I was in the 7th grade when Rocky IV came out. As the cold war and the specter of a nuclear showdown weighed heavily on my little 13 year old brain, I remember feeling that it was very important for Rocky to beat the snot out of Ivan Drago. That is why my best friend and I stood up in our seats at the theater and cheered Rocky as he found his second wind and pounded Drago into submission. In all the early movies, Rocky stood for the little guy, and I loved him for it. Rocky was greatness.
My reaction, however, to hearing Sylvester Stallone’s plans for a new Rocky movie has been less than enthusiastic. Actually, I have been downright skeptical. As much as I loved the first four movies, the series took a decided turn for the worse in Rocky 5, and my hunch is that a geriatric Rocky 6 is unlikely to be much of an improvement. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I have in mind Proverb 20:29, “The glory of young men is their strength, And the honor of old men is their gray hair.” At some point, even Rocky’s vigor has to give way to a greater glory. It seems to me that by now that time would have come.
Nevertheless, despite my skepticism, my interest in the movie has been piqued by an article that I read yesterday. According to Stuart Shepard of “Focus on the Family,” Rocky 6 has a religious theme and the film is being marketed to the “faith and values” crowd. Shepard recently sat in on a conference call with Stallone, and here’s how he described the conversation:
Stallone spoke of being reborn in a teleconference with pastors and religious leaders concerning the faith elements of the unlikely sixth movie that’s due out Dec. 22. . .
Yes, when I dialed in, I was skeptical. Alright, I’ll admit, I laughed out loud when I learned that the film was being marketed to the “faith and values” crowd. I believe my exact words were, “I’m not believin’ this!”
But then I listened in. . . Stallone reminded those of us on the call that the opening shot of the original film is of a painting of Jesus looking down on Rocky in the boxing ring in a rundown gym. And no, I didn’t have to go back to verify that, I already knew. But, I’ve long wondered why he chose to open with that. I never guessed Stallone himself would explain it to me, but this week he did â€” oh, and to everybody else on the call.
He first explained that he felt compelled to write the first film, and he believes that drive came from above. He said the character of Rocky was meant to reflect the characteristic nature of Jesus.
“It’s like he was being chosen, Jesus was over him, and he was going to be the fella that would live through the example of Christ,” Stallone said. “He’s very, very forgiving. There’s no bitterness in him. He always turns the other cheek. And it’s like his whole life was about service.”
But, Stallone confessed, his own life didn’t follow the humble example of the boxer who made him a Hollywood star.
“I was raised in a Catholic home, a Christian home, and I went to Catholic schools and I was taught the faith and went as far as I could with it,” he said. “Until one day, you know, I got out in the so-called real world and I was presented with temptation. I kinda like lost my way and made a lot of bad choices.” . . .
But, Stallone added, he’s been going through a change in his life. He’s realized that he was wrong to place his career and fame ahead of his family.
“The more I go to church,” he said, “and the more I turn myself over to the process of believing in Jesus and listening to His Word and having Him guide my hand, I feel as though the pressure is off me now. . . You need to have the expertise and the guidance of someone else. You cannot train yourself,” he said. “I feel the same way about Christianity and about what the church is: The church is the gym of the soul. . . I needed to actually go through my trials and tribulations,” he said, “before I could be man enough to know how to write that kind of story that Rocky Balboa is.”
So, as someone who began listening on the call as a giggling skeptic, and who does not expect Rocky Balboa to be heralded as a Christian film, I have to confess I was won over by the real-life story of redemption I heard (source).
I’d love to see a movie that would move me to stand in my seat and cheer once again. Maybe Rocky 6 will be the one. I’m just hoping it’s not using Christianity as a manipulative marketing tactic to reel me in. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. One thing is for sure. Stuart Shepard believes Stallone is for real.