A man changes his ideology against crime on the waterfront when faced with love.
On the Waterfront (1954)
Without boxing, regardless of being the champion, he completely self-destructs - doing irreparable damage to all his relationships. He verbally and physically brutalizes his wife and his brother (conveyed in part during the famous scene where De Niro broke Joe Pesci’s ribs, kicking him while he crawled across the floor.)
Like the beginning of the film, where La Motta would try to walk as close as he could to that line, taking as much abuse as he could, leaving just enough room to win the fight, La Motta would walk the same line with his relationships. He abuses them as much as he can without losing them. Unfortunately for him, he was not aware of the receding line of tolerance until he drove everyone away. He could no longer bring them back with his excessive apologies.
In prison La Motta is forced to face himself as the one that has been driving the wedge all along.
After prison, La Motta finds himself in the dressing room of a strip club. He practices Marlon Brando’s famous On the Waterfront monologue, before heading to the small stage that he will share in front of the very few drunk and abusive patrons. He wanted to exert control to force people to stay close to him, but instead drove everyone away.
La Motta is completely alone by the movie’s end, as was Scorsese after New York, New York and The Last Waltz.
“You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.”
Charlie: Look, kid, I - how much you weigh, son? When you weighed one hundred and sixty-eight pounds you were beautiful. You coulda been another Billy Conn, and that skunk we got you for a manager, he brought you along too fast.
Terry: It wasn’t him, Charley, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, “Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.” You remember that? “This ain’t your night”! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money.
Charlie: Oh I had some bets down for you. You saw some money.
Terry: You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Charley.