A Rocky (Hero’s) Journey


Rocky’s heroic journey in the movie happens slowly but surely, as he demonstrates courage and persistence. Rocky Balboa starts the movie as a small-time boxer, fighting in little venues in churches. It is obvious to the audience Rocky has some talent and heart, and he knows how to fight. At this point his journey has not yet begun, but it is clear what Rocky’s strengths and weaknesses are: the viewer can analyze that he is strong and has a lot of guts and heart, but his footwork isn’t great and he doesn’t have much technique. After Rocky wins the fight, the audience boos him, demonstrating how his community doesn’t love him yet. We then get a glimpse of Rocky outside of the ring; he lives in a small, run-down apartment, and it is obvious he needs as much money as he can get. This is a common starting point for heroes, as they often start out without a huge mansion or a wealthy background so they can be more relatable. The audience finds out that Rocky is the muscle for a loan shark named Tony Gazzo. This puts Rocky in a unique position compared to other heroes, because Rocky really isn’t a great person. He roughs people up for money even though he doesn’t like it. Most heroes aren’t put in a position where they aren’t a good person so they can survive like in the way that Rocky is, and this is what makes Rocky’s journey unique.

Rocky’s journey begins when Apollo Creed’s opponent for his next fight is injured and cannot fight on January 1st. Apollo then chooses Rocky to fight because he thinks it will be a perfect Cinderella story for a local fighter to have a shot at the belt. He also picks Rocky because he thinks it will be an easy fight. This begins Rocky’s heroic journey as the underdog. At first Rocky refuses the fight, but is eventually convinced to take it. This is a common trope for heroes; they often start out not wanting to embark on the journey in front of them. This also expresses his courage, as most unranked fighters would have been too scared to fight the undefeated Creed. Rocky now begins to train with Mickey. He goes for runs and only ends when he reaches the top of the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This shows persistence as he trains harder than he ever has, even though almost everyone didn’t believe in him. Rocky’s tired and exhausted run up the steps symbolizes his journey. Since he has not completed his journey as a person yet, this run is hard and exhausting. However, by the end of the film, Rocky’s last run up the steps is triumphant and successful, a metaphor for his success and completion of the hero’s journey. Rocky’s persistence paid off and he can now run up the steps with pride and dignity instead of being tired and exhausted, and is now ready for the final fight. The final part of Rocky’s destiny is his own personal goal for the boxing match with Apollo Creed. He tells his girlfriend, Adrian, how he is scared for the upcoming match and all he really wants to do is not get knocked out and stay in the fight for all 15 rounds. This illustrates his courage, because he goes through with the fight even though he is scared. However, Rocky’s goal is different from most heroes: he doesn’t care if he wins or loses, he just wants to go the distance and earn his respect. Rocky’s destiny as a hero has been revealed and is near completion. All he has to do is fight Apollo.

The wise old man that helps Rocky complete his journey is Mickey Goldmill. Mickey is the person who owns the gym that Rocky has been training at. However,
Mickey never really cared about Rocky until after Rocky took the fight with Apollo. This is because he thinks that Rocky is wasting his talent fighting opponents not as skilled as he is. This changes once Rocky agrees to fight Apollo, so Mickey heads over to Rocky’s apartment to try and convince Rocky to let him train him. Mickey then tells Rocky that he used to be a fighter back in his prime. This experience is one of the pros that Mickey brings to the table. His fighting experience helps Rocky learn different situations and obtain some of Mickey’s knowledge. However, this knowledge is almost never transferred to Rocky because Rocky initially declines Mickey as his trainer. Rocky thinks that Mickey never helped him in the 6 years prior to his fight, and questions his need for Mickey’s help in the present. Just a few minutes later however, Rocky accepts Mickey as his trainer. This initial decline of help from a wise old man is common among heroes, as heroes often bite off more than they can chew. In preparation for the fight, Mickey gives Rocky drills to improve his footwork and strength, advice on how to better his boxing technique, and exercises to increase his stamina. This aid from Mickey is what helps Rocky be able to go all 15 rounds with Apollo. Mickey is also with Rocky during the match with Apollo, and gives him advice on where to strike along with emotional support. Mickey’s support and advice is a key factor into Rocky improving inside the ring.

