Friday, March 28, 2008

Movies: Raging Bull

Watching the young De Niro is sort of dangerous for me, because he always reminds me of this, um, fellow I used to know, who had a similar sweet smirk, and who would snap from unbelievably tender ("You're like a miracle") to unbelievably vicious ("You're just a hole") and back again in the way that De Niro does in The Panic In Needle Park, Taxi Driver, and now Raging Bull, in which he plays middleweight champion Jake LaMotta, switching like a light bulb from love to rage, from power to weakness, from fat to thin, from proud to wretched. He's amazing, but so amazing that it hurts.

I hate boxing and I hate violence and I can't watch it (a friend expressed something bordering on shock that I was going to see this movie, but it couldn't be avoided as part of my education); I did have to close my eyes during some of the more explosive fight scenes (broken noses in particular nauseate me). I love that Scorsese shot it in black and white, even though it was 1980, and I love all of the other old movie glamour touches (the roadsters, the high waisted pants, and the bathing suit Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) is wearing when he first meets her) that can more easily be taken for granted in the period piece (although the film has too much grit to be an actual film from the 1940s, such that it becomes something hyper-real: the violence that was always there, but that we never got to see before).

What we see here are the risks of old-fashioned manhood: the rage and then sullen sickness that follow when weakness and self-doubt and fear have to be repressed and wrapped up in layers of denial and rebellion like papier-mâché, hollow inside and not as sturdy as it looks. LaMotta's relationship to his growing belly, fueled by his brother's comments and the weight restrictions for his class (his brother is played by a brilliant Joe Pesci, who offers his own treatise on manhood in concert with LaMotta's, smaller than his fighter brother, but constantly trying to keep him in line) begins as a symptom of depression but becomes an act of defiance, the same defiance that used to erupt in fights but has now mellowed into a different kind of destruction, pointed inward rather than out.

No comments: