Norman Jewison’s dystopian Rollerball portrays a near-future in the aftermath of the Corporate Wars, in which nations have crumbled and conglomerates rule. In place of freedom the people are given bread and circuses: material comfort and Rollerball itself. Played on a circular, slanted track by men on skates and motorbikes, this extreme sport is the ultimate extrapolation of the primitive blood lust implicit in many team sports. James Caan is outstanding as Jonathan E, star player with the Houston team.
In the elegant detachment of Jewison’s direction, emphasised by the stark, alienating use of classical music, there are echoes of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Notwithstanding the brilliantly staged arena sequences, Rollerball is essentially about freedom versus conformity and the corruption of unfettered capitalism, with Caan leading an existential rebellion in the tradition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 which leads to a chilling, apocalyptic finale. Certainly the most prophetic film of the 1970s, Rollerball has an intelligence and power overlooked by those who simply denounce its brutal violence.