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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Rocky Balboa, Part 2

I had a feeling a couple of weeks ago when I wrote a post about Rocky Balboa that it might develop into at least a two-parter. I’ve seen and experienced a few things lately that make me want to return to the subject. So, off I go…

People often ask me why I like to see movies—particularly from the Rocky series—so many times. I usually tell them I do it because I like to pick up little things I missed the other times I saw the movie. And my focus is different each time. The first time I see a movie, I notice the characters and what they are experiencing—but I don’t notice their individual reactions so much as their collective actions. The next time or two I see a movie, I tend to notice room conditions, weather, books lying around, backdrops, music, and much more. After I’ve grasped those subtleties for all they are worth, I begin to notice things in individual characters I never noticed before—glances, facial expressions, sighs, body language, and if an actor or actress is really good, I feel like he or she draws me in and gives me a peek at humanity that most of us don’t show each other in real life—the tears, the disappointing stares, the fist-pumping triumphs after opening a piece of mail that bears good news. It makes me feel more human because I can relate to what the characters are experiencing.

Sheila O’Malley has written a couple of stunning posts recently about the original Rocky movie. She rented it and has been devouring it scene by scene. Watching it over and over. Here’s one snippet from a post that nails what I referred to in the above paragraph:

Then I spent a glorious amount of time cherry-picking scenes I wanted to see again and again and again. Moments. Flashes of a look across Stallone's face. Tiny moments. The reality of the behavior. How real the fight looks. And it's all choreographed. Incredible. (Choreographed by Stallone, of course). Amazing. But the whole movie has that feel of reality. Things seem to be really happening as opposed to being staged ... or planned out. The movie is a little bit messy. In a good way. Like life is sometimes messy. Like the first kiss. It's ... Who can describe the SYMPHONY of experience that is a first kiss? Watch her. Watch her side of things. Then watch his side. He will not let her get away because he knows she wants it. But he can't move too quickly or too insistently because it will freak her out.

That’s exactly the eye for detail that I’m talking about! A person can’t possibly catch all of that by simply watching a movie once or twice—which, in my opinion, is the reason for watching a movie. If I simply wanted to be entertained for a couple of hours, I’d find something else to do. If I want to feel more alive while I’m being entertained, I’ll watch a movie over and over until I can pick out details like Sheila did. Here’s another link to a lengthier post that Sheila wrote about the movie. Take your time with this post. It’s rich with detail.

One of the scenes that really moves me in the latest installment of the series is when Rocky tells Paulie: “I think there’s still some stuff in the basement.” I love that line! It says so much about who Rocky is—a mild-mannered, loveable character who, from the naked eye, seems like he’s figured out a way to be content with his restaurant and the way life seems to be going even though he’s obviously still in mourning over the loss of his wife and he’s isn’t crazy about the way his son seems to be forgetting what is important. But that one little line about “the basement” gives us a glimpse into what is really going on in his mind and it stirs your soul because you just know that he isn’t going to be content until he pulls everything out of the basement and battles it.

In a Newsweek article that appears on the MSNBC website, Stallone said this about his own life: “It nags me that I took the easy way instead of the high road. But everyone makes mistakes. I look around at people my age, and I can see it in their eyes—a kind of bittersweet reflection: ‘I didn’t live the life that I wanted, and now I’ve got all this stuff I want to say, but nobody wants to hear it.’ I was feeling that, and if you don’t get it out, it can become a beast that tears you apart.”

I have no idea what he means when he says that he took the “easy way,” but I know exactly what he means about the beast inside that tears you apart. Who among us doesn’t have such a beast who constantly reminds us that we haven’t said all there is to say to people or done all there is to do with our lives? And I love the way Stallone harnessed that feeling he had and allowed us to see it in Rocky Balboa—who, during that same “basement” speech with Paulie, says that he has a beast inside that’s dying to get out.

Stallone has taken his own demons and put them inside a character that most Americans adore and we cheer every time we see Rocky standing toe to toe with his fears and doubts. Sometimes he loses and sometimes he wins. Sounds like a perfect reflection of life.


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