tightly framed around the ring, all four sides of the ring are at least partially visible. Even though LaMotta moves gracefully and poetically and seems at home in the ring, this tightness conveys a sense that he is caged. This gives the boxer a very animalistic feel, an effect enhanced by his leopard print robe that flows with his movements. Even the smoke filled air evokes the image of a haze filled jungle. The foreground of the shot is dominated by the silhouette of the ring’s ropes. Entrapped between the top and middle rope, the film’s title appears in bright red. Again, this red contributes to the animalistic sense that comes from LaMotta. The red also alludes to the film’s theme of suffering through violence and abuse. The background, past the ring is barely visible through all the smoke and shadows. There are...
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