Rollerball is a 1975 science fiction film directed by Norman Jewison from the short story Roller Ball Murders by William Harrison .
In the film, the world of 2018 is a global corporate state, containing entities such as the Energy Corporation, a global energy monopoly based in Houston which dealt with nominally-peer corporations controlling access to all Transport, Luxury, Housing and Food on a global basis.
In the central theme of the film, Energy also sponsored a "Rollerball" team which was effectively a violent version of roller derby in which major injuries and death were common. The game was a substitute for all current team sports, and for war. While its ostensible purpose was entertainment, it also served to demonstrate a valuable lesson: the individual athletes paled in importance to the team itself, just as the individual was meaningless compared to society, which was paramount.
The film tells the story of Jonathan E, the veteran star of the Energy Corporation's team, played by James Caan. By virtue of his stellar performance over the years, Jonathan has been the most recognizable Rollerballer in history, to the point where random civilians all over the world recognize him on sight. Naturally, this is problematic for the hegemonic corporations and their Brave New World-esque "Everybody belongs to everybody else" rubric, and so, after another stellar performance in Houston's season-ending victory over Madrid, he is encouraged to retire by Energy Corporation chairman Mr. Bartholomew, played by Jonathan Houseman , being offered a nice retirement package including a televised highlight show and an incentive package featuring "privileges", the currency of the society.
The film revolves around the struggle of Jonathan to understand why he would be facing so much pressure to retire, with the incentives turning into a gradual degredation of the game itself into so much senseless violence. It is announced that the semi-final game will be played with no penalties and limited player substitutions, yet Jonathan refuses to yield, and plays in the game; the brutality claims the lives of several players and leaves his best friend and teammate Moonpie in a coma.
The Corporations hold an emergency meeting to discuss Jonathan's obstinate refusal to retire, and it is decided that the championship game against New York will be played without penalties or a time-limit, in a last-ditch effort to dissuade Jonathan from playing in it.
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 killed in swift order. The crowd, racuous and energetic at the game's beginning, gradually becomes more and more subdued as the carnage builds.
In the end, Jonathan and one lone player from New York are all that are left, and after a brief and violent struggle, Jonathan gets possession of the ball, grabs the helpless New York player by the collar and prepares to fatally smite him as the crowd, both coaches and Mr. Bartholomew all watch in complete silence.
With a moment's pause, Jonathan releases his opponent, slowly gets to his feet, and painfully circles the track before throwing the ball into the goal, showing in the end that his love of the game means more to him than even his certain demise. While Mr. Bartholomew leaves in disgust, the coaches and fans of both teams start chanting "Jon-a-thon" louder and louder as Jonathan circles the track, and as the cheering reaches a crescendo, the movie cuts to a sudden end.
Governmental authority in Rollerball
In Rollerball, the rule of the corporations is absolute, and borders on cabal status, which strictly limited access to knowledge including all knowledge of history - there were no competing belief systems such as science or religion. It took very special care to ensure that there were no evidence of the Corporate Wars by which they had come to power.
Control of potential troublemakers was enhanced by the fact that Transport could control their movements, Housing could monitor their behavior, Food provided them with drugs, and Luxury could assign and re-assign their female mates at will - placing spies at very close proximity. In one interesting scene from the film, several women at a party fire incendiary bullets at a tree. The first two hit it without difficulty even at fairly long range. The third fires into the ground, and the group trails off giggling, all apparently drunk. One interpretation of this scene is that the women are in fact all intelligence agents, all crack shots, and all expert at hiding those facts from men. Also, Luxury Corporation was the only monopoly led by a woman.
Some suggest that the film was rather prophetic and criticized globalization and capitalism itself - Energy Corporation being one proposed outcome of the oil imperialism that some see presently practiced.
Filming locations include
- The headquarter buildings of Energy Corporation are actually the then-new BMW headquarter and museum buildings in Munich, Germany.