November 5, 2013

Fighting the Good Fight: ROCKY BALBOA

"'s not how hard you can hit; it's how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward..."

Yesterday was not a good day - several small events (including a bureaucratic snafu and a canceled phone interview) had me feeling totally defeated. Although the frustration and sense of defeat linger, they're not as bad as they were yesterday....when I felt like just giving up. So I decided to kick back after class, relax, and watch Rocky Balboa.

I'm glad I did - it's not just a great addition to the series, but it's a near-perfect sequel to the original film.

Taking place in the present day, we see Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) adjusting to a life of...well, a life. His wife has passed on, his son is working at a high-end New York firm, and he owns a restaurant where he regales patrons with boxing tales, and we get a sense that Rocky is...missing something. Something which could give his life boxing. Maybe he'll do a few local fights, just to show that he hasn't lost it - yeah, that's the ticket....

Enter Mason Dixon (Anthony Trevane), an eager young fighter who wins easily....but only because his opponents aren't necessarily that good. He's eager to prove himself, to show that he's not taking the easy way out. When a computer simulation shows Rocky Balboa defeating him in a fight, he decides to put on an exhibition to show that he has the "eye of the tiger"....

(Sorry - wrong Rocky sequel).

Written and directed by Stallone, Rocky Balboa parallels the original movie in many ways, but ultimately, focuses on how both Rocky and Dixon face their own inner challenges. As the quote which prefaces this post suggests, this is more than a movie about "beating the odds" - it is (to use a cliche) how not to allow the odds to beat you. Although we see his world crumbling around him (one key sequence has Rocky and Paulie (Burt Young) touring old haunts from the original film), Rocky remains adamant in finding truly human, tender moments - he reunites with a character from the first film, now grown up. He remains loyal to a former opponent. And yet, when the inevitable training scenes come, they never feel tacked on - this is a movie which is more about fighting inner demons than another boxer.

In handling the emotions of its main characters - Balboa and (to a lesser extent) Dixon, this becomes a great character study in facing oneself. When they enter the ring, even though it's "only an exhibition", both men have something to prove. In a way, Rocky Balboa serves not only as a capstone to the original film, but it manages to almost obliterate the other sequels from memory. It reinforces the themes of the original film, and has a great emotional tone that never feels cloying, manipulative, or counterfeit. The end of the film may not be the expected, traditional ending, but somehow, it just feels right.

(And no, I will not use the fan cliche "the feels". One does not use "the feels" when discussing Rocky Balboa)

Full disclosure: the original Rocky had an impact on me as a child - so much so that I had a Rocky poster on my wall for years. Being well-into-adulthood, Rocky Balboa had a similar effect - it reminded me that some goals are worth pursuing despite the drawbacks. Even in the midst of unfavorable odds, sometimes the bravest, smartest thing a person can do is not simply surrender, but get back up and reenter the fray. That character comes not from suffering, but from persistence

Oh, and there's boxing in this, as well.

See this. Now.

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