Tony Soprano as Jake LaMotta, The Raging Bull ?
Very interesting take on Tony Soprano by Dean Barnett at Hugh Hewitt’s blog. It really makes sense.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
WARNING – “SOPRANOS” PLOT SPOILERS GALORE AHEAD!!!!
Last night, I had the great pleasure and honor of sitting in for Hugh. The audience is wonderful, and the amazing Generalissimo makes it easy. We covered a range of topics, but by the end of the show I was practically pleading for someone to call in and talk about “The Sopranos.” The last caller did, and she and I together locked in on the same scene from Sunday night that was a small one but perhaps the greatest in series’ history.
The scene I’m talking about will forever be known as “The Raging Bull scene”. Tony, Silvio and Bobby were eating lunch, making preparations for going to war with New York. Suddenly, over the speakers, the classical score to “Raging Bull” began to play. Tony and Sil instantly recognized the soundtrack, and began pantomiming the opening credits to “Raging Bull” where Robert De Niro as Jake Lamotta dances around the ring in slow, almost balletic motion, shadow boxing with his demons as he gets ready for a fight. As Tony and Sil pantomimed the scene, they threw punches in slow motion, laughing, sharing a bit of their heritage.
“Raging Bull” is one of the finest movies ever made and perhaps Martin Scorsese’s greatest achievement. Its protagonist, Jake LaMotta, was a great boxer haunted by demons. Once a lean champion, he grew fat and spiraled into self destruction only to call on his reserves of character and strength to save himself from total ruin at the last moment. The film’s most memorable scene showed LaMotta fighting the more gifted Sugar Ray Robinson for the sixth and final time. It was perhaps boxing’s greatest rivalry, even though LaMotta won only one of their little wars.
In their final fight, Robinson gave LaMotta a thrashing that “Raging Bull’s” magnificent cinematography immortalized. The frame where LaMotta’s blood sprays the first row of the crowd is the stuff of cinematic history. The ref steps in to end the fight, and a beaten but still defiant LaMotta yells repeatedly at the unemotional yet malevolent Robinson, “Ray! I never went down, Ray.”
“Raging Bull” shares with “The Sopranos” an identical overarching theme. At their heart, both are about very bad men who do very bad things and who have limitless destructive appetites. Both protagonists, though, hunger for redemption more than anything else.
IT CAN’T BE A COINCIDENCE THAT “The Sopranos” cited “Raging Bull” at this moment. The characters have mentioned Scorsese several times this season, and Tony Soprano shares much with the LaMotta depicted by “Marty” (as members of the Soprano crew invariably refer to Scorsese). By the end of the movie, LaMotta had lost virtually everything – his wife, his family, his money, his physique. In one heartbreaking scene, LaMotta repeatedly bangs his head against the wall of a jail cell, wondering why he did the things he did. But ultimately, Jake LaMotta never went down.
All great pieces of art engage in foreshadowing. In this season’s first episode, Tony and Bobby mused about whether you hear the killers coming when you got whacked. We knew as they discussed the subject that at least one of them would know the answer by the end of the series.
The Raging Bull scene had to be a piece of foreshadowing. Tony Soprano shares much with Jake LaMotta, from their bloated figures to their coarseness to their cruelty. They also have positive attributes. Each in his own way is introspective. Both are strong men, and both are capable of love and kindness. These are the redeeming qualities that make us root for them, even they both are ugly sociopaths.
When “The Sopranos” channeled “Raging Bull,” I figured it meant two things – Tony would suffer, but Tony would not go down. He has certainly suffered this season. In addition to losing Bobby and Sil to Phil Leotardo’s assassins this week, his family life has shattered. In a way, Tony’s own actions, inactions and miscalculations, like Jake LaMotta’s, have left him alone. He unwisely promoted Christopher, then killed him. His only two trusted and remotely capable associates are dead. His son will never be the man his father hoped he would. His daughter has abandoned her ambitions and is marrying the son of a mobster. His wife is a burden. Even his therapist dumped him.
The question remains whether Tony’s suffering is through. Have we seen him hit his rock bottom yet? In “Raging Bull,” LaMotta lost everything before winning a hard-earned measure of redemption. Will Tony’s rally begin at the start of the season finale, or will we see him sink lower still? I think like Jake LaMotta, Tony Soprano will go on, chastened, wiser, sadder but having at last achieved a small measure of inner peace. Also like LaMotta, he will find some of the redemption that he seeks. But lest you think we’re in for a happy ending, remember this: Tony is such a bad man who has done so many bad things, he is not fully redeemable. Just like Jake LaMotta.
Oh, one other thing. The villainous mobster in “Raging Bull” was played by Frank Vincent, the same actor who plays Phil Leotardo on “The Sopranos.” Things didn’t end particularly well for Vincent’s character in “Raging Bull.”
I’ll have to watch that episode, "The Blue Comet", again. hmmmm