Rollerball – the 1975 version – in review. A social commentary.
One of the nice things about Comast On-Demand is the free crap. Oh, believe me, a lot of it is real, honest to god, crap you’d never watch in a million years. Like the only Mel Brooks movie they put on there? History of the World, Part One. Altogether my least favorite of his movies. Even the ‘uncensored’ cut is a bit dull. Sure, there are great moments and great actors, but it was sort of a boring movie. There are also those terrible B and C movies that are in the theater for a week, and then hit the DVD racks. Or, dare I mention them, the sequels that are direct-to-video release. Ah. The kiss of death for a movie.
On the other hand, sometimes you can pick up a decent movie, or a crap movie you’re a little interested in, but don’t want to spend money on. Like MiB2. Wouldn’t pay to see it, but watching it for free without commercials? Not so bad. And frankly, History of the World, Part One fell in there, since Ipstenit had never seen the whole thing, and I figured it was up to me to flesh out her Jewish Comedy Education. Also you can pick up the so-called ‘popular’ movies that aren’t crap, but you really couldn’t justify the $10 in a theater for them.
Capping off the list are the great movies. The ones you may even own on DVD and watch over and over again. The Great Escape anyone? That’s my favorite war movie, followed by The Dirty Dozen, where Telly Savalas freaked me out for years. There’s also a great one, the name escapes me, where Sean Connery runs around as comic relief. In a kilt. Got to love it!
Today I flipped on the TV after cleaning, and ran into nothing. I didn’t feel like being productive, since I’ve managed to clean the apartment already, so I thought I’d look up the free movies. There was Rollerball.
The last time I’d seen it, I only watched the middle-half, since it was on in the wee hours while I was working on call. Before that? I don’t really have a good memory of it, but I know I’ve watched it enough to have had a dream or two about it. Basic concept is that by 2018, companies rule the world, and we no longer have nations. Instead of war we have Rollerball, which is like Roller Derby, only with death and motorcycles added in.
Rollerball starts with the music of a horror movie, and if that doesn’t get your attention, nothing will. There are people setting up for a sports event, and shortly we get to see a vicious, blood thirsty, game of Rollerball. Houston versus Madrid, with the Houston star, Jonathan “E.” leading the way. Initially people chant the team names, “Houston!” and “Madrid!” Once Jonathan comes out, however, we get to hear them chanting his name.
The rest of the movie plays off the inherent problem this causes. Once one man becomes more popular than the teams, the man becomes a symbol. It’s one thing to objectify with the concept of a team. The team makes everyone root for the same thing, the same dreams, the same goal. Children fantasize about being on the team, where the group dynamic elevates them to something greater than one person can be. In opposition to this is Jonathan. He’s too popular. People want to be him, not be on his team.
After the first game, Jonathan is ‘asked’ (more told but they phrase it as a request, you know the type) to retire. They tell him it’s because he’s been playing for ten years, and he’s getting older. He needs to move from the sports team to the corporate team. As he has a ten-year special retrospective coming up on TV, the Corporation feels this is a perfect time for him to retire.
Jonathan does make an effort to make this decision, however, and goes so far as to look up history. The books that explain things, like how the corporations became what they are, are all classified, and only the edited versions are available. His best friend, Moonpie, suggests Jonathan take up with a corporate teacher, but now Jonathan is understanding that he’ll only be told what is deemed necessary for him to learn.
Still, he doesn’t see that his popularity and fame as an individual is screwed up the corporation. The corporation wants people to feel that individuality is futile. But Jonathan wants to help his team win. His individual popularity is a byproduct of his being a good person, and when the corporations change the rules to try and force Jonathan to retire, it backfires. They remove penalties, making a deadly, but controlled free-for-all, into a chaotic game of insanity.
As we all know, he doesn’t retire in the end. He can’t. He’s an athlete, not a suit. Jonathan knows how to play his game, how his team works, how the rules work, and how to play them. His life is Rollerball. His personal life, with women, suffers greatly because of his ineptitude in these other areas. He plays in the last two games, which become increasingly more deadly and dangerous, and by winning the last game (by virtue of being the last man standing), Jonathan stands out as an individual. He proves to everyone that we can stand alone.
But then the movie cuts to black, without conclusion. Does he die? Is he killed? Do the people revolt? We never know. What we do know is that the price of a perfect world, the price of freedom, is actually the loss of freedom. To keep us safe and happy, they hide from us the things that might make us question reality.