As a matter of fact it is literally gray. From the opening fight scene this is evident. All the world around Rocky is dark, almost black. The colors that are visible are muted and faded. Just as Rocky’s dreams are worn out and washed out so are his shorts. Only a single light in the center illuminates Rocky’s one point of pride in his life, fighting.As soon as the fight is over the world of black and light blend back together into the gray that is Rocky’s everyday life. Everything in Rocky’s life is gray and just plain “blah”. In the locker room of the fight the paint is peeling, the lockers are faded, the pictures are crooked, and surprise, everything has a gray dinge to it.
Rocky’s apartment is not much better. It is a shabby, mismatched, and dirty. That is, even more so than the average bachelor pad. The cupboards and walls are visibly filthy while every flat surface is covered with trash. The color of choice is gray yet again except for a strategically placed red-orange lamp as heat for Rocky’s pet turtles. Just as the audience feels sufficiently depressed by Rocky’s loneliness the scene suddenly cuts to a source of hope in the form of a bright red-orange color motif.
Adrian works in a pet store surrounded conveniently by all the supplies Rocky needs to care for the pet turtles which we later learned she sold him. Adrian, though shy and somewhat backward, is surrounded by happy colors perhaps indicating the happy life Rocky longs for if they were together. In the pet store the audience meets Rocky the man-child. He attempts to woo Adrian by telling her a silly joke, to which she does not react. All of this gives the distinct feeling that he wants to be part of her world, part of the yellow and orange and red and caring that she can provide.
Alas, Adrian rejects him and he heads back to his gray life. Rocky meets up with Adrian again after she is forced into a date with him by her verbally abusive brother. The world does start to look brighter, however, when they are together. The skating rink is noticeably bright white rather than a dingy gray. Perhaps this snow white is a symbol of Adrian’s purity. Perhaps it is a symbol of what an ice rink looks like. The world may never know. One thing is for sure, after Adrian is sufficiently horrified by the state of Rocky’s apartment and his not-so-subtle advances, and falls into his his big manly boxer arms, the whole world looks a lot brighter.
The full transforming effect of Adrian and Rocky’s relationship, in my opinion, is first visible when she shows up in her new bright red coat. This shows Adrian coming into her own skin and finally allowing her bright colors seep into Rocky’s life.
Even as Rocky trains, running through the streets of Philadelphia, Adrian’s colors pop up around him. Even though he himself is still gray and his surroundings still squalid, a fire in a barrel and drifting litter in the streets stand out as Adrian’s color in his life.
His own colors brighten as well. The grays which previously made his life look bland and depressing cheer up a bit into a blue gray. They are not quite as vibrant as Adrian’s colors but it is a definite improvement. There is even a noticeable change in Rocky’s apartment where he awakens Adrian in the middle of the night to the blue-gray reality that he cannot beat Apollo Creed but rather, just wants to “go the distance”.
At the final fight Rocky walks out wearing an Adrian-Colored robe and is adored by those he passes on his way to the ring. He wants nothing more than to live up to the goal he confessed to her and the happiness and love she brings in his life. He is still an underdog and probably always will be, but he wants to make his girl proud.
The ultimate and most iconic symbol of Adrian’s color of course comes at the very end of the film. Her red hat stands out in the crowd of Rocky’s supporters but falls off in the chaos of the crowd. Upon meeting Rocky, he proclaims not that he achieved his goal, not that he came close to winning, not that he even survived. No, he could only see Adrian and say “Where’s your hat?”. With Adrian’s red hat gone the lovers are finally on the same page. Finally Rocky and Adrian are not dramatic opposites in coloration. Finally their colors jive and they are one united entity.