Rollerball (1975)


Rollerball is a 1975 American dystopian fiction film directed by Norman Jewison from a screenplay by William Harrison, who adapted his own short story "Roller Ball Murder", which first appeared in 1973 in Esquire magazine.


The film tells the story of Jonathan E (James Caan), the veteran star of the Energy Corporation's Houston team. By virtue of his stellar performance over the years, Jonathan has become the most recognizable Rollerballer in history; civilians all over the world recognize him on sight. This recognition is problematic for the hegemonic corporations. After another impressive performance in Houston's season-ending victory over the Madrid team, Energy Corporation chairman Mr. Bartholomew (John Houseman) congratulates the team and announces that the corporation, running out of ways to properly reward their champion, will feature Jonathan in a "multivision" special devoted to his career. Mr. Bartholomew later reveals to Jonathan that the corporate executives want him to retire, and offers Jonathan a lavish retirement package including an incentive package featuring "privileges," the currency of the society, asking him to announce his retirement on his televised special. Mr. Bartholomew emphasizes the benefits of corporate-run society and the importance of respecting executive decisions, but does not reveal why the directorate wants Jonathan to retire. It is revealed that Jonathan was married to a woman, Ella (Maud Adams), and that the marriage ended when she was promised to an executive. The film revolves around the struggle of Jonathan to understand why he faces so much pressure to retire, which he ponders at his Texas ranch with his personal coach and his corporation-provided concubine. Jonathan gives advice to a group of up-and-coming Rollerball players, emphasizing the importance of skill and technique. He later tries to access some books from a library, but finds that the books have been classified, transcribed, and stored in one of the major corporate computer banks. Jonathan comforts himself at his ranch by watching video of his ex-wife, and finds that the corporation has sent him another concubine, Daphne. For Jonathan, Rollerball soon degrades into senseless violence as the rules of upcoming games are made more dangerous in order to force Jonathan out one way or another. It is announced that the semi-final game versus the Tokyo team will be played with no penalties and limited player substitutions, yet Jonathan refuses to yield and intends to play in the game. Summoned to the filming of his televised special, he struggles with Daphne and the host. An instructor insists on teaching the Houston team how to counter the Tokyo team's unorthodox martial arts skills, but the team, brimming with confidence, drowns him out with chants of "Houston!" The brutality of the match claims the lives of several players, including Houston's lead biker, Blue, and leaves Jonathan's best friend and teammate Moonpie (John Beck) brain-dead. Jonathan defies a flustered doctor in the Tokyo hospital, and insists on keeping Moonpie on life support and transporting him elsewhere to receive medical care. The corporations hold an emergency meeting to discuss Jonathan's obstinate refusal to retire, and decide that the championship game against the New York team will be played without penalties, player substitutions, or a time-limit, in the hope that Jonathan, if he decides to participate, will be killed during the course of the game. The executives' meeting reveals why they are demanding Jonathan's retirement: Rollerball was conceived not merely to slake bloodlust, but to demonstrate the futility of individualism. Jonathan's singular talent and longevity in the sport defeats the intended purpose of Rollerball. After much personal introspection, and further delving into the true nature of the corporations that run the world, Jonathan decides he is going to play in the game despite the obvious dangers. Naturally, the final game quickly loses all semblance of order as players are crippled and/or killed in swift order. The crowd, raucous and energetic at the game's beginning, gradually become more and more subdued as the carnage builds and degrades to a gladiatorial "last man standing" event. Towards the end, Jonathan is the last mobile member of the Houston team. Two players remain from New York. After a brief and violent struggle, Jonathan dispatches one of the players, then gets possession of the ball, grabs the last, helpless New York player by the collar and readies to fatally smite him as the crowd, both coaches and Mr. Bartholomew watch in complete silence. With a moment's pause, Jonathan releases his opponent, slowly gets to his feet, and painfully makes his way to the goal, scoring for the last time. Immediately following this Jonathan then starts to freely skate around the track in silent victory, and the coaches and fans of both teams start chanting "Jon-a-than!", first in a whisper and then gradually getting louder and louder as Jonathan continues to circle the track. Seeing his worst fears unfolding Mr Bartholomew hurries to exit the arena in blind panic, with the realization that Jonathan has essentially defeated the purpose of the game itself. As the cheering reaches a climax, the movie cuts to a sudden still of Jonathan, against the same music that opened the film, Toccata from Bach's iconic Toccata and Fugue in D minor.