How Can Fictional Stories Help People Deal With Real-Life Struggles Analysis of a Protagonist – Rocky, Sylvester Stallone

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Analysis of a Protagonist – Rocky, Sylvester Stallone

Don’t be fooled by the mediocrity of the later Rocky movies, especially four and five, which in my opinion, while entertaining, lack a certain polish in the writing department.

The first Rocky movie earned Sylvester Stallone an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and in my opinion, it was a well-deserved award for a masterful screenplay.

I have yet to write a finished screenplay, although I have written a published novel and graduated from film school – so I don’t speak from a position of authority when it comes to the art of screenwriting. However, I have studied the qualities of many and will try to extract elements from them that I think are helpful in understanding how a good story is put together for the screen. These elements obviously apply to storytelling in general and not just to the art of screenwriting.

What’s so good about Rocky?

He is a compelling, complex central character with unique qualities.

This applies to literary writing as well as cinema.

Rocky works as a drama because the central character is well drawn, with conflicts in all areas of his life and obstacles to overcome that seem insurmountable at the beginning of the film. We first saw him fighting at the lower levels of club land boxing. He put up a poor fight and was not well received by the local crowd. The first thing he does on his way back to the dressing room is ask a punter for a cigarette. We immediately identify with his struggle as he negotiates the tide of hostility.

One of the ways Stallone builds empathy for his character is by highlighting the harshness of the world he inhabits. Although Rocky is a debt-collector for a loan shark, he puts his job in jeopardy by refusing to break the thumb of a man who can’t pay.

Stallone humanizes his character. He presents him as one thing – a supposedly tough and streetwise debt-collector and then turns the stereotype on its head by presenting a sympathetic side to his character that the audience probably didn’t expect to see.

This is a critical aspect of storytelling – being able to present to the audience a character they can relate to through awareness of his flaws, his empathy, his vulnerability. Successful central characters act as a mirror – the audience subconsciously wants to project their own inner life onto the screen (or the page of a book). If they can identify with an emotion, in this case compassion (in an unexpected situation), this will strengthen their own sense of self-identity, that is, the character performs an action that they approve of and one that they want to see. Given opportunities in the same situation themselves.

Establishing the audience’s identification with the characters early on is essential in this type of story, where the central character is the story. You can’t wait too long to get the audience on your side.

How does Stallone create this identification?

Rocky has to deal with conflict in his environment.

From his first opponent – who butted him.

From the fighting crowd.

From his boss – for not following orders.

From her boss’s driver – who fights her for no reason and gets her to react.

From the Pet Shop Owner – Rocky tries to seduce Adrian at his workplace and is met with hostility from his boss.

From Mikey in the gym – who dislikes Ring for his profession.

From the fighters in the gym, one of whom is given Ricky’s locker.

Rocky lives in a world that is generally unsympathetic to him, sometimes actively hostile to him.

Presenting a character as a victim of misfortune and illness is a good technique to use, as long as he reacts in a way that doesn’t alienate the audience. Even in moments of conflict, Rocky comes across as good-humored and generous. His response is real and human. This gets the audience on his side, as he absorbs everything in his world with a certain good grace and fatalistic humor. This makes him three dimensional. He’s not playing up to a stereotype, rather, he comes across as unique, and oddly for such a masculine character (a boxer) he’s in touch with his emotions. He seems very close to the complexities of real-life people, and even though we realize he’s a fictional character, the suspension of disbelief allows us to appreciate him for a moment as a living, breathing human being.

It is fiction that is close to reality and common experience, yet extraordinary and dramatic, which is why Rocky is such a believable, sympathetic central character.

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