In Martin Scorsese’s film, “Raging Bull” (1980), the director makes use of powerful
cinematic devises to achieve a deeper emotional connection between Robert Deniro’s
tragic character, Jake LaMotta, and the audience. In the hands of a competent director
like Scorsese, devises such as lighting, intricate camerawork, sound (or absence thereof),
editing and even costuming become ways of evoking pity or even sympathy from
viewers. Two scenes in particular make use of these devises, Jake LaMotta’s time in the
Dade County Stockade and the final fight between Jake LaMotta and Sugar Ray
In the first scene Jake LaMotta is dragged into a prison cell by two guards. Jake
sits down to take a few breaths and then walks towards the wall. He leans on the wall
with his head down to think about everything. His wife, his children, and his career are
now all gone. Jake physically punishes himself by smashing his head repeatedly against
the wall and also punching it. He then cries childishly and slides down on his seat.
Lighting affects the scene in different ways. Lights and darks have had symbolic
connotations since the dawn of humanity. Scenes can be filmed in low key or high key.
There are different lenses that can be used to distort the image to be lighter or darker.
The Stockade’s use of environmental lighting is immediately obvious. Darkness
is usually associated with bad things or in this case the lowest point in Jake’s life.
Scorsese uses as little lighting as possible to maintain his famed realistic style as well as
to emphasize Jack’s isolation from the outside world. It also draws the viewers
sympathy, since the cell’s lack of light is representative of the lack of good luck in Jake’s
life. When Jake starts to cry, the shadows cover his face and body but his arm and
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shoulder is still visible. This shows that he is not human but an animal and that he can’t
show his face to the world.
A close-up shot, also known as a medium shot, shoots from the waist up. This is
done to emphasize the upper body and the head. Close-up shots allow the audience to
focus on the details and expressions on the characters face.
When Jake begins to beat himself, the camera zooms in. The magnification of his face as
he bashed it against the wall in frustration absorbs the viewer’s attention and elevates the
importance of the moment, suggesting symbolic significance. Also, Scorsese wants the
audience to focus on the details, expression, and the reaction of Jake. Scorsese does not
use the extreme close-up because he wants to emphasize his arms and his head, not his
There are different aspects of sound in film; pitch, volume, tempo, texture,
dubbed sound, and synchronous sound. Sound sets the mood in the scene. High-pitch
sounds are stringent and produce a sense of tension in the listener.2
Sound is a very important factor of this scene because it shows pain and anger.
When Jake sits down there is silence for a few seconds. He starts to breathe heavier and
heavier to show that he is building anger inside of him. He stands up and starts to abuse
his body by banging his head and punching the wall. Sound effects are used to show that
Jake is using all his strength to release his emotions like he always does in the boxing
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In film costumes are designed to fit the character’s personality. By looking at the
characters clothing you can tell what where the character is from and the time of the
movie. Costumes can reveal class, self-image, and even psychological states. 3
Costuming in this scene is essential because Jake LaMotta’s costume has his
stomach sticking out with dirty clothes. He is no longer wealthy and he is suffering.
Jake is a nobody in society and he is forced to do stand up comedy which is not really
important to him. He lost his family, money, and fame. Another significant about Jake’s
costume is that Robert Deniro transformed his body to fit this scene to show the passage
of time and physical changes.
Scorsese makes the fighting scenes very interesting throughout the movie. Each
match is shown in a different way with different effects. Slow motion is used in the more
intense fights and nothing is used at all for the simple easy ones. Close-ups and camera
angles are used to show the opponent being beat badly. The effect that is used to show
Jake’s character is slow motion. Slow is motion is used when Jake is not satisfied with
what he is seeing in front of him. One example is the scene when the mafia leader comes
to talk to Jake before the fight. Jake see’s Vickie kiss the mafia leader goodbye in slow
motion which backs up the fact that he is angry. In the last fight though, Jake loses
badly. He gets beaten up by Robinson in the 13th round, the odd luck number.
In this scene sound gave set the mood of the fight. The background had a lot of
people screaming meaning that it was a crowded stadium. In the beginning of the fight,
Jake starts our strong with loud punching effects which showed that he was leading the
fight. After that round the bell rang and the two boxers rested. The sound of the bell is a
relieving thing to hear by a boxer. It gives the boxer time to rest and it also can help a
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person win the match. In the middle of the fight Jake takes a beating and he leans on the
ropes telling Ray Robinson to finish him. They both stare at each other and white noise
cuts through the crowd screaming. By doing this, Scorsese creates a tenser atmosphere.
When Sugar Ray Robinson makes his move the punching sound effects are back along
with camera flashes.
Slow motion is an effect used in “Raging Bull” (1980) to show what Jake
LaMotta despises. Slow motion is used to create suspense, dramatic effect, or in this
movie, the character’s emotion.
Slow motion is used along with the white noise to create a barrier between the
crowd and Jake. Time is slowed down to make it more suspenseful. Slow motion shows
that Jake is focusing on Sugar Ray Robinson and only him. After Sugar Ray Robinson
punches him the slow motion and sound breaks. Slow motion is also shown when the
blood is splattered everywhere to emphasize that his broken face.
There are a lot of close-ups to the blood falling to Jake’s feet which shows his
slow defeat. It tries to connect blood with his career because after the blood is
everywhere, you see blood dripping from the ropes. Symbolically the dripping blood
means that Jake’s career is over.
Editing is a technique that directors use to control the pace of the scene. The
faster the cuts, the faster the pace is. Editing is important because it also preserves the
fluidity of the scene.
There is a lot of editing and cuts when Sugar Ray Robinson punches Jake to
increase the pace. The fast cuts and the camera flashes create tension for Jake and the
audience. After the blood drips to Jake’s feet it cuts back to Sugar Ray Robinson, the
center of attention. Now that the audience is focused on Robinson, it is obvious that he
will definitely win the match.