Man & Boy
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