As part of my mission to watch all the Oscar-nominated movies released during my lifetime, I made it all the way through Rocky the other day.
[Warning: Post contains spoilers… for a movie released in 1976.]
The plot of Rocky goes something like this:
Rocky is a down-on-his-luck former boxer in Philly who had talent back in the day but now makes his living roughing up deadbeats for the local loan shark and fighting occasional matches. He has a crush on the shy and socially awkward girl who works at the pet shop around the corner.
Enter Apollo Creed, a boxing champ scheduled for a big match in Philly. Apollo’s opponent backs out at the last minute due to some contrived plot point that I can’t remember, so Apollo comes up with the idea of fighting a local guy instead. Great publicity, and he gets to keep his title. Brilliant.
Rocky (obviously it’s Rocky; otherwise there’d be no plot) ends up being the lucky bastard chosen to get publicly pummeled by Apollo Creed. He knows there’s no chance he’ll win, but he kinda shrugs and then starts chugging raw eggs and jogging constantly.
Rocky trains anyway. Even though there’s no hope. Even though the end result of the fight will be the same whether he hired the best trainer in the world or sat at home eating pizza until the match. Even though all his efforts will make no difference whatsoever, and he absolutely knows it.
He trains anyway.
As he says to Adrian– the pet shop girl, because of course they get together– losing the fight doesn’t matter. Getting the shit beat outta him doesn’t matter either. “All I wanna do is go the distance,” says Rocky. Still be standing when the bell rings. That’s it.
So he trains anyway, even though everyone rolls their collective eyes at him. (Except Adrian, who says, hey, life’s funny. You never know. Because that’s what these types of girlfriends always say in movies like this.)
Once he’s in the ring and blood starts flying, it’s clear that Rocky’s made a huge mistake. Rocky probably thinks so too. Apollo’s earlier estimate of taking Rocky out in 3 rounds looks overly generous. Adrian hides in the locker room for most of the fight.
But damned if Rocky doesn’t keep pulling himself back off the ropes and up off the mat. Damned if he doesn’t take the beating of a lifetime and keep coming back for more. He even gets in a few brutal shots back at Apollo, a guy who hasn’t had to work this hard in years.
Rocky doesn’t win, but he does go the distance. He is still standing when the bell rings 15 rounds later. The judges declare a draw; the crowd loses their minds; all Rocky cares about is finding Adrian. The end.
Just like Rocky the boxer, Rocky the movie went on to kick serious ass the Oscars that year, taking home Best Picture over heavy-hitter classics like All The President’s Men, Network, and Taxi Driver. The fact that Rocky (the movie) won was surprising on many levels, not least of which is because Rocky (the boxer) is a goodhearted optimist, and the 70s were all about the gritty anti-hero flicks.
And then there’s the star of Rocky itself: Sylvester Stallone, a dude born paralyzed in the lower left of his face without a single major role to his credit. The only reason he landed the lead in Rocky is because he also wrote the script– and then repeatedly refused to sell the rights until the producers agreed to let him star.
Continuing to turn down offers was a pretty ballsy move for a guy so broke he had to sell his dog. Stallone had big dreams, though, so he trained anyway. He believed in his script, and stuck to his guns. When the studio bought the script and reluctantly cut him a paltry $35,000 check for his now-iconic role, Stallone promptly dropped $15k of that cash into tracking down and buying back his dog.
No matter how hopeless the future seems– how stuck you feel, how lost, how outmatched and outgunned– train anyway. Because you never know what’s around the next corner. Giving Apollo Creed a run for his money. Selling a movie script that launches your career. Finding your dog again.
You never know. So train anyway.