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Raging Bull - Success and EthicsRaging Bull - Success and Ethics


Raging Bull (1980)


Famous for...

  • Its star, Robert De Niro, and director, Martin Scorsese. Their other famous film together was Taxi Driver (1976).
  • Showing the dark and violent side of human nature (unlike the romanticized Rocky, another famous boxing movie). So it was filmed in black and white.

Set in...

1940’s America.


Based on...

American boxer, Jake LaMotta's autobiography, Raging Bull.

He didn't like the film, because it unfairly portrayed him as a wild beast.

 Raging Bull - Success and Ethics


Martin Scorsese (pictured right).



Two including best actor for Robert De Niro (but not best director).

Martin Scorsese had to wait until 2006 for the Oscar with The Departed (starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Raging Bull - Success and EthicsJack Nicholson and Matt Damon).


Key character

Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), boxer (pictured right).


The story

Raging Bull - Success and EthicsIn 1964 Jake LaMotta rehearses his stand-up comedy routine in a New York hotel. He looks back to his:

  • boxing career.
  • first marriage to Irma (which is falling apart).

He falls for Vickie,a beautiful 15-year-old blonde (pictured right).

Helped by his punching power and his brother and manager Raging Bull - Success and Ethics(Joey, pictured right together), he eventually becomes the world middleweight champion in 1949 after his suspension for throwing a fight.

He is told to throw the fight by the local Mafia boss, Tommy Como, so he can get a shot at the world title. But Jake bitterly regrets it, because he likes to fight fair and square.

After his marriage to Vickie, Jake becomes violently jealous of her. He viciously beats her and then Joey (in front of her and Joey's wife and children) for wrongly assuming they were having an affair.Raging Bull - Success and Ethics

Estranged from Joey,he loses the world title (pictured right) to Sugar Ray Robinson in 1951 (whom he had beaten in 1943), and his career quickly goes downhill.

Having moved to Miami, he:

  • retires.
  • becomes a stand-up comedian (pictured right below) and nightclub owner. Raging Bull - Success and Ethics

Vickie divorces him and gains custody of their children.    

In 1957 Jake goes to jail for introducing  a 14-year-old girl to some men, pounding his head against the cell wall in despair.

After his release, he:

  • tries to make up with Joey in New York (who forgives him).
  • is full of repentance for his violent past.


Lessons for success and ethics

1. Jealousy destroys relationshipsRaging Bull - Success and Ethics

Like Shakespeare’s Othello , Jake’s life is ruined by jealousy. It costs him the love of the people closest to him:

  • Vickie.
  • his children.
  • Joey.

He pulverizes one of his opponents, Tony Janiro, because he wrongly thinks that Vickie is attracted to him. He even thinks that she is having an affair with Joey.Raging Bull - Success and Ethics

As his wife, Vickie:

  • feels like a prisoner.
  • lives in constant fear of his jealous beatings (pictured right).

She laments:

“I feel like a prisoner. I can’t walk, I look at somebody the wrong way, I get smacked”.


2. Learn from your mistakes

He is heartbroken about losing Vickie and Joey (whom he begs to “forgive and forget”).


3. Believe in yourself

Self-respect is extremely important for Jake’s peace of mind. He pounds his head and fists against his prison cell wall, sobbing:

“They called me an animal, I’m not an animal”. Raging Bull - Success and Ethics

He wants to transform himself by:

  • exercising greater self-control.
  • taking charge of his life.

This is reflected in his psyching up before he goes on stage as a comic. He says:

“I’m the boss. I’m the boss”.  

 Raging Bull - Success and Ethics

4. Don’t blame other people for your troubles

Jake’s salvation is that he finally:

  • accepts the blame for his problems.
  • takes sole responsibility for solving them.

 Raging Bull - Success and Ethics

5. Redemption comes from repentance

He redeems himself by admitting his:

  • violent past.
  • willingness to change. Raging Bull - Success and Ethics

So the biblical text (John 9, 24-6) is shown at the end of the film:

“Once I was blind and now I can see”, the man tells the Pharisees after being cured by confessing and truly repenting his sins to Jesus.

Martin Scorsese also included this as a tribute to his film professor, Haig Manoogian, to whom the film is dedicated.


6. People are not possessions

Jake cast his first wife aside and acquires his second, as if they were possessions not human beings.

He learns to his great cost that people will only love him, if he treats them with loving respect, not possessive brutality and disdain.

 Raging Bull - Success and Ethics

7. Success is only temporary

Jake is only successful as a boxer for a few years. But after his defeat by Sugar Ray Robinson his life takes a nosedive, professionally and personally with his:

  • eventual retirement.
  • the loss of Joey, Vickie and his children.

After his retirement as a stand-up comedian, he ends up quietly and pitifully reciting to himself Marlon Brando’s lines in On The Waterfront 

“I coulda had class! I coulda been a contender! I coulda been somebody – instead of a bum, which is what I am!”

 Raging Bull - Success and Ethics

8. Count your blessings and look on the bright side

Joey can't believe it when Jake tells him he wants bigger fists so that he can fight the heavyweight champion, Joe Louis.

Joey is amazed Jake isn't more grateful for his boxing talent.

Joey tells Jake to be more optimistic about his chances of winning a world title. He says:

“If you win, you win. If you lose, you still win”.

 Raging Bull - Success and Ethics

9. Trust is vital

Jake's life is ruined by his mistrust of Vickie, inventing her imaginary affairs (including one with Joey who is devastated).


10. Professional integrity matters

Jake hates cheating and is ashamed of throwing a fight for the Mafia.

He has great pride in his boxing, refusing to sell his championship belt for bribe money.


Key quotes on marriage

I feel like a prisoner. I can’t walk, I look at somebody the wrong way, I get smacked, Vickie.


Key quote on relationships

They called me an animal, I’m not an animal, Jake.


Key quote on health

It’s a thrill to be standing here before you wonderful people tonight – well, in fact, it’s a thrill to be standing!, Jake (to his nightclub audience).


Key quote on family

I'm a bum without you and the kids. Don't go, Jake (to Vickie).


Two film websites to recommend

1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).

2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)

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