Rollerball review

:. Director: Dirname
:. Starring: Actors
:. Running Time: 1:30
:. Year: 2000
:. Country: USA


Made in 1975, Rollerball, beneath its exterior of a spectacular action film, denounces a voyeuristic society's fascination for violence and supports the assertion of the individual facing an excessive capitalist system.

James Caan plays Jonathan E., a champion of rollerball, an ultra-violent hybrid of hockey and football where all punches are allowed. When the corporate executives of the game push him to an early retirement, he rebels and decides to assume his role until the end of the season.

The analogy between rollerball and such popular sports as football and hockey is not innocent. By pushing the caricature to the extreme, the film compares these sports to gladiators in the arena, showing thus that the interest of the public is not in the sport itself, but in the hypocritically spectacular violence that it offers. The sport is used as a pretext to appease an unhealthy thirst for violence.

While the rollerball players are heroes to their fans, they certainly aren't heroes onscreen, since they're depicted as dense brutes. Nor does the film develop a particular affection for Jonathan, a kind of egoistic and spoiled child who draws advantage from the system that created him but does not want to yield his place.

A sort of cross between capitalism and communism, this civilization of 2018 is controlled like a corporation dictated by profit but with total control of the life of its citizens. Thus Jonathan is only a puppet designed to divert the masses. The corporation decides all aspects of his life, from the moment he becomes obsolete to the choice of his partners who are changed every six months after his wife was awarded to a dignitary. The media—one will notice the omnipresence of screens in his house—appear as toys of the state, as it is the case in most dictatorships. The rollerball—and the sport—is just a means to deaden the conscience of the people by offering them what they want. Jonathan's resistance to his destiny aims to enlighten the mechanisms of the corporation that is obviously a satire of "Corporate America."

Beyond the sport, the caricature drawn by the film extends now, with an alarming similarity, to the music and movie industries. The cycle used by the corporation, from the creation to the obsolescence of a star, resembles the marketing cycle of show business that makes and demolishes boys bands and actors according to album sales and box office receipts.

While Caan has the required toughness, the film, most effective in its action sequences, is surprisingly violent and astounding for its time. And it is the viciousness of Rollerball that makes it so successful. In order to deliver its message, it does what it denounces: offers an orgy of violence to attract the spectators and allows them to make a parallel between their own cinematic experience and the message of the picture.

Almost 30 years later, Rollerball is all the more relevant since the society it describes is not so far from ours; an alarming achievement.

  Fred Thom

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