Plot: Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a sweet-natured but not very bright boxer and small-time enforcer for a loan-shark. He has a crush on Adrian (Talia Shire), the painfully shy sister of his friend, Pauly (Burt Young). Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is the heavyweight champion, whose big upcoming fight is canceled when his opponent is injured. Creed and his promoters decide to give an unknown a shot at the title, and pick Rocky.
Rocky has never really committed to anything before, but this opportunity galvanizes him. He works with Mickey (Burgess Meredith) a demanding trainer. He takes Adrian on a date, and they fall in love. When her brother becomes furious over their relationship, she moves in with Rocky. Rocky knows he cannot beat Creed; his goal is to “go the distance,” to conduct himself with class and dignity in the ring and still be standing at the end of the fight. Apollo, sure of himself and busy marketing the fight, neglects his own training. Apollo wins, but it is a split decision. Rocky goes the distance. Surrounded by fans and the press, he bellows over and over “Adrian!”
Discussion: In Rocky’s first fight, we get a glimpse of his potential. But it is also clear he has failed to make a commitment to anything. Mickey wants to throw him out of the gym because he doesn’t take boxing seriously enough. It is less an insult to boxing than an insult to himself. He takes pride in small things, like his pet turtles, and the fact that his nose has never been broken. When he gets the call from Apollo, he assumes that he is going to be invited to be a sparring partner for the champion, the greatest honor he could imagine for himself.
But Apollo’s impetuous offer gives Rocky a chance to see himself differently. That offer does for him what Paul does for Billie in “Born Yesterday,” what Miss Moffat does for Morgan in “The Corn is Green,” or Obi-Wan does for Luke in “Star Wars.” Rocky has a chance to think of himself as someone who can hold his own with the world champion, and once he has that image of himself, it is just a matter of taking the steps to get there. That image also gives him the courage to risk getting close to Adrian. Rocky also gives Adrian a chance to see herself differently. He was told when he was young that he was not smart, so he should concentrate on his physical ability; she was told she was not pretty, and should concentrate on her mental ability. Each of them sees in the other what no one else did. He sees how pretty she is; she sees how bright he is; each sees the other as loveable, as no one has before. This, as much as anything, is what allows both of them to bloom.
Rocky is realistic about his goal. He does not need to win. He just needs to acquit himself with dignity, to show that he is in the same league as the champion. In order to achieve that goal, he will risk giving everything he has, risk even the small pride of an unbroken nose. He develops enough self-respect to risk public disgrace. This is a big issue for teenagers — adolescence has been characterized as the years in which everything centers around the prayer, “God, don’t let me be embarrassed today.” Rocky begins as someone afraid to give his best in case it is not good enough, and becomes someone who suspects that his best is enough to achieve his goals, and is willing to test himself to find out.
It is worth taking a look at Creed as well. Like the hare in the Aesop fable, he underestimates his opponent. He is so sure of himself, and so busy working on the business side of the fight that he comes to the fight unprepared.
It is especially meaningful that the action behind the scenes paralleled that in the movie. Stallone, a small-time actor, was offered a great deal of money for this script, which he wrote. But he insisted instead on selling it for a negligible sum, provided that he play the lead. The entire movie was made for less than $1 million. Stallone beat even longer odds than Rocky did when the movie went on to win the Oscar as Best Picture. Stallone also became only the third person in history (after Charles Chaplin and Orson Welles) to be nominated for both Best Actor and Best Screenplay.
Questions for Kids:
· Why did Mickey want to throw Rocky out of the gym?
· Why didn’t Rocky have higher aspirations, until after he got the offer from Apollo?
· How is Apollo like the hare in the fable about the tortoise and the hare? Why is it so hard for Rocky and Adrian to get to know one another?
Connections: There are four sequels, all increasingly garish and cartoonish. They are barely more than remakes, and are only for die-hard fans.