I do not claim to be an avid movie watcher, but I watch at least a few movies every year in theaters and do try to keep up with the movie buzz, including Academy Awards, what’s upcoming, etc. However, few movies have been more than entertainment for me, and the film “Rocky” is one of the few that rose above and beyond.
If you have never seen it, I will not spoil it for you by leaving a link (although it’s just as easy to just google it). It was a film released in 1976 to critical acclaim, ultimately winning the Academy Award and basically launched Sylvester Stallone’s career, further spawning five subsequent films. The movie was special because it was really the first movie of its type, chronicling a lowly underdog’s rise to fame, where the ending didn’t result in said underdog winning. Whoops, I promised no spoilers but I spoiled the ending… so I might as well keep going and just give a quick summary of the plot.
The film is about Rocky Balboa, a low level semi-professional boxer in Philadelphia in his early 30’s. He never made it big as a professional boxer, despite having significant talent. Currently he works as ‘muscle’ for a loan shark and boxing as a part time job. Eventually his trainer kicked him out of his gym to make room for someone more promising. Luck would fall on him soon, however, when current heavy weight Champion of the World Apollo Creed just happened to pick him as his opponent in a boxing gala to celebrate the United States bicentennial, based purely on his nickname of “Italian Stallion”. All of a sudden Rocky becomes the center of attention. Deciding to actually try, despite the almost impossible odds, Rocky decides to train hard and fight the best fight of his life. The film is also intertwined with his courting of his future wife, Adrienne, and his relationship with his best friend Paulie, who is Adrienne’s brother.
Before the big fight, Rocky confesses to Adrienne that he has no expectation to beat Creed, and that his only desire is to “go the distance”, which in the context of 1976 professional boxing means lasting 15 3-minute rounds. This was apparently impossible; since no one has yet last 15 rounds against Creed. During the fight, Rocky was consistently behind, but did manage to seriously injure Creed. Nevertheless, Creed maintained his advantage and racked up more points than Rocky. Neither got a knock-out, and Creed won by split decision (meaning two of three judges ranked Creed higher while the third ranked Rocky higher; the closest possible situation to a tie). At the end Rocky yelled out for Adrienne, completely ignoring the outcome of the fight.
The reason why I advocate Rocky as a mandatory watch for everyone is that its core message is so good. Sometimes the most important challenge is the one you set out for yourself, and the most daunting person that stands in your way is yourself. Even though you know the goal is ‘impossible’, even you don’t think you can win, it’s still a worthwhile thing to do because you conquered yourself. After all, if nobody tries things because they are too hard, then nothing worthwhile will ever get done. As a mathematician I highly value this lesson from Rocky, and I think everyone can gain something from this moral as well.