Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull" is a movie about brute
force, anger, and grief. It is also, like several of Scorsese's other movies,
about a man's inability to understand a woman except in terms of the only two
roles he knows how to assign her: virgin or whore. There is no room inside the
mind of the prizefighter in this movie for the notion that a woman might be a
friend, a lover, or a partner. She is only, to begin with, an inaccessible
sexual fantasy. And then, after he has possessed her, she becomes tarnished by
sex. Insecure in his own manhood, the man becomes obsessed by jealousy -- and
releases his jealousy in violence.
It is a vicious circle. Freud called it the "madonna-whore complex." Groucho Marx put it somewhat differently: "I wouldn't belong to any club that would have me as a member." It amounts to a man having such low self-esteem that he (a) cannot respect a woman who would sleep with him, and (b) is convinced that, given the choice, she would rather be sleeping with someone else. I'm making a point of the way "Raging Bull" equates sexuality and violence because one of the criticisms of this movie is that we never really get to know the central character. I don't agree with that. I think Scorsese and Robert De Niro do a fearless job of showing us the precise feelings of their central character, the former boxing champion Jake LaMotta.
It is true that the character never tells us what he's feeling, that he is not introspective, that his dialogue is mostly limited to expressions of desire, fear, hatred, and jealousy. But these very limitations -- these stone walls separating the character from the world of ordinary feelings -- tell us all we need to know, especially when they're reflected back at him by the other people in his life. Especially his brother and his wife, Vickie.
"Raging Bull" is based, we are told, on the life of LaMotta, who came out of the slums of the Bronx to become middleweight champion in the 1940s, who made and squandered millions of dollars, who became a pathetic stand-up comedian, and finally spent time in a prison for corrupting the morals of an underage girl. Is this the real LaMotta? We cannot know for sure, though LaMotta was closely involved with the production. What's perhaps more to the point is that Scorsese and his principal collaborators, actor Robert De Niro and screenwriter Paul Schrader, were attracted to this material. All three seem fascinated by the lives of tortured, violent, guilt-ridden characters; their previous three-way collaboration was the movie "Taxi Driver."