SLY. Longing for Love is Not Pretentious [REVIEW]

Odys Korczyński

4 November 2023

Even the action movie star with steel muscles, mercilessly eliminating on-screen enemies. First, there was a documentary series about Arnold Schwarzenegger, and now it’s time for Sylvester Stallone. For both of them, it’s high time to settle their iconic images in the minds of fans, and for fans, it provides a broader view of what each actor felt, what struggles they faced, and what they gave up just to please the audience. Was it worth the effort? And, most importantly, was it worth idolizing these stars so much? Because when they reveal themselves in their personal lives, it turns out they look completely different, often believing in something else on the movie screen. So, did Netflix allow Sylvester Stallone to settle his life and present himself authentically to the audience?

Between the productions about Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, there is a significant difference in form. Both titles are documentaries, but Schwarzenegger had the chance to tell his story in a series, while Stallone had a 1.5-hour film. Schwarzenegger had much more time to delve into rarely known details of his career. Stallone, on the other hand, had to condense his story, although he had just as much to present. At first glance, most would probably say that Schwarzenegger’s documentary series is better, but more factual, less reflective, philosophical, and metaphorical. Schwarzenegger talks tough, though not without emotion, about his life and journey to the top. Stallone does the same but presents fewer dry facts and more descriptions of the mental states he had to experience and then process to be where he is now, with the camera documenting his life. The full-length documentary format somewhat forced a framework for the production. We meet Stallone during a move, and it becomes a metaphor for his journey, on which the actor progressively sketches his world of feelings, based on facts from his career and personal life. The bracket closes with the same shot, Stallone standing behind a glass wall with doors and windows against a backdrop of pictures. Some journey of his ends. He is alone in it, just as he was at the beginning. This reflection on loneliness, sometimes tinged with reflection on one’s existence made by a embittered pariah who gained star status through hard work, determination, but also luck, seems sad. It is marked by reconciling with the fate of a star that has stopped shining with its own current light and now reflects only the glow of the past. This maturely presented sadness is, however, marked by calmness, a sense of inevitability, acceptance that this existential path is marked by stops in passing life, that the price for engagement is paid in the degree of distance, loss of love, even though it was sought from childhood in the pursuit of acting.

It’s good to see Sly reflecting on his main characters, Rocky and Rambo, who were respectively his alter ego and a filmic vision of his father, a brutal tyrant who wounded Stallone to the point that our hero couldn’t help but return to this character constantly. At the same time, everyone must go through this life journey alone, whether they are a star or an unknown person. They must meet their fathers and mothers on this journey, receive too much or too little from them, and then try to provide this complement or all the baggage of childhood virtues to those they love, likely children, as only they are the physical evidence of the meaningfulness of our actions in honor of our own inherently vain memory. This high-class reflection is unexpectedly presented by Stallone, an action movie star, an archetype of an almost superhumanly strong hero, whom we might not accuse of such wise life work at all. In the documentary, we can get to know Sly again. He is not just an actor playing in fantasies written by himself but also a director, producer, and even a puppet of the Dream Factory. All these roles have two sides. He had to play them because he tested what he was capable of beyond fiction, in reality that uses fiction to grasp it, reinterpret it, and even therapeutically understand it. In the documentary, we viewers get a chance to hear about the different sides of these roles. We can be surprised many times.

It’s good that the documentary about Sylvester Stallone was made on the Netflix platform, in formal contrast to the production about Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s not monotonous, although I am aware that there is still a lack of information. The compensation for this is the poetics in which Sly is revealed to us. It is not a factual documentary, but the documentary is not always about encyclopedic presentation of events or characters. It can be done more calmly, discreetly, abstractly, even literarily, just as Thom Zimny did it, and Stallone helped him in production. In the film, we can also see Arnold Schwarzenegger himself, who even talks quite colorfully about the rivalry with Stallone. Frank Stallone, Quentin Tarantino, and John Herzfeld also make appearances. I hope that after watching Sly’s documentary, we will look much deeper into the characters of Rocky and Rambo, which are crucial not only for the history of cinema (also that) but for the skills, abilities, and generally psychological possibility for Stallone to go further in his career.

Odys Korczyński

Odys Korczyński

For years he has been passionate about computer games, in particular RPG productions, film, medicine, religious studies, psychoanalysis, artificial intelligence, physics, bioethics, as well as audiovisual media. He considers the story of a film to be a means and a pretext to talk about human culture in general, whose cinematography is one of many splinters.

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