Rocky is the ultimate underdog story. Rocky Balboa may not have been the strongest, he may not have been the fastest and he certainly wasn’t the smartest but he had something none of the other guys did. Drive, determination, and a nearly unflinching optimism for his life and the world around him. His opponent was brash and overconfident. Rocky is nearly a word-for-word retelling of the famous “Tortoise and the Hare” tale, aside from one huge detail. Rocky loses at the end. Although that does depend on your definition of the word, “win.” In technical terms, yes, Rocky lost, that is indisputable. But does Rocky believe that he lost? Absolutely not. Rocky’s only goal for himself was to “go the distance.” That is all that mattered to him, to prove to himself that he could achieve something nobody else was able to do. Rocky won the second that final bell sounded. That is why you can barely hear the announcer declare his loss over the pulse of one of the most triumphant soundtracks ever written. That is not poor audio mixing, it is symbolic of the fact that Rocky couldn’t care any less of what others thought of his performance. He achieved his goal and that is all that mattered to him.
The symbolism is clear. In the beginning of the film many downward-facing and distant shots are used to make Rocky seem small, to make it appear as though the city around him is enveloping him.
But by the time he climbs those art museum steps he has grown to be one with the skyline, to match it equally.
Philadelphia is the perfect match for Rocky. It is not the biggest city and it certainly is not the prettiest. Apollo Creed could not possibly be more New York City if he tried. Philadelphia is a city that many people from NYC would scoff at and look down upon, but perhaps for this modest city and its hard-working inhabitants, our final bell has already rung.