Rollerball (1975)

Article 2817 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-23-2009
Posting Date: 4-30-2009
Directed by Norman Jewison
Featuring James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams
Country: UK

In the future, the world is controlled by a cartel of corporations who sponsor a sporting event called Rollerball, a violent variation of roller derby. The reigning star of the sport, a man known as Jonathan E., is being urged to retire from the sport, and seeks to find out why.

I remember that there was quite a controversy about this movie when it came out due to the violent content and the perceived glorification of that violence. However, there is a difference between the glorification of violence and the use of it in a way that is essential to the story. The violence is necessary here, as the story has no meaning without it. Still, I can understand the concern; the hero of the movie is one of the most violent players of the game, and the movie does pander a bit when he takes revenge for the near-killing of a teammate.

Overall, I quite like the movie with a few reservations. I think it runs on a bit too long, and I’m never quite satisfied with the vagueness surrounding the corporate view of the game and their desire to force Jonathan E. to retire. But I do like the creative vision of the future. Certain sequences stand out; I love the way the opening game gives us a clear understanding of the sport and how it is played. I also love a sequence where a drunken group of partyers use a gun to decimate trees. I also love Ralph Richardson’s scene-stealing performance as a somewhat dotty librarian, even though the scene seems strangely out of place in the movie. But I remember seeing bits and pieces of this one many years ago, and the final moment has always stood out strongly in my mind. I do wonder somewhat about the choice of music; though the use of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” is interesting, it feels really weird in this context.


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