Rocky, by Albert W. Vogt III

With the imminent release of Creed III, I thought it would be nice to go back to where it all began with Rocky (1976).  It is one of those movies that many people are familiar with, even if they have not seen it.  The name has become synonymous with the underdog triumphing over all odds.  There is the music, often used to motivate oneself in difficult situations.  In Philadelphia, the city in which it is set, there is a statue of the title character (Sylvester Stallone) on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, depicting an iconic moment from the film.  These are all aspects of it of which people are aware.  It has been decades since I had seen it, and I could remember little outside of the clichés I had just given you.  What I got was a lot more than I expected.

Did you know that Rocky’s real name is Robert Balboa?  Not that it matters because the first image you see is of Jesus and the Eucharist.  Now that it has this practicing Catholic’s attention, the camera pans down to a boxing match in which Rocky is brawling with another local fighter at the Resurrection Athletic Club, another aspect to warm my heart.  Rocky gets knocked around but rallies at the end to win the fight.  Battered and bruised, he leaves the venue and walks home to his less-than-humble Philadelphia apartment.  The next morning it becomes apparent that boxing is more of a “side-hustle,” as the kids these days would call it.  He makes most of his cash collecting money for local criminals.  In between, he goes to the local gym run by Michael “Mickey” Goldmill (Burgess Meredith).  Mickey does not think much of Rocky, feeling the young man wasted all his potential in pursuing other activities than professional fisticuffs.  Still, there is one thing that Rocky is pursuing that involves seemingly pure intentions, and that is Adriana “Adrian” Pennino (Talia Shire).  She is a clerk at a nearby pet store.  You know the kind, the ones with the “doggie in the window?”  Well, his rough, rough advances to her are not met with any success, no matter how much he wags his tail.  Sorry, I could not resist.  She is shy, but he is persistent.  He gets a boost from Adrian’s brother Paulie (Burt Young).  Paulie is one of the guys from whom Rocky had tried to collect.  Fearing what Rocky might have to do to him, he arranges a date with her on Thanksgiving.  This sequence is kind of awkward.  Adrian, being the shy person she is, is not keen on the idea of going out with Rocky.  So, to convince her, Paulie tosses the turkey she had been preparing out the back window?  And then she decides to go?  And while Rocky does something cute and romantic by convincing a closed ice-skating rink to let them onto the ice, a favorite activity of hers, the creepiness returns when afterwards he convinces her to come inside his place.  At least it appears that they do not have sex.  So, by this point, you might be wondering, hey, is this not supposed to be a boxing movie?  It is, and around this time we get a reminder of this fact when we get to the current world champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).  He is in Philadelphia to fight his next title bout.  The current contender is unexpectedly unable to step into the ring.  Conveniently, so are the next few people on the list.  Wondering what to do, Apollo comes up with an unconventional solution.  Citing the American Dream of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps as the saying goes, or glove laces I suppose, he says that he will offer the bout to a local fighter.  The boxer he lands on is the “Italian Stallion,” Rocky.  Rocky, at first, thinks that he is being called upon solely to be Apollo’s sparring partner.  It is not until he is in the office of Apollo’s agent, George “Miles” Jergens (Thayer David), that Rocky finds out that he is being given a shot at the title, and a substantial amount of money win or lose.  To him, it looks like he is being set up to lose, just like anyone else from his neighborhood.  What changes his mind is a confrontation with Mickey, who comes to Rocky’s apartment to offer to be the challenger’s manager.  Rocky takes this time to unload on Mickey all the problems he has been facing, with Mickey being the face of all those who had doubted him.  Upon completion of his tantrum, Rocky agrees to Mickey’s tutelage.  This is where we get the familiar training montage.  The old man I used to live with once told me lines to that tune we all can say along with these scenes.  Think of it now, and with the melody, sing “Punching meat, suckin’ eggs.”  That pretty much sums up this sequence.  We get to the eve of the fight, and Rocky travels to the arena to get a glimpse of where the match will happen.  He then returns home, overwhelmed and not sure he has any chance of winning, to be comforted by Adrian.  She is with him, too, on the night of the fight.  The result is a brawl, with each opponent knocking down his opposite in the first round.  By the time it gets to the fifteenth, they are battered to a degree that their faces are almost unrecognizable.  In these last few minutes, Rocky is sent to the canvas once more, only to get up and nearly return the favor before the bout is ended by the referees.  Not waiting to hear that he had lost in a split decision, he begins calling out to Adrian from inside the ring, another well-known scene.  They declare their love for another, and that is our ending.

Rocky is a lot of things.  It is a love story.  It is a movie about crime and poverty in Philadelphia.  Oh yeah, and there is boxing, too.  As I mentioned at the beginning of the plot synopsis, the first thing you see in it caught this Catholic’s eye.  In a sense, this image of Jesus sets the tone for the rest of the film.  Rocky is being set up as a sacrificial lamb, representing everything for which his impoverished area of Philadelphia stands.  It is also telling that this image is also holding the Eucharist.  Catholics do not take everything in the Bible literally.  For example, we do not believe the Earth is only five thousand years old.  At the same time, we also adhere to things that Jesus directly told us to do.  At the Last Supper, he gave of His flesh and blood and commanded His disciples to do the same thing in memory of Him.  This is Communion, and it’s the culmination of the Mass, and why we go.  I do not possess the proper vocabulary to describe the awesome blessing that is, or what it means to me.  In a less grand scale, Rocky is offering his flesh and blood for the people from his neighborhood, but most especially for Adrian.  This is evident by his cry for her at the end, like a soul crying out for its creator.  If only more Christians had that same kind of passion for our God, what a world this would be.

It is also nice to see the other bits of Catholic culture that dot Rocky’s neighborhood.  It warms my Catholic heart to see the statues of Mary that dot the streets.  Rocky also prays before his fight with Apollo, and Crosses himself as the match is about to begin.  These are things that I notice as a Catholic, but there is plenty to enjoy in other ways.  If you have not seen this movie by now, I would give it a shot.


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