In the 11th round of Adonis Creed’s fight against reigning champ “Pretty Ricky” Conlan, Rocky coaches him from the sidelines: “Body, body, body!” he shouts. This phrase — this repetition of a single word — has dogged me. I crawl out of bed and the first thing I hear in my head some days is “body body body.” After all, I came to this film in the midst of my own bodily crisis, and I found it again and again as radiation was released into my brain five days a week for six weeks.
No, it was the other way around: Ryan Coogler’s Creed found me, body to body, haunting me ever since. I flinch at the punches, yet I revel in the tender physical connections it reveals: Donny’s forehead pressed against Bianca’s to form the shape of a heart; Donny’s arms wrapped around Rocky as he guides him to the bathroom in the middle of the night to be sick; Rocky’s hand on Donny’s back as he leads him out to his fight with Conlan.
In an interview with Variety, Coogler tells two stories about the Rocky franchise. When his father’s mother was dying of cancer, the two of them watched Rocky II repeatedly. And when Coogler’s father became ill decades later, father and son watched the same film again and again.
When Donny is knocked out in the 11th round, the final image that compels him to rise back up is of his father Adonis Creed in the ring. Of course this is not an image from Donny’s own experience, but a video he found on YouTube of a father he never met. And more importantly, it’s a clip from Rocky II, making it not just Donny’s image but Coogler’s own memory. It is thus a mark of Coogler’s complicated authorship, born of intimate spectatorship and undergirded by love and perseverance spanning three generations of familial history.