My thesis for this paper is that director Martin Scorsese generally views women as victims of men. To illustrate this thesis, I will examine two of his well known films, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas.
Raging Bull is not a film about boxing but about a man who is extremely jealous and suffers from sexual insecurity. For Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro), what happens during a fight is controlled not by tactics but by his fears and drives. The punishment he receives in the boxing ring serves as confession, penance, and atonement for his sins.
For Scorsese, the life of LaMotta was an illustration of a theme present in many of his works, the inability of his characters to trust and relate with women. The emotion that drives the LaMotta character is not boxing, but a jealous obsession with his wife, Vickie, and a fear of sexual intimacy. From the time he first sees her, as a girl of 15, LaMotta is fascinated by the cool, distant blond goddess, who seems much older than her age, and in many shots seems taller and even stronger than the boxer.
Although there is no direct evidence in the film that Vickie has ever cheated on LaMotta, she is a woman who at 15 was already on friendly terms with mobsters, who knows "the score". On her first date with Jake, she shows herself to be a woman completely confident as she waits for him to awkwardly make his moves toward her.
Jake has mixed feelings toward woman that Freud famously named the "Madonna-whore complex."1 For LaMotta, women are unapproachable, virginal ideals until they are dirtied by physical contact (with him), after which the women become suspect. During the film he tortures himself with fantasies that Vickie is cheating on him. Every word, every glance, is twisted by his jealousy and suspicion. He never catches her, but he beats her as if he had; his suspicion is enough to be proof of her guilt.
Jake's sexual insecurity is shown early in the film when he sees Vickie in a one-piece bathing suit at a swimming pool. Knowing that his brother, Joey, has dated her, Jake grills him relentlessly.
Joey: She ain't the kind of girl you just fk and forget about. She's not like that. You gotta spend time with her, get involved, you know....
Jake: Did you bang her?
Jake: Tell me the truth.
Joey: I just told you the truth. I tell you the truth the first time. I always tell the truth. I took her out a couple of time.
Jake: You went with her and you didn't try to fk her?
After marrying Vickie, Jake is preparing to fight Sugar Ray Robinson. His mixed feelings toward women is revealed in a passionate bedroom scene.
Vickie: You sure we should be doin' this?
Jake: Come here.
Vickie: You said never to touch ya before a fight.
Jake: Come her, before I give ya a beatin'.
Vickie: You said I couldn't. You've been good for two weeks.
Jake: Come here.
After some petting, he stops her: "I gotta fight Robinson. I can't fool around." Resisting sex with her to keep his boxing strength, he views Vickie as an obstacle in the way of further boxing victories. He chooses to make boxing and its violence a higher priority over sexual love with his wife.
Jake's out-of-control jealously is illustrated by scenes leading up to his fight with Tony Janiro. Vickie's remark about Janiro- that "he's an up and coming fighter, he's good lookin', he's popular," arouses Jake's jealousy and fears.
Jake: Excuse me, excuse me, what do ya mean, good lookin'?....Yeah, but what, who are you to say you are good lookin' or popular?....What, what are you an authority or what? Get out of here.
After ordering her out, he asks his brother how Vickie knew Janiro was good lookin'.
Jake: When I'm away, you ever notice anything funny going on with her?... I wantcha to keep an eye on her.
Jake is concerned that "anything's possible," and that she might...