Man & Boy

Esquire (UK) - - Contributors -

gen­til­ity and nice­ness. Many of us even dis­ap­prove of box­ing and think that the punch­ing part of the film in some way un­der­mines its philo­soph­i­cal in­tegrity

And we sneer at Sylvester Stal­lone, too, as if he were stupid. But not only is he not stupid — he wrote Rocky, don’t for­get — he is Rocky. Rocky’s story is Stal­lone’s story, and that is why it is so im­por­tant. Stal­lone was a job­bing ac­tor and se­cu­rity guard who had done a bit of soft porn and wasn’t get­ting any­thing but the odd walk-on role as a hood­lum, be­cause he was a stock­ily built Ital­ian-Amer­i­can and sounded a bit dumb. So he wrote the script of Rocky and when the stu­dios went wild for it and tried to cast a fa­mous star in the lead role (Burt Reynolds was first choice), Stal­lone said, “No, it’s my film, you cast me or it doesn’t get made.”

He risked ev­ery­thing, risked los­ing the big cheque the script would have brought him and the sal­va­tion from his penury that it would have meant (it is said that he had only $106 in his bank ac­count when he turned down the of­fer of a $300,000 buy-out), to cling on to the one thing he be­lieved in.

Do you see how that makes him the Rocky of writ­ing? De­fi­ance in the face of mock­ery and ex­ploita­tion, to­tal will to suc­ceed, ut­terly true to him­self and his vi­sion of the world. That is why, as a seden­tary pen-pusher with no de­sire to punch any­one, I have al­ways been able to watch Rocky and say to my­self, “This is about me.” And it is why Sam will be able to as well.

There is so much for Sam to learn from Rocky (the film and the man) if he finds him­self with no real fa­ther to look to (be­cause his own stupid fa­ther walked un­der a bus). Look how Rocky over­comes his shy­ness with girls to woo Adrian. How re­spect­ful he is of her, al­ways. How he calls to her from the ring af­ter the match, in his finest hour and also the hour of his de­feat, is never un­faith­ful to her and re­mains de­voted to her in the later films (spoiler alert) long af­ter her death.

How he re­spects the great­ness of Apollo de­spite the taunt­ing. How he wants only to sur­vive 15 rounds, to prove to him­self he can do it. He has no thought of win­ning or of glory. Just of be­ing the best that he can be, in his own eyes. Do ev­ery­thing in that spirit, Sam, and you will be fine.

Watch Rocky train. Watch him run at dawn, in baggy greys and black Con­verse, through an empty city, then come back and drink five raw eggs from a pint glass. Look at those one-arm press-ups, punched out against a cold black cityscape. You can do that, Sammy! Come on! Put that Rocky mu­sic on your head­phones and those bat­tered run­ning shoes on your feet, stretch a lit­tle, watch your breath con­dense in the foggy dawn and then get out there and run!

I want Sam to keep watch­ing that first Rocky film un­til he knows enough about life to cry his eyes out at the end of the 14th round, when Apollo thinks he’s won but then sees a bat­tered, bleed­ing Rocky climb­ing to his feet and rais­ing his gloves to beckon him back into the mid­dle and he shakes his head be­cause he just can­not be­lieve the brav­ery of the man.

And when he does that — the cry­ing, not the fight­ing — Sam will be a man.

And he’ll be ready for Rocky II. And that one he will watch un­til he finds the cru­cial cry-point there as well. Which is when Adrian, who has been in a coma since the birth of their son, Rocky Jr, fi­nally comes round in the hos­pi­tal and Rocky prom­ises to re­spect her wishes and not to take the re­match with Creed. But then she says, “Do one thing for me.” And he says, “What?” And she beck­ons him down to­wards her mouth and she whis­pers, “Win!”

And he looks at her, as­ton­ished. And she says again, “Win!” And Burgess Mered­ith, as Mickey the trainer, stands up and shouts, “What are we waitin’ fer?” And we cut to the train­ing mon­tage and we’re cry­ing and cry­ing be­cause this is what true love means, true de­vo­tion to your man and his dreams… and then we go out and we put that Rocky mu­sic on our head­phones and those bat­tered train­ers on our feet and we run. And also do a load of press-ups (I can still do 25 one-handed, even now, and some­times do them at lit­er­ary fes­ti­vals or in TV in­ter­views to show peo­ple that to write prop­erly you need strong arms).

And then, yes, there is Rocky III, which is less great. But still good for ho­mo­erotic danc­ing in the sea and mo­ti­va­tional train­ing se­quences. And Rocky IV, which is less good still, but pow­er­ful on death and friend­ship and, um, the end of com­mu­nism. And then V, which is nailed-on shite but does set up the as­ton­ish­ingly Rocky-like come­back to great­ness in Rocky VI (also known as Rocky Bal­boa).

Watch­ing that fi­nal Rocky movie (be­fore the in­cep­tion of the Creed se­ries, which will no doubt go on as long) Sam will see Rocky Jr, em­bar­rassed by his fa­ther and his fa­ther’s name, be­rat­ing him and the world for his own fail­ures and lack of op­por­tu­nity and he will hear Rocky’s im­mor­tal sum­ma­tion of ev­ery­thing the films are about:

“The world ain’t all sun­shine and rain­bows,” he tells his son. “It’s a very mean and nasty place. And I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there per­ma­nently if you let it. You, me or no­body is go­ing to hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep mov­ing for­wards…”

It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep mov­ing for­wards. That is all Sam needs to know, and all there is on earth to know.

That, and the im­por­tance of press-ups for main­tain­ing a pow­er­ful up­per body.

Rocky has no thought of win­ning or of glory. Just of be­ing the best that he can be, in his own eyes. Do ev­ery­thing in

that spirit, Sam, and you will be fine

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