A small-time boxer with a mixed-results fighting record attempts to put forward his best effort in a fight with the heavyweight champion and to thereby earn a sense of deserved respect.
Writer(s): Sylvester Stallone
Director: John G. Avildsen
Production Co.(s): Chartoff-Winkler Productions; United Artists
The Story on the Screen
In the film Rocky, the main character, Rocky Balboa, is a small-time boxer with a mixed-results fighting record who works as a debt collector for a Philadelphia loan shark. When the current heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed, finds himself without an opponent for an upcoming match, he decides to give a chance to an unknown fighter as a way of connecting the fight promotion to the U.S. Bicentennial celebration and invoking the idea that America is the "land of opportunity." After examining the list of available candidates, he chooses Rocky.
The main character, Rocky Balboa, is a small-time boxer with a mixed-results record who is granted the chance to fight the heavyweight champion of the world.
Rocky accepts the challenge, not only because it allows him to stand in the ring with a great boxer whose skills he truly admires but because it presents him with the opportunity to gain a treasure that he has never before possessed—a sense of deserved respect. As he remarks privately on the evening before the fight, he does not hope to win the boxing match; he hopes only to do what no boxer before him has done—to last the entire 15 rounds against Apollo without being knocked out. These personal stakes at the core of his story are what make it engaging and infuse it with power. He is not a brash young man attempting to achieve glory for its own sake; he is a humble young man attempting to feel worthy of respect.
Rocky accepts the challenge, in large part because it allows him the chance to gain a sense of deserved respect.
Behind the Scenes
From the moment that Rocky appears at the news conference announcing the fight, he engages in efforts most of which are aligned with his type of intent as a gain character. When he exercises to prepare his body for the fight, for example, it is not to return to a state of health that he enjoyed previously and lost; it is to attain a high level of conditioning that he has never known before, so that he will be in the best shape of his life to meet the test of fighting Apollo Creed. Likewise, the knowledge about boxing that he gains from his trainer, Mickey, represents a necessary enrichment of his skills.
Rocky's gain intent informs all of the side stories, as well as his main endeavor.
His side stories, too, are filled with gain efforts—for example, in his romantic pursuit of the shy young pet-store employee, Adrian. Her affection for him is a treasure that he does not possess at the start of the story, and his attempts to attain it—for example, by telling jokes or taking her ice skating—constitute gain efforts. And when he acquires her affection, he not only gains a specific treasure that he has intentionally sought; he renders himself stronger emotionally and better prepared for battle.
His overall intent, however, is simply to gain a justifiable sense of deserved respect.
There are many ways to attempt to achieve respect. Some involve praise-worthy actions; others do not. The path that Rocky chooses involves hard work and humility and is one that the storytellers appear to consider advisable; therefore, the proposition of the story may be aptly stated:
- One should attempt to gain respect through hard work and humility, because success in the attempt will provide him with a robust sense of self-worth and render him admirable in the eyes of society.
When the bell rings to signal the end of the fight, both boxers are bloody and battle-weary, and Rocky has proven himself to be an opponent far more formidable than Apollo ever imagined. Rocky loses the match by a split decision, but by making a noble attempt to present himself well in the battle, he succeeds in gaining the treasure that he has sought throughout the story—the justifiable sense of deserved respect. And because we-the-audience admire his endeavor, we are pleased with his success; therefore, Rocky clocks in solidly as a succeed/pleased story.
Aspects to Admire Especially
As Chapter 9 of Discovering the Soul of Your Story reveals, every thematic proposition revolves around a central issue that serves as a matter of concern for most of the characters in the story. In particular, each character in the core ensemble tends to shine a unique light on the issue and illuminate it from his or her perspective.
In Rocky, the issue of "deserving respect" pervades the story and colors nearly every aspect of its telling. It is as much a matter of concern for the timid pet-store girl, Adrian, as it is for Rocky himself—and for her brother Paulie, who rails against feeling a loss of respect as her relationship with Rocky develops. It is also part of what prompts Mickey to appeal to Rocky for the chance to train him to fight with the champion.
The opposing characters, too, demonstrate perspectives regarding the issue. It lies, for example, at the heart of Apollo's unwillingness to take the fight as seriously as his trainer would like. Apollo sees nothing in Rocky deserving of his respect. The trainer, on the other hand, senses trouble because Rocky is left-handed—the type of fighter who sometimes gives Apollo trouble—as well as dedicated and powerful. The trainer respects Rocky's potential as a worthy adversary; Apollo does not.
For More Information
For details regarding the concepts and terms used in this analysis, refer to the Discovering the Soul of Your Story overview video and the glossary. For more story analyses like this, visit the Story Analyses page (or use the search tools in the sidebar).