In Defense of Rocky’s Character

AQUARIUS COLLECTION

Rocky Balboa is an absolute favorite movie character of mine, so if anything is going to lure me back into blogging, it’s seeing his good name besmirched. Mind you, I’m not actually mad or anything, but I’m genuinely surprised at my initial reaction, which is one usually reserved for when mothers are insulted or babies are called ugly. Around me, you just don’t talk about Rocky that way!

I came across this article on MoviefiedNYC, a site I write for, and instantly felt the need to talk about a small portion of it. First, let me say that if you like the Rocky series, give the whole article a read. How many times have you seen a positive Rocky V review? Aside from that, the whole thing is very well-written and fun to read. I agree with the vast majority of what is said, but not quite all of it.

To the point, the article opens with a review of the original Rocky and has this to say:

“Rocky, the lucky participant, is known for his ability to take hits, and moonlights as the muscle for a local loan-shark. The films problems begin and end with him: a downright two-dimensional, ignorant-yet-content bully who intimidates not only women but also the clients of his loan-shark. And what is most hilarious is how he is forgiven these brutalities as “he didn’t break anyone’s thumbs”–way to go Rocky. He is neither a villain nor a flawed-yet-redeemable protagonist, sitting inside a lukewarm medium that leaves you wanting more…

“And don’t even get me started on Adrienne (Talia Shire): this drippy, submissive blank canvas of a women is so obviously written by a man. A character dulled to her own desires, and who contently provides vacuous emotional support and frequent reinforcement so the protagonist can achieve his dreams–apparently I’ve been womaning wrong all these years. Rocky’s essential rape of her (that the director portrays as her enjoying) while she begs him to stop, really does not sit well with a modern audience. The whole “I know you want it” approach to women is pretty sickening (take note, Robin Thicke), and reinforces the notion that Rocky is entitled, frustrated and feels totally inferior. Between Paulie, Adrienne’s brother, pimping Adrienne out to Rocky and then ridiculing her for not longer being a virgin (“you’re busted”), and Rocky raping her and them then being in a relationship, it is difficult to discern if this portrayal lies at the fault of the director or the writer.”

First of all, Robin Thicke, really? Rocky Balboa is on the same level as the guy who made a song explicitly about date-raping girls?

Brain

It’s odd to single out Rocky as the abuser of women when one of the worst examples of a human being is always standing right next to him. Paulie is a terrible, terrible person, and he never gets much better throughout the series. If someone needs to be yelled at for swinging baseball bats at women, it would be him, since he’s the one who did that. He also threw the Thanksgiving turkey out of the back door when Adrian pissed him off, and he’s the one who called her a name for having sex; not Rocky.

I understand and see very clearly what the reviewer is seeing, but I disagree 100% about the nature of Rocky as a person. To call him a bully of women, ignorant-yet-content, and in need of forgiveness for how he makes ends meet is to only look at the character from a superficial angle. When I watch the scene where Rocky invites Adrian up to his apartment for the first time, I don’t see a woman trapped by a man in a place she can’t escape. Of course, that’s the superficial picture if that’s how you read it, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Rocky is too good of a movie to allow lazy writing like that.

Rocky Balboa is a flawed individual, but a bully and rapist? From the scene, I can discern no attempts by Rocky to force Adrian to comply with his desires, and I firmly believe Rocky would never stop her from leaving or force himself on her. She didn’t leave, because her worries weren’t coming from her perception of Rocky specifically; she says flat-out that she’s never been alone in a man’s apartment. Rocky understands, as he’s been alone for what seems a good bit of time and isn’t the brightest bulb. I think he honestly relates to Adrian’s feelings and isn’t offering any lines to bait her into staying.

Rocky

 

At this point, nothing physical has happened yet, but it’s obviously moving in that direction. Adrian constantly pushes back against his advances, but Rocky continues. Yes, devoid of context, I can see this looking bad. A man backing a woman into a corner and saying he’s going to kiss you but you don’t have to kiss back does seem like a terrible situation to be in, but you have to watch the scene to make a valid judgment.

FirstKiss

Instead of “essential” rape, I see two people being awkward with each other as they grapple with expressing themselves. They both admit they’re nervous, and I don’t see a blank canvas in Talia Shire’s eyes. I see a woman who’s been abused for years by her brother – someone who is quite possibly making a first attempt at connecting with another human being. Rocky is in a similar situation, though his insecurities aren’t shown through timidity. He has no problem with people noticing him, which is in stark contrast to Adrian’s personality. You might think the two would clash, and as this review characterizes it, they do. But considering the life they built together and the way they interact with each other from the very beginning, I just don’t see any kind of activity even approaching rape going on.

The thing about boxing her in a corner is explained by Rocky’s inexperience, and I do believe the scene itself gives more than enough evidence to validate that opinion. I agree, if another woman were in Adrian’s place and spoke up about Rocky’s behavior, the correct response by him would be to simply do nothing and let her leave. But that’s not what happened, and Rocky’s behavior speaks more to the fact that at this point in his life, he’s not a whole lot more than a product of his environment. What separates Rocky from, say, the loan shark’s driver (who does strike me as a bully and bad dude), however, is you can tell Rocky doesn’t want to be out there breaking people’s thumbs. I wouldn’t call it a huge moral principle or anything, but he wants to rise above his station while being a decent human being.

To me, it smacks of cheating to say that a character may express themselves in one way, but that’s only because the movie portrays it as such. Well, okay, then that logic applies to every scene and every character in every movie, ever. If you don’t like the way a character acts, it’s only because the movie didn’t show it “correctly.” Sorry, but I’m not buying it. It’s one thing to comment on what might be going on in a character’s head (which I do) and another thing altogether to suggest that a director is intentionally filming a rape scene as a benign sexual encounter. When it comes down to it, I think the review is either saying that, or it’s calling Rocky a liar. But what examples in any of the movies can be given to justify such an opinion? Does Rocky ever lie or show himself to be less than totally honest?

So, what do you think? Did Rocky basically rape Adrian, only the movie depicts her as enjoying it? Is it a product of the times? Is this all overblown nonsense? A mixture of all of the above? I really want to know what people think about this, as it’s never come up in any Rocky discussions I’ve had before. Let me know in the comments!

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About Sir Phobos

Male, 30-something, hates stupid things and likes non-stupid things
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