"Corporate society takes care of everything. And all it asks of anyone, all it's ever asked of anyone ever, is not to interfere with management decisions."
Now, corporations "take care of everyone," and the violent, team sport of Rollerball has been created by big business to remind people of "the futility of individual effort." The goal of the corporations is to be essential to every individual's life, and for "the few" to make important decisions on "a global basis."
All the while, a packed house cheers and applauds wildly over the violent action...
Jonathan notes that it is a choice "between having nice things...or freedom." Ella responds -- terrifyingly -- "But comfort is freedom."
"In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose."
Rollerball depicts a society in which the people have indeed accepted control by a ruling elite...in return for being "provided for," in return for "privilege."
But, in accordance with the President Carter quote, these same people have no sense of meaning or purpose.
Part of the reason the people live with such an unjust arrangement is because of a deliberate black-out of educational materials and information. Rollerball tournaments play endlessly on the television, and local libraries are impersonal computer centers that feature only "summaries" of important literary works and ideas.
Because as long as you think about the game, and which team is winning or losing, you aren't thinking about who is gaming the system and for what agenda.
The Rollerball arena is itself an important metaphor in the film. The track is a loop, a track that never ends, with no end and no beginning. Teams battle one another for supremacy, going around and around on this track endlessly (kind of like a NASCAR race, I suppose). But one individual -- a Spartacus of the future age -- breaks out of this circular trajectory and takes the fight right to the stands.
One spectacularly effective composition in the Jewison film finds Jonathan E. braced against a transparent wall on the Rollerball rink. Behind him is Bartholomew, the executive, scowling. And reflected on the transparent glass are out-of-control flames
Here we have all three critical elements: the gladiator, the villain who is "untouchable" and the fire of revolt -- of individual achievement -- threatening to burn out of control.
For Jonathan, "Four or five little things make one big thing," and the retirement demand, on top of the loss of his wife to an executive, constitutes a tipping point. By pushing the stubborn and tough Jonathan E. to his line in the sand, the Corporate Culture only assures that Jonathan E. proves the very point they don't want established: