While the movie Raging Bull clearly centered around the volatile male character of Jake La Motta (played by Robert De Niro), it would be difficult to overlook the way women were portrayed in the film.
Even focusing on just Vickie, La Motta’s woman of interest throughout the film, there were numerous instances of physical and verbal abuse along with jealous accusations and demands to know every detail of how her day was spent. While La Motta was seen as this big and powerful man (less so as the film approached the end), Vickie was shown to be much weaker. She was easily won over as a 15-year-old by the pool by La Motta and his fancy car, despite that he was already married. Once she became his wife, and the primary victim of La Motta’s swift temper, she was subjected to order to ‘shut up’ or ‘go over there’, even when she was just trying to make a suggestion to a situation being discussed right in her presence. However, as a women in the 1940s and 50s, it would not be her place to object these demands. La Motta’s abuse persists and becomes increasingly physical, prompting Vickie to begin packing a suitcase after one particularly bad evening. However, when La Motta hugs her and demonstrates his wish that she stay, she gives in without much struggle. Although long overdue, I was glad to see her finally leave him at the end of the movie.
To me, even more interesting than Vickie’s relationship with La Motta was how she was introduced into the film. She is first shown to us as just a pretty blonde girl, pool side, through an eventual close up via slow zoom-in. Following shots show her talking with the people around her, but we do not hear her voice, symbolic of the notion that women (as is sometimes said about children) are better off seen and not heard. The idea of Vickie being silent returns somewhat later on each time La Motta orders Vickie to ‘shut up’. It is not until I believe her third appearance that we finally hear Vickie talk. However during her first speaking scene, she is clothed in a white dress, symbolizing purity and innocence because, of course, she is only 15. It is through these variety of methods that all women in the film are presented as subordinate to the men.