It is with a reasonable degree of trepidation that I chose Rocky IV for the "Politics and Movies Blog-a-Thon." This film continued the trend of the Rocky series hitting some ups and many downs after the classic 1976 original. The fourth installment was released in 1985, and I find it to be very enjoyable, although campy at times. This notion of camp, coupled with the general agreement that Rocky IV is the most ludicrous of the franchise, makes this choice worthy of justification. The last thing I wanted was for this analysis to come across like an ironic, hipsterish elevation to "great movie" status based on its far-fetched plot. Nor did I want to aim for a Mystery Science Theater joke-fest. To justify this, I'll begin by saying that Rocky IV attempts to highlight some very clear-cut politics, balancing representations of the United States and the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. To help out, I read John Lewis Gaddis's book The Cold War to see if writer-director Sylvester Stallone was able to (intentionally or not) mirror on film the emotions and events of that conflict.
"By that time , one historian has estimated, the Stalinist dictatorship had either ended or wrecked the lives of between 10 and 11 million Soviet citizens--all for the purpose of maintaining itself in power (Gaddis 99)." In the 1980s, while the Soviet Union had its problems, it had moved away from the serious megolomania of Josef Stalin. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev wanted to maintain Socialism without violence or force (257). In terms of the film, what better way to live vicariously than through Ivan Drago, the best amateur boxer ever to emerge from the USSR?
Let's go back a few scenes: During the press conference, a verbal argument erupts between Paulie (Rocky's brother-in-law) and Drago's Soviet publicist. Again, getting into stereotypes, Paulie represents the "ugly American," while the publicist does his best to maintain Drago's equality with the best American athletes, not for a second believing that Drago will lose the fight.
Sure, there are some discrepancies that could be pointed out. For example, before the fight between Creed and Drago, Creed is wearing his boxing gloves. There's a single frame where he's not wearing his gloves, and then he has them back on again. Also, at the beginning of the film, a lot is made over the fact that the East and West have never met in sports. Um, really? In the case of Rocky IV, it's obvious, because Drago was an amateur before turning professional. Even if he didn't hail from an oppressive regime, it would have been impossible for him to fight professional American boxers. On top of that, American baseball teams played against Japanese teams in exhibition matches back in the early 1930s.
In conclusion, Stallone didn't really create a film with overt metaphors and allusions to Lenin and Stalin, but that wasn't his intention; the United States/Soviet relations provided an easy conflict to paint on the boxing ring. However, it should be considered a political movie for that reason. It caused me to research the Cold War, to learn more about it than I knew before, and therefore increased my political and historical knowledge. And, as Rocky says at the end: "If I can change, and you can change, then anybody can change."
Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War. Copyright 2005 by John Lewis Gaddis.