Apollo Creed was the opposition or villain to Rocky. Creed is the boxing heavyweight champion of the world, and a superstar, too.  Creed is not a traditional villain as he doesn’t hate or despise Rocky. Apollo gives Rocky a shot at the title, because he knows people will love the underdog story, and that he will make money off of what he thinks will be an easy win. Apollo is virtually the opposite of Rocky in almost every way. In this film Apollo is not hardworking, as he is more focused on money than actually training for the fight. On the other hand, Rocky could not care any less about the money; he works and trains hard for the fight, just so he can achieve respect. Apollo is also extremely cocky and boisterous, while Rocky is very humble and quiet. The final parallel between the characters is that Apollo begins the film at his peak and prime in terms of success. Meanwhile, Rocky begins the film at a low point in his life, as he is broke, unliked, and has little success. However, just because Apollo is the opposite of Rocky, this doesn’t mean he isn’t a great boxer. Apollo Creed is feared within the boxing community and is viewed as a legend. He can backup all of his style and flashiness by winning fights. Rocky taking this fight shows just how courageous he truly is, as Apollo has never even been knocked down before. Just before the final fight, the two fighters have their ringwalks. Rocky simply walks out with his crew in a regular boxing robe. Apollo on the other hand, comes out in style and excessive flamboyancy. During the fight, Apollo is shocked at the punishment Rocky is taking and the persistence he demonstrates as he continues to fight. As soon as the fight ends, Apollo states that there will be no rematch. While Creed does ultimately win the fight, this prior statement can be analyzed as Apollo being somewhat humbled by Rocky, and now partially fears that if they ever fought again, Rocky would be victorious.

The romantic partner of Rocky is Adrian. Adrian is an extremely shy and quiet girl who works at a pet store near Rocky and the sister of Rocky’s best friend Paulie. The audience of the movie quickly realizes that Rocky is way more interested in her than she is interested in him. However, this could just be due to her quietness. Nevertheless, after a bit of arguing with Paulie about her being a loser, Adrian agrees to go on a date with Rocky, having low expectations. They go to an ice skating rink on Thanksgiving for their first date. Unfortunately for them, the rink is about to close early because of the holiday hours, so the couple only have 10 minutes on the ice. This scene on the ice tells the viewer a little bit about Adrian. For example, Adrian says that her mother said she didn’t have much of a body, so she must develop her brain. The viewer can assume that her relationship with her family is very strained, as it doesn’t sound like Adrian had the nicest mom, and it has been shown already that she and Paulie argue often. After this date Adrian goes back to Rocky’s apartment. The two share dialogue, and then have their first kiss together. This kiss marks the beginning of a serious relationship between Rocky and Adrian, and an underlying love story within the film. Adrian motivates Rocky both inside and outside of the ring to become a better hero. She motivates him to do his best and achieve his goals in the ring, while making him a better person outside of the ring. Adrian grows much more comfortable with Rocky and he finds someone with whom he can share his fears, secrets, and feelings. She is the person that Rocky tells his fear and feelings about the fight to. Their relationship grew so strong that, as soon as Rocky finished the 15th round, he began calling for Adrian and ignoring all the reporters. Their relationship is the most important thing that makes Rocky turn his life around.

The final battle between Rocky and Apollo Creed is brutal, lengthy, and a true test of Rocky’s journey. In the walk to the ring Rocky is clearly filled with nerves and tension, but his courage won’t let him back out. When Apollo makes his introduction he is wearing an Uncle Sam costume and points at Rocky. He cries out “I want you!” repeatedly, as he demonstrates his cockiness and over arrogance. The fight officially begins, and after a minute of taking light jabs, Rocky strikes Apollo with a left hook that knocks him down for the first time in his career. Apollo, startled and dazed, gets back up and returns the favor by breaking Rocky’s nose. Rocky, who could have crumbled under the pressure in front of millions of viewers, shows his courage by staying unrattled and remaining in the fight. The second round is yet another even round, with Apollo winning the first half of the round, but Rocky comes back in the second half. The two fighters have a vicious battle shown through a montage that ends in the 14th round. Rocky has demonstrated his courage and persistence by staying in the fight thus far. However, in the 14th round Creed knocks down Rocky, for what seems to be the final time. Alas, Rocky remains persistent and will not give up, and much to the dismay of Apollo, Mickey, and Adrian, Rocky rises back up. The crowd erupts, which is a change from the start of Rocky’s journey as the people in his community, the people in Philadelphia, and the people of America have grown to love him. After he gets back up, Apollo seems utterly demoralized. Rocky pummels Apollo in the last round, as Apollo is just trying to hold on and not get knocked out. This growth as a fighter marks another change in Rocky’s heroic journey. The bell rings and the fight is finally over, and as the fight ends Apollo says there will not be a rematch. Rocky does not care, as he has earned his respect and achieved his destiny of going the distance with Apollo, even though Apollo Creed is determined the victor via split decision. Despite this announcement, the audience can clearly analyze that Rocky was not interested in who won the fight. Rocky searches for Adrian in the mass of people and eventually the two meet up. They say they love each other, and the two embrace, as Rocky has completed his heroic journey.

Alex Fletcher – Author