At the 1977 Oscars, Best Picture went to Rocky, Best Director to John G. Avildsen, and Best Sound Editing to Richard Halsey and Scott Conrad. Also nominated was Sylvester Stallone who wrote the screenplay, and Bill Conti’s score added much to the emotional experience of the film. The plot, however, was pretty simple. It was not about the fight in the ring, it was about the fight outside the ring.
It is not the first time this extended metaphor has been used. When Micky Rourke played Randy “The Ram” Robinson in Darren Aronofsky’s, The Wrestler (2008), both films featured the same protagonist.
Down and out, they both could have been contenders, but not likely today. Rocky and Randy are physical brutes with intimidating physiques, but they are docile and sweet out of the ring. Whether in Rocky’s shabby apartment or Randy’s trailer, neither ache for material possessions. These gentle giants have many acquaintances but spend most of their time alone. They wander about, making small talk with anyone who will listen. Loneliness is their biggest adversary.
They both fall in love with women whose outside appearances function as armor to shield them from men. Rocky sees the beauty behind the glasses and frumpy clothes of Adrienne. His devotion to her is heartfelt. She blossoms from his love, and when the fight is over, it’s not winning the belt that matters, it’s winning Adrienne’s love that makes him the champion.
Ironically, Cassidy, played by Marisa Tomei, is an erotic dancer who hides behind her exposed skin. She is flesh and men desire her; it feeds her misandry and she can hide behind her contempt, for all she knows is that men are shallow and want only to touch the shell while deep inside, she hides. It takes the persistent Randy to win her friendship and trust.
At the 2009 Oscars, both Micky Rourke and Marisa Tomei were nominated for their respective acting categories but lost. Bruce Springsteen won at the Golden Globes for his original song, “The Wrestler”. Acting. Directing. Music. It’s all there.
While the hype of the boxing match compounded by the music score seemed to elevate Rocky, Micky Rourke’s final decision to live life true to his terms and his leap into the wrestling ring moved me. I dislike wrestling and was shocked how much I admired the film.
I have a hard time judging which film I love more.
Which is better? Rocky or The Wrestler?