Everything I know about boxing and boxing films could be written on a gum shield but I love this film.
It shows how the past can give you strength to move into the future and the future can embrace your past. This is not the all too common fantasy of a radical new start. This is about feeling kicked out of the continuum of life and finding a way back in, to bring all the links of your life together again.
At the start of the film, Rocky is carrying out his daily ritual of getting up and going to sit at his wife’s graveside. Adrian has died a few years ago. In the DVD commentary, Sylvester Stallone says that Rocky’s back yard, where we see him do a couple of pull-ups, has only tools and debris; “there’s nothing fun there, and Rocky is part of the debris.”
Rocky visits the graveside so often and stays so long that he keeps a folding chair in the boughs of a nearby tree. The graveyard is vast and Rocky seems like the only living thing in it, though he’s only going through the motions of being alive.
Then inch by inch, things happen that show he can’t stay frozen in time forever. He has a grown-up son who is unhappy with his life but doesn’t feel he can talk to Rocky about it. Rocky’s brother-in-law Paulie, finds memories of Adrian uncomfortable and struggles to be around a man so deeply in mourning. And there seems to be a growing gulf between the respect that the boxing world still has for the former champion and the respect that he has for himself.
Into the mix comes Little Marie, who is not a romantic interest but someone from the neighbourhood, around the time he met Adrian. Her teenage son is the first thing to re-ignite Rocky’s interest in life. He wants to help the boy and in doing so, gains a firm ally in Little Marie.
At one point Rocky is battling ageist bureaucrats and says, “If you’re willing to go through all the battling you gotta go through to get where you wanna get, who’s got the right to stop you?” The same sentiment is echoed later in different circumstances when Little Marie says, “you don’t move aside for nobody until you’re ready to move.”
It is a boxing film so there has to be a big fight. During the fight, when Rocky looks out into the crowd, he sees his son, Little Marie and her son, and once, an image of Adrian. Paulie’s at ringside of course. Loss has knocked Rocky down and this fight is his way of getting up again, drawing strength from both the past and the future.
Stallone is quoted as once saying of the character he first created in 1975, “He has a good nature, although nature has not been particularly good to him.” This Rocky, thirty years older, is still that man but with real depth and maturity. The goodness in him is a lovely thing to watch and if the weight-lifting seems a little unlikely in a man of his age, I still can’t think of a better metaphor for what widows and widowers have to do. Widowhood doesn’t care how old we are.
Available on DVD and through internet-based film rentals
Words by ClaireNow
Picture by Caz4Cromarty
First published in Widows & Widowers magazine, Issue 3