Rocky III and IV: Two nice elements (900 words)
I’ve just rewatched the whole Rocky Saga and was surprised at the writing and the visible subtext. Rocky is not the good guy we think he is and there are plenty of exemples of how selfish and deceitful he can be.
In this article, I would just like to talk about two moments where Rocky is subtly criticized, and by « subtly » I mean that nobody voices the piece of criticism, it’s not made entirely explicit and spectators can notice it or miss it. It’s nicely written.
At the beginning of Rocky III, we follow a drunk Paulie in the city at night.
He enters a video arcade where many people are playing and comes across a Rocky Pinball.
He becomes angry at the sight of it. He drinks a few more times from his bottle before smashing it against the lit Rocky figure drawn in its winning posture.
The glass explodes and reveals several L.E.D.s.
Paulie and Rocky have arguments in every movie and this scene can be dismissed as just another example of Paulie’s random bursts of frustration. Here, he’s jealous of Rocky’s success and tired of seeing him everywhere. The Rocky saga is full of seamingly hollow subplots of the kind.
But if we take the writing seriously, and Paulie’s character, if we consider the possibility that the man might be entertaining a legitimate grudge again his friend, then we can understand where the problem lies : Rocky is a fraud. He is an illusion, his dazzling greatness exists only through a trick of the eye.
In Rocky IV, Rocky joins Adrian in their bedroom, disguised as a hotel groom, holding a giant cake.
Rocky disguises himself as someone who is in a position of subservience when truly he behaves according to any of his whims and Adrian is under his control.
It’s nine days before their marriage anniversary but he wants to celebrate it anyway... on the birthday of Adrian's brother. On the cake, there are two figurines, a groom and his bride, standing in a ring, wearing boxing gloves. That’s slightly inappropriate and unfunny.
It is a very recurrent pattern in the whole serie that Rocky bends over backward to be nice and help people, but only does inappropriate things. He conveys an impression of clumsy benevolence, kindness and generosity… the thing is… how many times can someone fail to behave correctly before his good intentions become meaningless ? How many times before deceit has to be considered ?
It's Paulie's birthday. Rocky displays so little self-awareness that we nearly expect him to explain that he wanted to kill two birds with one stone.
After the slightly disrespectful groom pun (as if their marriage was a joke), the boxing themed cringy cake, Rocky gives Adrian… an ugly watch in the shape of a snake.
First, a husband doesn’t give a watch to his wife. I can’t think of any situation in which it would be appropriate to buy a watch to a woman. Watches, as gifts, are very gender oriented. For a traditional gift, Rocky should have bought a ring, earrings or a necklace to Adrian. I’m sure she would have been extremely touched by any kind of jewel... and she is by the watch anyway.
Adrian isn't eager to open her present and once it's open, she's still not interested in it. She doesn't care about all this but she loves Rocky's initiative however clumsy and out of touch it might be. She buys into his "I was so nervous, I didn't know... I hope you like it." She is lightyears away from imagining that he is putting on an act. There's such a big gap of intelligence between them that she completely overlooks the fact that he could be fooling her. Stupidity isn't innocence. Anybody can lie.
In fiction, watches are even more attached to the male libido and Rocky’s gift suggests that he doesn’t truly consider Adrian as a woman that which is revealing of a serious problem between them as Adrian is with Rocky because he is the sole guy who ever paid any attention to her as a woman. He is the one who acknowledged her as such. Her shift in confidence is very visible in the way she dresses. So, the watch is already a meaningful misstep from that point of view.
But it’s the shape of the object that I want to delve into here. While he puts it around Adrian’s wrist, Rocky comments upon its ressemblance with a snake and how it shouldn’t worry her as it doesn’t bite. How much more unromantic can one get ?
We know that the snake is the animal who puts sexual ideas in Eve’s head that which will cause Adam and Eve’s fall from the garden of Eden. From a more general point of view, snakes are associated with deceit.
It is clear that this gift is negative. It’s a misstep and it is revealing of something wrong in Adrian and Rocky’s relationship.
Adrian is trapped inside Rocky’s gaze. He allowed her to mature, to flourish, if he leaves her, she will regress. She is co-dependant and he knows it. That’s why he chose her in the first place.
And so, instead of giving her flowers or jewels, which are symbols of femininity both metaphores for the power to give birth, one from a natural point of view, the other on a societal one. The flower is the sex. The jewel is the priceless gift of giving a descendance.
Adrian goes "Aaaaww, it's beautiful" as if she was talking to a child who would show her a drawing. She never says "I like it." Because she doesn't. The thing is hideous and tasteless.
Instead of giving her flowers, he gives her a snake watch. It is a (involontary) symbol of the fact that her feminity (the jewel) only exist in his eyes. Her existence as a sexual being rests entirely upon him, she is entrapped in his libido, the snake.
By making this clumsy move, Rocky betrays his deceitfulness. His attraction towards Adrian isn’t genuine. It serves a purpose.
Again, this should sound cute because it means that Rocky finds Adrian too good for him but he'll do anything to keep her by his side. It's easy to understand the humble, romantic and humoristic dimension of the sentence.
But, the truth is far more likely to be that Rocky has the feeling that Adrian is contemplating the idea of leaving him and that this early celebration is a way of preventing it. He attacks first. Their marriage anniversary is going to trigger some kind of assessment in Adrian and he's got the feeling that this time, it's not going to work in his favour. He's been boxing too much, let's make a joke about it. He's been too bossy and selfish, let's disguise as a groom.
Rocky knows how to send messages and how to shape people's perception of himself.
So, that’s it for the two scenes I wanted to talk about. The Rocky movies have many great elements of the kind. They’re a strange and a bit confusing combination between author cinema and mainstream but, at the end of the day, there’s a lot of interesting ideas to extract from them.
And yeah, Rocky isn’t the positive character we all thought he were when we first saw the movies. He isn’t the great boxer we think he is. He isn’t the nice and selfless guy that he pretends to be.